On a Tuesday in July, at 10.15am, Laila put on her coat and favourite scarf as a defence against the bitterness of the day outside, walked through her front door – locking it behind her – and quickly walked the 100m to the corner of the street.
At 10.45am, after standing at the corner for 26 minutes, frozen with an irrational fear of stepping onto the crossing, Laila turned around and quickly walked the 100m back to her house, unlocked the door and went inside.
The same morning, Howie’s alarm woke him at 5.15am. While dressing, he put his left sock on and then his right sock. Then he took off his left sock and then his right sock. He then put on his left sock and then his right sock, took them off again in the same order and put them back on again. He left the house – locking and then unlocking the door three times – got in his car and drove to work.
While these situations may sound far-fetched, or even comical, to those in the community suffering from mental illness they are neither. I don’t profess to be an expert by any means. But in my own social circle I have friends who are affected by anxieties, breakdowns or depression. Probably more than I know about. What about you?
Mental illness can affect anyone. Your neighbour, brother, workmate. Just ordinary people, trying to get through the day. For some, it’s just an underlying feeling of unease, of sadness, of confusion. For others it can feel like drowning on dry land.
According to Headspace, the National Youth Mental Health Foundation, around one in every ten young Australians aged from 18-25 will have problems with anxiety. For those aged between 13 and 17, the figure is about one in 25. As a nation, we have a responsibility to provide resources for anyone suffering a mental illness. As community members, we have a responsibility to show compassion, tolerance and caring. As the statistics show, the reality of mental illness is that, if you are not directly affected, someone you care about probably is.
Illnesses do not discriminate. What if Laila were your sister, or Howie your best friend. Or if you were the one filled with a deep and weighty sadness, withdrawn and isolated – forced to view the world from under your bed.
“When ‘I’ is replaced by ‘We’, even illness becomes wellness.”