A Shocking Fact About Mental Health

We all have it.

I know it doesn’t sound like a mindblowing fact, but apparently this is an issue. I recently saw, through a friend, a housing advertisement that said “we do not accept people with mental health”.

Now ignoring the fact that it sounds a hell of a lot like discrimination to me…I think they got their words confused because we all have mental health. Looks like this landlord doesn’t want a tenant!

Mental health does not mean mental illness. We all have mental health, just like we all have physical health, and it’s on a scale. We all have varying degrees of physical health, and this can worsen and improve at different times in our lives; it’s the same with mental health! You can have some issues with poor mental health without being mentally ill, without being in treatment and without y’know, seeing yourself as having an illness. Nobody is exempt from mental illness, or periods of poor mental health. Stress is a mental health issue, but being stressed isn’t an illness. We are so black and white when it comes to being mentally health and it’s a problem.

It’s recognising that we all have mental health that can lead us to being more understanding. People with mental health problems aren’t the ‘other’. They are me and you, your next door neighbour and your colleague from work. Rich, poor, black, white, lower class, upper class, heterosexual, homosexual, top of a business or right at the bottom…it does not matter. While there are higher risk groups for mental health problems and specifically for mental illnesses, they are just that, HIGHER risk; not the sole people at risk. Sure, if you’re born with stable parents, experience no trauma, have a good education, a great career and lots of supportive friends, yay because you are less likely to become severely mentally ill, but I hate to have to break this to you…mental illness does not discriminate, so it’s not all rainbows and butterflies.

Really I hope that if you don’t have a mental illness, you know that you still have mental health, and how you feel and cope is just as important. And if you do have a mental illness, I hope you know that even the people around you who don’t still have their dark times. I know it can feel like it’s just you, but it really isn’t, and the sooner we can all talk about our difficult times, the more acceptable it will become.

As for that landlord…using the wrong word was an accident, but it raises a significant issue with the way we think and talk.

(We’ll save the thoughts on not wanting a tenant with a mental health problem for another day!)

Taking time out.

I have *stuff* going on, and *stuff* in my head, but I seem to be having a few seconds where it comes into my mind, and then I push it under.

Some things happened in my family in April, and then it got took further in December. We heard from the people dealing with the *stuff* today. It has been really quiet since December, and over the next couple of weeks it seems like it is going to suddenly get quite busy with it all. It is like the calm before the storm right now, and I know it is only going to get harder. I did not initiate the *stuff*, but now I am involved in it. It could take a year to be dealt with, and the “ideal” outcome really is not my ideal outcome. I am kind of questioning why I am doing this. The guilt is awful, and I know the guilt should not be mine, but when it is family, it is hard. Family. Family should be all loving and stick together, and when you are basically potentially destroying your families lives, it is hard not to feel guilty. But I suppose the reality is these people are not my family. They were. Technically they are. By blood they are. But that is where it ends now. It is terrifying how much things can change in less than a year.

I also hate that I cannot talk about the *stuff*. I cannot talk about it because it is private and personal, and scary, and also probably for legal reasons. It makes it hard. I do not have “support” at the moment, but that is likely to change on Friday. I am terrified about Friday. I am being assessed for a different mental health service, after being chucked out of the other. And a non-mental health service is attending the assessment, at my home, because they want mental health services to know what is going on with my physical health so that everyone is talking to each other. I’m not keen on this; I like to tell people what I want them to know, I like to be in control of who knows what. Nor am I keen on them all coming to my house. I will be glad when Friday morning is over. It has been hanging over me all week. I am barely sleeping, and we all know lack of sleep is never a good thing. It would be nice to fall asleep without hours of waiting for it to happen, and it would be even nicer to stay asleep. My medication does not seem to be helping, which is odd.

I have been looking, and applying, for graduate schemes. In the back of my head I know that my plan should be to take a year out, or at the maximum, carrying on studying. The service that chucked me out, do want to take me back on once it has been a year from discharge, if I am “ready”. It is just such a huge commitment, both emotionally and in terms of time – it is a day programme for 12 months, plus a few months before and after at reduced days per week. I do not know if I can face going back there, but I know that is not a good reason not to. I also do not want to invest into going back there, and it not work out. I cannot handle failing twice. I was supposed to go and do it during my masters, and that plan fell apart when I was chucked out. They probably would not describe it as being chucked out, but that is the reality of the situation.

It is also the whole taking a year out for “treatment” thing. It feels bad. It feels like failure. I kind of want to stop applying for jobs and graduate schemes, purely because I do not want to end up in a position where I have to turn interviews or an offer down. Like, what if I get a fantastic opportunity that could help me with my career? That has the potential to be the stepping stone into my ideal future, and I have to say no, sorry, because I am going to be a “patient”. I do not want the patient identity to be everything I am for a year. I also know if I had a physical illness I would feel differently. But it is not really something you can whack on your CV. And it is hard to feel OK with explaining a gap in my CV when it is for what it is. If I had a physical illness I would just say “I had a year out because I had (insert illness)”…but this will never be that easy.

But then, what is one year if it changes my life? I am not going to sit here and feel sorry for myself. I have to turn whatever choice I make into a positive. Nothing is bad or good, it is what you do with it that makes it bad or good. I firmly believe that. A positive mental attitude is required.

I know the sensible thing to do. I just do not like it.

This was not the situation I was supposed to be back in, again, but it is the situation and I can own it, or I can let it control me. I do not have to let the “patient” identity be my identity, even if I go down that route of taking time out. I can volunteer, I can write, I can do other things.

And at the end of the day, other peoples opinions are not really that important. If people do not like what I am doing, or think less of me for it, that really is not my problem. And will people even do that? Or am I stigmatising myself?

