Protected: Sometimes we just do not learn.

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Headclutcher no more.

A few months ago I received an email with a charity looking for people to be photographed in a new set of images for the media. I didn’t take part due to the fact the image could be used any where, on anything, associated with any diagnosis or issue. This week they released the photographs (available from Newscast) as part of the ‘Get The Picture’ campaign.

I’m not sure what I think to it as an issue, but I can’t argue against solid evidence. Time to Change¬†collected data from nearly 2,000 people and found that 80% stated headclutcher images do not show how it really feels and that images of suicide can be triggering.

I am mixed. On the one hand, sometimes having a mental health problem is headclutching. It is exhaustion and desperation. However, the point raised that this is not always what having a mental health problem is like, sways me a little towards this being a necessary, and positive change. What is really great to see is people recognising what is a problem, and addressing it.

Images, as well all know, say a thousand words. Journalists, editors, and other agencies need to be careful with this. A picture probably gets slammed on without much thought of the implications at time, but the way this can impact upon public attitudes and perceptions is probably fairly significant.

The new photographs definitely portray a more positive picture of mental illness. Though I can’t help but think sometimes mental illness isn’t positive. Sometimes it isn’t a conversation with someone else. Sometimes it is being alone, and struggling, and I would hope the various forms of media using these images will take into consider what is more appropriate based on the article itself.

Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) and student support

Before Christmas, after much nagging, I finally sent off my DSA application form. It was originally rejected due to how brief my psychiatrists supporting letter was, but was accepted after they sent her a form. I had my assessment, and last week I started receiving support.

I’ve been given software etc., but most importantly, I now have a learning mentor who is funded to spend 60hrs per academic year with me. I’ve now seen her twice, and the difference it is making is already evident. I’m not yet “opening up to her”, I generally take time to trust someone with personal things, so at no point have we even brought up my mental health problems. However, it is really helping me to get a structure to my work, talk through ideas and make my work better. This morning I ran through my dissertation proposal with her, and although it wasn’t massive changes that were made, it now reads a lot better. She has also offered to see me on Monday, as she’s away most of Easter, and she said it doesn’t necessarily have to be to go over academic work.

I am really, well, sad. Sad is such a pathetic word, yet very apt. I am sad that I did not access this support sooner. I’ve turned to a number of different people for support at different times, and having one main person would have been easier. Having the support in place before reaching a crisis point would also have been better.

My reasons for not applying were largely down to two things. Firstly, I do not like the idea of receiving ‘benefits’. I am not bothered about being labelled as having a disability as it really doesn’t change anything, but the idea of being given something because of my issues is something I struggle with. Whenever people have brought up me applying for benefits pre-university, I always refused. However the plus, for me, with DSA, is that they do not give me the money. They pay for the things I need i.e. to the learning support company the mentor works for.

The second problem was that I think I was afraid of being told “why the hell would we give you help?”, and that made me scared to apply.

What makes me more ‘sad’ is the idea that there are other students out there who do not access this help like me, or never. Students who may end up receiving a degree at a standard lower than they are capable of, or even in them leaving university before completing. I found some data from my university a couple of years back. Only 51% of disabled students had applied for DSA, and only 49% had accessed the universities support services. Half of all students equates to a lot of students with no help.

This is why I am so passionate about making a difference. I see it like this, I cannot turn back time and make myself apply sooner. I can however use my negative experience to make sure it is a situation that is improved. If just one single student accesses support who otherwise wouldn’t have, this is worth doing. I kept asking myself before presenting my motion to the student council, ‘why the hell am I voluntarily standing up in front of a crowd of people?’. I’ve never spoken in front of so many people before, and I never do so out of choice.

What I kept remembering was, that this can make a difference, and knowing you can make a difference to others somehow helps you to push your own boundaries – so you’re actually helping yourself to, as a by-product.

