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The importance of mental illness awareness (learned through my alcoholic father)

May. 23, 2018
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I still remember my eight-year-old self walking past my front door after school and heading to the living room. I would see my dad there, postured the same way he was when I had left the house that same morning. He was invariably sat sunken and immobile in his black leather chair; one of his hands would be holding his computer, the other would have a firm grasp on a drink. I remember dreading the sound of his chair squeak, for the moment he’d have to rise and spend any energy, a volatile anger fit was to be expected. 

I could never determine why his character seemed to be so contradictory: how could one switch between the extremities of being caring and heartless, open-minded and judgmental, or kind and brutal so easily? Was this normal? How would I explain this kind of behavior to other people? Was I being oversensitive? How could I make his ‘happy moments’ last longer? 

It goes without saying that being raised under his roof affected my own mentality: I spent years learning to differentiate between normal and irrational behaviors, trusting other adults, and developing coping skills. Little did I know I wasn’t alone in this situation: according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, 68% and 57% of mentally ill women and men are parents. It is common that their children experience feelings of guilt, disorientation, inability to communicate, and isolation while growing up.

No matter where I’ve lived, whether it be in Asia or Europe, mental illnesses are attributed to an array of myths and stigmas because people often don’t get the chance to learn about them properly. For the first decade of my life, I couldn’t reason my father’s behavior. I only put the pieces together two years after his recovery because I had heard about alcoholism collectively from books, movies, and fragments of conversations. 

If I could go back in time right now, I would’ve given my younger self countless pieces of advice and information. I would’ve told myself that none of it was my fault, that the situation was far from normal, that I needed trusted adults in my life to help me, and most importantly that my father’s actions didn’t define him as a person, but his symptoms did. 

This is why I wholly believe that gaining an accurate understanding of mental illnesses at a young age is crucial. The environment one grows up in always impacts them one way or another in the long-term. Although mental health is still overlooked in many schools and communities, it is a blessing that a range of external resources (especially online) are becoming increasingly available. I am hopeful, and I look forward to seeing this world grow from grass-root awareness, to defeating the taboo associated with mental illnesses as a whole.