Here's an brutally honest and brave contribution from Professor Trevor Harley;
I have never liked the name Trevor. I don’t know why my mother chose it; she was always a bit shifty about her reasons when asked. I think of it as a Welsh name, and Welsh I am not. In the USA some years ago I was ordering a Philly cheesesteak when the server asked me for my name; “Trevor”, he said, “gee, that’s not a very American name, is it?”. “Call me Carl”, I said, and he did.
I suppose I could have changed my name. I know many people who didn’t stick to their birth name; a Fiona who became a Fhionna, a Ruth who became a Pendragon, and actors are able to be anyone. I know several people who have used their middle names. That wouldn’t have helped me because my middle name is Andrew, and Scottish I am not. No, I don’t like Trevor, but instead of doing anything about it, I moan to myself and suffer in silence.
Suffering in silence is something we are very good at. Indeed we view patient suffering as part of our reserved, stoical British nature, and consider it to be a thoroughly good thing. If you ask someone how they are and they reply “oh not so good, I have a bit of a headache and some arthritis in my left middle finger and my bowels haven’t been quite normal the last few days”, we look at them oddly, and turn off mentally. We ask out they are out of politeness, and we want to hear in response “very well thank you - never been better!”, even if we can see blood spurting from their ears we expect them to say “it’s just a scratch”.
But is it good to bottle up our true feelings, our anger, our physical pain and our mental anguish? Freud certainly didn’t think so. For Freud repression of past events led to mental illness. The Rat Man developed obsessive-compulsive thoughts that something bad involving rats was going to happen to his father’s bottom because of his father had long ago punished the Rat Man for childhood masturbation. Freud considered the treatment of bringing these repressed thoughts out into the open as one of the early successes of psychoanalysis.
We do not now view repression favourably as an explanation for much of mental illness. There is though a great deal in the idea that we do not talk enough about what pains us, particularly mentally. We tend to suffer in silence, even though much of this suffering is in fact unnecessary; unhelpful and unhealthy, even.
I think there are two reasons for our silence. The first is that there is still a considerable stigma associated with mental illness. My mother suffered all her life from terrible depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (and probably more), as did her mother before her, and probably her mother before her, yet she didn’t do anything about it until she was over 70. In contrast she would happily go to her doctor and expect a pill for the slightest physical disturbance. Mental troubles though were different: they were in some way her fault in a way that her “allergic rhinitis” (hay fever) wasn’t. If only she tried hard enough, she would be able to conquer her symptoms by sheer force of will. Of course, she never could, and as a result was deeply unhappy most of her life. Society often treats people with mental illness as weak people, perhaps even bad people, blaming them for their troubles. Broadsheets periodically publish letters to the effect that “mentally ill people need to pull themselves together and snap out of it”. I have even had a psychologist say to me “I know you’ve had mental health issues BUT …” - they would never have dared say to someone in a wheelchair “I know you are paralysed from the waist down, but you do seem to have a bit of trouble with the stairs”.
Second, very closely related to this idea that we are responsible for our mental woes is a sense of shame that amplifies our belief that these things are best not talked about except reluctantly and apologetically. People remain quiet about their drink problems or debt problems or gambling problems because they worry, quite rightly, that others will blame, accuse, and shame them instead of trying to help them. The sense of shame often exacerbates the original problems such that often there seems to be no way out, and when people feel completely hopeless, they might take their own lives.
We need not suffer so much because being depressed or addicted to gambling is not our fault. We are a product of our genes and environments. Gamblers have different reward systems from the rest of us. People need help and understanding, not condemnation. Mental illness is just as real as physical illness.
Usually the first step towards treatment is to talk about our worries, concerns, and illnesses. People should seek help, of which there are many sources out there, including the NHS, Samaritans, Citizens Advice, and probably, your friends. I have been amazed how many apparently normal, happy people are, in fact, deeply troubled in some way or another, and are relieved to hear that ill and unhappy they might be, bad people they are not. Normal is a myth.
And if you do consider yourself normal, and think you are a perfectly content, happy soul, you can spread some of that joy around by occasionally listening to others, and encouraging them to get help.
Full disclosure: I am completely mad. I suffer from depression, anxiety, OCD, ADHD, and am on the autistic spectrum. Some treatments have helped, but I am still pretty unwell (mentally) most of the time. And yes, for many years I denied it, making things much worse.
I am Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of Dundee. I write about mental illness, the weather, consciousness, and language. My website is www.trevorharley.com.