I’m going to a meeting at the student union to talk about what questions need to be asked, and then there will be a focus group next month, before implementing a campaign, and lobbying the university to join in. I’m really excited, but I am also conscious that I am going to have to assert myself if I think they are missing something, because I want this to make a difference. I don’t just want to be seen as trying to.

One of my main points I have decided on so far is that personal tutors, lecturers and course leads should all be made more aware of what is on offer, and of DSA. This is because I believe these people are often the ones who first find out about a students disability, and if they could signpost them elsewhere, or encourage them to apply for DSA, this could change things. They of course need to also understand what DSA can provide so that information given is correct.

The bottom line is, I hate to think that there is a student out there who feels unable to access support, for whatever reason, but that wants to. I am sure there are plenty of students who do not want to apply, and that is perfectly fine. However, those that do, should not be left struggling. A disability is only disabling if the right support isn’t in place, and a students disability should not lead to them not achieving their full potential because the help is there.

It is ok to need help, it is ok to ask for it, and it really can make the difference. 

Mental Health and the media: dissertation proposal and research project

I am interested in mental health. Trying to do university work without somehow relating it to health is nearly impossible for me. At the moment I am deliberately trying to steer away from mental health for one piece, just to be a bit different for once, and it’s a struggle! But my dissertation and a research project are mental health related. They’re big pieces, so it needs to be something I want to do.

My original idea was to look at the representation of mental health professionals in UK newspapers, however it became quickly apparent that this is too uncovered to study as an undergraduate. I spoke to someone about it and they suggested not doing it on mental health however after speaking to someone else it was evident that there is nothing else I can get so passionate about. If I’m doing my dissertation on it, I have to be interested.

Although I’m also interested in researching something to do with journalists with mental health problems, this too seemed unlikely to be a good choice. So…I am doing “The perception of the changing portrayal of mental illness in UK newspapers”.

Basically academic research suggests overall, there has been little improvement in the way mental illness is represented. Some research has found some improvements, i.e. for particular disorders like depression and anxiety, but not so for others i.e. psychotic disorders and personality disorders. There is the suggestion that positive portrayals have increased, but that this hasn’t led to a reduction in negative ones.

So I am going to look at how the audience perceives this. Do people think there has been a change? Do they think there hasn’t? Is their perception affected by having a personal experience of mental illness? I am going to do this through an online questionnaire and compliment it with follow-up interviews of a smaller sample.

For my research project I am looking at the marginalisation and stigmatisation of people with a mental illness. I am then going to challenge this by creating a character profile for a soap opera. My point is two-fold. Firstly that people with mental health problems in soaps are often depicted as being ‘ill’ and then becoming ‘well’ and very rarely do portrayals reflect the reality. My second point is that personality disorders are rarely represented, at all. I am going to use a female actress who has a diagnosis of personality disorder herself, as one thing people want to improve is using disabled actors/actresses to play disabled characters.

I was going to write my own script, however I feel that a script will be short and unable to capture my point. I am considering making a video to show how this marginalisation effects people with mental illness though I’m unsure if I am allowed to this. I have a video I made in first year but I need a new one.

I’m really enjoying doing my dissertation proposal. I’m enjoying being able to do it on what I care about, and putting my own input in. It’s the first time at university we’ve really been able to do this. It’s making me consider postgraduate courses and going into research/teaching. At the moment I’m split between that and going into NHS communications. I’m going to do some work experience with the local teams, one is the general services team and the other is the mental health trust. I think that should help me know whether it’s what I want. I’m definitely leaning towards NHS comms over research but I wish I could do everything. I’d do just about any and every degree going if I could!

Art Therapy colouring book.

I am not artistic. I would never engage in “art therapy” and I hate anything along those lines. But I did buy this book a few months ago and I’ve pulled it out today.

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I’m struggling, all of a sudden things have dipped.
It’s been one of those days where I find myself in bed at an inappropriate time of the day. One of those days where everything is hard. I have to go into survival mode.

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But colouring in is actually distracting and relaxing. I recommend this book to anyone.