Few would dispute the necessity of breaking the secrecy surrounding mental illness. Numerous campaigns have instilled in us the notion that such silence is unhealthy and that we should attempt to break it whenever we encounter it.
Britain Get Talking is one of these initiatives. A few years back, hosts Ant and Dec paused Britain’s Got Talent for one minute to allow fans to chat about their mental health. At the conclusion of the minute, Ant exclaimed, “That wasn’t difficult, was it?”
Unquestionably, programs like this have helped a great number of people discuss their mental health issues, especially those who have remained silent due to prejudice and stigma.
However, they can also contribute to misunderstandings of silence in mental illness. They imply that silence on and surrounding mental illness is always negative, founded in fear and stigma, and that any effort to break it is beneficial.
The health advantages of meditation may be as effective as medication.
In truth, there are numerous types of mental illness-related silence.
Certain types of quiet are associated with mood disorders such as depression. People who have written about their experiences with depression frequently describe losing the ability to create coherent ideas and becoming speechless.
The author Andrew Solomon, for instance, recalls that he “could not say much.” Exemplifying, he writes, “Words, with which I have always been familiar, seemed all of a sudden to be elaborate, difficult metaphors whose use required more energy than I could muster.”
In mental healthcare, this characteristic of depression is well-known. Less thinking and less speaking are believed to be two distinct indicators of depression. Some study suggests that silence is such a reliable indication of depression that it may be possible to construct automated diagnostic tools based on a person’s speaking patterns.
If you are experiencing this type of “depressed silence,” initiatives and individuals pressing you to talk may not be helpful, despite their good intentions. The issue is not that others aren’t receptive to what you have to say or that they may react negatively to it. It is that you are speechless.
Other kind of silence may be empowering as well. Some individuals with mental illness maintain a stubborn silence because those around them ask unwanted questions or provide harmful feedback. They may choose wisely to save challenging topics for their therapist.
This decision is not necessarily motivated by stigma. The fact that someone is well-intentioned and knows certain facts about mental health does not make them the ideal person to discuss mental illness with.
In mental illness, silence can also be comforting. While some people have difficulty thinking and communicating, others have difficulty thinking and speaking too much.
This could be the case, for instance, for someone with bipolar disorder, who suffers spells of despair as well as mania, which is frequently characterized by racing thoughts and a need to speak. Moments of undisturbed solitude can be a difficult achievement for such individuals, and they often pay a tragically expensive price for it.
Rarely do we hear about these additional aspects of mental illness and silence. Since Donald Winnicott’s key study The Capacity to be Alone was published, however, therapists have acknowledged the function of quiet in promoting mental health. And stillness in some form is an essential component of meditation, which research indicates can avoid the return of depression.
Under the proper circumstances, the silences I have described could be broken. Since depressed silence appears to be a symptom of depressive illness, the patient may need the assistance of a mental health professional to overcome it as part of their treatment. In a similar vein, a person may benefit from disturbing their calm stillness in therapy, even if the silence is pleasant.
Despite the encouragement of a TV personality, many people will not find those situations with their family, friends, or coworkers. It is often difficult to discuss mental health issues, even with those who love and support us. Occasionally this is due to stigma, while other times it is not.
Obviously, we should continue to make it simpler for people to discuss their mental health issues in the appropriate context. But we must eliminate the mentality that forces people to talk regardless of why they are silent or whether speaking would be beneficial.