The first thing that will often come to mind when one thinks of a “padded cell” is someone in a strait jacket, screaming out, in a tiny room, with cushions lining the walls, not really wanting to be there, possibly wanting to hurt themselves or others. I went on twitter and searched the hashtag padded cell. What I saw was a lot of negative comments about people being unstable and needing to be locked up. I saw people making fun of those going through various kinds of mental health issues. I saw the personification of stigma faced by people suffering from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, among other mental illnesses.
And it got me thinking, is my mind not the place where I hide all my anxieties and prevent them from hurting others?
Is my mind not the place where I hide my true self when I am feeling depressed and prevent others from seeing exactly what I am going through?
Is my mind not what, while it has got me to points of hurting myself, also what has prevented me from hurting myself and others?
Is my mind not my own little padded cell?
It also got me thinking about the fact that we don’t talk about our mental health. We don’t reach out when we need someone to speak to. The stigma that is attached to “not being well” prevents us from sharing our feeling. The social norm that men should be strong, prevents men from reaching out when they are feeling down. The fear of the world finding out one’s HIV status prevents us from talking about the anxieties faced by taking that pill every day. The thought that one might get fired prevents them from telling their boss that they are a little bit overwhelmed.
Everyone of us goes through one or more of these scenarios at some point in our lives.
For a long time, I have been thinking about starting a conversation around mental health. Mental health not only for LGBT people (with whom I have worked for many years) but mental health in general. It is something that, having battled with (and still battling with) myself, I feel is not spoken about enough in our continent. The taboo factor, the stigma, the intersectionalities with sexuality, gender, health, among other things.
The World Health Organization defines mental health as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community. They stress that mental health is not just the absence of a mental disorder.
Padded Cell will be a conversation with different people from different facets of our society about our state of well-being, how we deal with the normal stresses of life, how we can work productively and fruitfully and how we enrich our contribution to our communities. It will be candid, it will be blunt, it will be passionate and I hope that it will encourage all of you to reach out to someone and talk about what you are going through.
Follow the twitter page @paddedcell_pod and join the Facebook Page “Padded Cell Podcast” for more information.
Let’s talk about mental health.
Let’s end the stigma!