You never know how ignorant you are until you actually start learning. It took a long time (far too long, until the last five years) for me to stop saying things like “Why didn’t you…?” or “You should have….” in response to sexual assault and mental health issues. But learning to shut up and be sympathetic still doesn’t mean you’ve learnt anything.
In February 2018, I first attended a weekly women’s support group. I didn’t go for myself, I went to support a friend. I have been a regular since, attending all but three meetings. Over that time, I’ve learnt more about mental health (PTSD, depression, various disorders), suicide and attempted suicide, rape and sexual assault than I had heard in the first 51 years of my life. I used to believe I was curious and informed about these things – now I know better, that I hardly know anything.
There are no medical professionals in the group, it’s women who come to air out their problems, tell what happened to themselves in a place of anonymity an unquestioning support. I’ve learnt that just saying out loud what happened can be therapeutic, that people listening without judgement and keeping secrets can make a huge difference. The group does, however, have access to medical resources (high, low and no cost) for people to call on, and several have needed help since I joined the group – therapy, hospitalization, other treatment.
It’s frightening to be up close to people and observing or becoming part of their problems and lives, it’s like having to give first aid to someone who’s badly injured and bleeding profusely. But it’s not something you can just walk away from when you know others need help. And it’s also made me aware of mental health issues in my own family, willing to address things I wasn’t willing to say aloud before.