“…pain is an extremely important element of learning”
Paul Green (Mindfump) writes witty, thought-provoking and uplifting articles on mental health.
After reading many of these, including The Secret History of Depression, Mental Illness Has No Chance and When Depression Was Your Friend, I became interested in knowing more of Paul’s story and his perspectives.
To that end, the following interview is conducted as part of a series of articles aiming to enlighten stories and strategies related to mental health. I thank Paul very much for taking part, for his openness and for bringing about dynamic and creative ways of perceiving and coping with depression.
Depression is on a steep uprise amongst young people in the UK, and many are turning to antidepressants as a first resort. What’s your response to this issue?
The way I see it there are two elements to this. Firstly, increasingly people want to avoid pain, and that might sound reasonable. Except pain is an extremely important element of learning. Think of children and how they learn not to touch hot things because it hurts. This then develops in later life to being hurt in relationships and learning to avoid certain characters or people. The bottom line is, pain is important. The problem is, we are becoming so averse to pain, so scared of it that we will do almost anything to avoid going through it, even if it benefits us in the long run. So it is no surprise that people avoid things like therapy in favour of drugs, drugs are painless and can hopefully cure you without effort. In the same way overweight people try diet pills rather than exercise, it is easier and less painful.
Secondly, we are in a quick fix era, and that does not stop at medicine. The world has been geared towards a faster pace of life for at least a couple of decades. We have seen the rise of fast food, next day delivery, same day delivery, instant replies via email, text message and every other messaging app. Then you have signals that are being pushed through the media and advertising which are all to do with solving issues with one product or service (and it’s a fast one). So it is no surprise to me that people want the quick fix instead of the long drawn out thing. Especially when companies compete now they often brag at how quickly you can do it if you use their product or service.
So my response is certainly not one of surprise, and I think without a serious cultural shift this quick fix, less pain method will more often than not be the first choice.
You write that you have struggled with depression since your late teens, but didn’t know it was abnormal at that time. How did you come to realise that you were ill?
Depression was certainly always present and I think I always knew something wasn’t quite right, but without perspective and experience I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. The first time I really confronted the issue was after my first year of university, when I decided I wanted to go study in California. Living abroad was always something I wanted to do and I was genuinely excited to go, and to see what life was like in the famous Los Angeles. Looking back I also think I was looking to escape, I think I was trying to avoid the dark feeling and emotions I had. I think I attached them to my situation in the UK and I wanted out.
I got out and I moved to LA, but it became apparent quite quickly that my dark core was not related to my situation or location. I was deeply depressed and I was beginning to realise that this dark thing was associated with me and nothing outside of that really had much of an impact (positively or negatively). I realised I was just pre-disposed to negative emotions. Fortunately at the university I was studying at there were free counsellors and even free psychiatrists and that was the first time I took the leap and admitted I wasn’t right. Ultimately, the change of perspective (moving from the UK to USA) allowed me to see myself from a different angle. Without that change I think I wouldn’t have recognised it for a good while longer.
“Support needs to be at all levels, which requires zero stigma.”
Having lived in a number of countries across the world, do you recall any variation in attitudes towards mental health?
Massively so; it is drastically different.
Attitudes are changing all the time and it has been 10 years since I lived in some places but ultimately you can see certain countries understand healthcare at its core and the benefits of helping people.
Interestingly the US was one of the better places, they were really open to helping and had fantastic services – in my experience. And I know that runs counter to a lot things you hear from people about the American healthcare system, but that is because the issues with their system are not the level of care they offer, but the level of access to care they offer. When you are in it is amazing, and in my case free.
The best place was probably Finland, they accommodated mental health on every level and in every aspect of your life. I told the professor at university and I was instantly exempt from attending classes if I needed time to myself. I also had more time with exams and in some cases didn’t need to take any at all if it was too much. They truly understood what was needed and above all else they showed that it is possible to have business, school and a society where people can get care and take time to themselves and not have the whole economy collapse.
The other end of the spectrum would be the UK and moreso China. The UK has poor attitudes to mental health and very patchy coverage across the country (although improving I hear). China however, it hasn’t quite reach their vocabulary yet, and there is zero sympathy, understanding or care for mental health suffers at present.
I’d also feel bad for not giving a mention to Germany, which had excellent care. But yes in short, there is a great degree of difference, although on the whole it is moving in the right direction, certainly in terms of attitude anyway.
You have highlighted support as one of the most important factors in beating depression. How do you suggest one can provide helpful support?
Support needs to be at all levels, which requires zero stigma. Exactly in the way I described in Finland. First you need to feel like this is legitimate and feel accepted by your peers. You then need an understanding professional level, whereby work doesn’t force you to come in, or reprimand you if you’re not at work. It needs to be treated like physical care. You then also need a free and open healthcare system which wants to deal with your issue. Those are the key elements of support on the highest level. On a personal level you need patience, understanding and empathy.
A further element you find helpful in improving your mental health is “a space to grow creatively”. What constitutes such a space for you?
Usually when I am writing, I write from the perspective of the structure of society rather than practically. So the way I see modern society is that it is entirely geared towards analytical people, and money/opportunities for creative enterprise is diminishing. Whilst that is great for analytical minds, it increasingly means creative people are pushed into menial jobs that do not satisfy the need for creativity.
In terms of my space for creativity, I have not been able to find a job that satisfies this at all, so I purposely changed my job to part time to give me more ‘space’ creatively. I now have time to write and create which I don’t get at work. I feel suppressing human creativity, as I think modern society does, should be against our human rights. It is beaten out of people over the course of their youth until they are uniformly all the same and can complete tasks efficiently and do things exactly the way a company wants – that is the opposite of creative space to me.
I should also qualify this by saying I know there are creative jobs around, but relative to analytical jobs it is almost negligible.
“Chasing the acceptance of others will only lead to more negativity.”
You write that you exert a lot of energy into concealing your depression. What do you imagine might happen if you didn’t try to conceal it?
I certainly did in the past, I definitely don’t anymore. The reason I didn’t in the past was out of fear, really. I was terrified of what people might think and how they might treat me. I was worried for my job prospects and my relationships.
Since I’ve been more open I have an ‘I don’t give a shit’ attitude, whereby if people don’t want to employ me or be friends with me over it, then they can keep walking as I have no interest in them either. I realised it is a reflection on them, not me, as I would never make judgments of other people in such a way.
What helpful and unhelpful advice have you been given regarding your depression?
I actually can’t recall anything specific either way to be completely honest. But then again I wouldn’t really talk to people directly about my depression, they just more see it through my writing. So I’d say I’ve only directly told about 3 or 4 friends. Revealing things that way means I don’t really get advice from people, good or bad.
What advice would you give to someone suffering with depression?
Seek help from a professional, if possible. Never be ashamed of any aspect of yourself, and ditch anyone who doesn’t show anything but love and support to you. Chasing the acceptance of others will only lead to more negativity. Oh, and wash regularly, no matter how bad you feel, wear clean clothes and wash. It works like magic.
What advice would you give to someone suffering with depression? Leave a comment below or send me a message.