Silence Is Not The Solution To Mental Health Issues in MS

For a long time, mental health has been associated with a certain stigma in society.  Primarily, this has been due to a number of misconceptions that are widely held throughout the community about many of these issues.  Let’s take depression as an example, considering we have already discussed this week that it impacts on many people with multiple sclerosis and has a major effect on their quality of life.  Some commonly held beliefs about depression that are incorrect are:

    • Depression is the same as sadness
    • It’s all in the person’s head (e.g. it’s something that they should be able to just get over)
    • It isn’t a real illness
    • Talking about it makes it worse
    • It’s a sign of weakness

All of the points above are wrong….incredibly wrong actually.  Unfortunately, despite our understanding of depression (and mental health in general) increasing and large organisations (e.g Beyond Blue, Black Dog Institute) being formed to raise awareness and provide support, these incorrect ideas continue to spread.

As our Facebook poll on Monday suggest, most people are in agreement that placing a greater focus on mental health issues is an important part of any multiple sclerosis management plan.  Hopefully, by doing this, it has a flow-on effect that improves the overall quality of life for people with MS.

It isn’t enough to say that this situation needs to change, we need to come up with solutions for these problems.  Whilst understanding that it is a very complicated issue with many factors involved, I believe two steps could play an important part.

Step 1:  We need to be more proactive in discussing the research that is ongoing in this area.  There is a large number of studies now that show depression is related to inflammation in the brain.  As an example, an Italian study from August this year examined a large cohort of people with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis and found that neuroinflammation was a driving force behind both anxiety and depression in this group (it can be viewed here).

By placing a focus on talking about the scientific basis of these conditions, we can clear up a number of the misconceptions listed above.  These studies show that there is a clear biological cause, just like any other disease.  Making that message more accessible to the general public could lead to much greater understanding and awareness.

Step 2:  We have to talk about it more!  It is my thought that Step 1 will help in creating an environment in society whereby we eliminate the shame and embarrassment that people have felt regarding mental health issues.  As we have already seen on our Facebook page this week, one of the key emotions that people feel in this area is isolation…that they have to deal with it alone.  This has to change!

There is no doubt that these issues are confronting.  The fact that people with multiple sclerosis are 7.5 times more likely to commit suicide than members of the general public is distressing.  It’s not something that is easy to talk about.  It’s not even necessarily something that people want to address or hear about.  Yet, it’s critically important that we do speak up about it.  We need to work out why these situations exist and then determine what we can do to try and fix them.

I’ve only suggested a couple of solutions, ones which I believe that I can help implement.  I’m sure there are others, which relate to factors that (as someone that doesn’t have multiple sclerosis) I may not comprehend.  So MStranslate community, help me out!

What else can we be doing?  What causes do we need to address?  How can we help?  What other solutions may benefit people visiting our Facebook page or website or Twitter account that are feeling lost, desperate and isolated?

I hope that everyone feels that MStranslate is a safe, welcoming environment that encourages people to share their experiences (both positive and negative), and one where you feel supported by us and our community.  We will always try and help in any way that we can.  Remember, you are NEVER alone!

~ Written for MStranslate by co-founder, Brett Drummond

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