I am really interested in the concept of the “stigmatised” assuming the stigma is there, and paradoxically causing themselves to be stigmatised. I am probably guilty of it. Is being open really as bad as it feels? If I take a year out, and then go to an interview and respond to the questioning of what I did in that year truthfully, and tell them the other things I did in that year, will people think what I think they will?

We cannot assume what people are thinking. People are entitled to be given the chance to think for themselves.

 

 

 

Mental Illness Doesn’t Discriminate, So Why Do We?

I was at an appointment the other day. The staff were aware of my mental health problems, and they asked me what I do in my free time. I said at the moment I am working and at university. She looked shocked. She then said “unpaid work, though?” because obviously us crazy folk cannot hold down a paid job. I mean, what kind of fool would pay me to work?

It annoys me. Number one unpaid work is a brilliant thing to do for experience, and for giving something. Number two, why would you assume my job is unpaid?

I was then further annoyed when she said I needed to come back on Monday to see their consultant. I told her I had work, and couldn’t make it. She looked at me and said “well, you have to have see the consultant” and then booked me an appointment any way. I was stood there thinking ‘yup, please ignore me, my words mean nothing’.

I honestly do not think that if I was ten years older, and not in for something mental health related, she wouldn’t have ignored me. But hey, I am crazy so my job cannot be that important, right?!

We think that we have progressed with our attitudes towards mental illness, and my gut reaction is to say some progress has definitely been made. I mean, we do not lock everyone away in asylums anymore, people are not oblivious to mental illness, and people know what depression is. Mental health is talked about more. Being homosexual is no longer a sign of insanity, and we do not drill into peoples brains hoping it will ‘fix’ them like we did in 1935.

My research in my undergraduate degree proved that making a definitive conclusion is not that easy. Some things have improved, some things have not. Do you know what schizoaffective disorder is? What about obsessive compulsive personality disorder? Unless you have an interest in mental illness, or personal experience, probably not. Even spellcheck does not think ‘schizoaffective’ is a word.

While general attitudes have become better, I would argue it is something we are fine about as long as we do not have to come face-to-face with it, and for a lot of people mental illness is something that affects others, not themselves. Did you know that only 46.9% of disabled people are in employment? Which is a gap 33.1% higher compared to people without a disability. The disability employment gap is one of the most significant inequalities today.

In 2015 the Conservative Party stated that to half the gap they would need to change policies, practices and public attitudes.

Not all disabled people can work, fact. That is why there is no goal to get rid of the gap completely. But some can, and some want to. It is easy for people to respond to this huge gap by saying that disabled people do not want to work, that they want to live off benefits, and all of that other rubbish that realistically applies to a very small percentage of those with disabilities, and actually also to a larger number of people without

I do not personally have much of an issue with the term disability. I would agree that I do have a disability, and that it can be extremely disabling. But it can also be worked with if I am surrounded by people who are willing to be understanding, and to provide me the right environment to minimise the impact my disability has on my ability to work, and to succeed.

Starting my recent internship has made me aware of the difficulty I would definitely have to work full-time, while juggling my medical appointments. I can see why this could be unattractive for an employer, and even for me; even if I managed to find an employer who was happy for me to take time off work for appointments, it would mean that my disability would still be impacting my ability to work full-time, and receive full pay. But this is the thing. I would not think about that; that is something I have to live with, but being discriminated against, is not.

I would be overwhelmed by the amazing support of my workplace to enable me to work. I would arrange my appointments as best I could to avoid interruption. I would stay late at work if I could, or arrive early. I would give everything I could and more, and being able to have my necessary appointments would actually boost my productivity at work, compared to if I was having to delay them, hide them, or become stressed at managing them.

The thing is, people can discriminate against people with mental illness, but mental illness is never going to discriminate against you. You might have a negative attitude towards those with a mental health problem, but they are still going to come into your life. It is going to affect your colleagues, employees, friends or family, whether you like it or not. Whether you think it is something that happens in your life or not.

More scarily perhaps, is that one day it might be you. You could be the top dog in a major company who does not take particularly take an interest in disability in the workplace. You might be a bit irritated that your PA, Janice, has to take two hours off on a Wednesday afternoon because she has a one hour appointment with her community psychiatric nurse, plus has to travel to and from the clinic. You will forget Janice stayed at work for an extra hour on three days last week. You will forget Janice doesn’t take lunch breaks, and always emails back at weekends. You will forget that since Janice started her role, she has made your day-to-day life easier, and taken on many extra roles that you never expected her to take.

You will be reluctant to hire the best applicant for your new events manager because she disclosed that she has physical health problems that will mean she has to take some time off work once per month to travel to a hospital out of the local area. You will think that you need someone who does not have these needs, and that they are not suitable for your company, just like the principal that once said to my support worker that students with severe mental health problems are not going to achieve A-Levels, so why support them in trying to do so?

And then fast forward, it is 2027. You have been getting very stressed at work. Janice left, and her replacement is struggling. Your wife has been working away a lot, your kids have left home, and it is like you never see neither them or your wife any more; she admitted a few months back that she is not happy in your marriage. Your mother has Alzheimer’s (which is a mental illness too, but for some reason that doesn’t count) and she is deteriorating. Last time you saw her she did not know who you were. You have begun thinking a lot about your childhood growing up, and how she used to be. You keep remembering things you had forgotten; maybe your childhood was not as rosy as you had convinced yourself. You remember your father being very violent to your mother, and having to witness that. Bit by bit it is coming back to you, like a tap that no matter how hard you tighten it, it just will not stop dripping.

You feel low. You know you do. You say low, because you do not want to say depressed. Men do not get depressed, not strong men like you. Not top of the company men. Not men who earn £100, 00o per annum. Not men who are well educated, and whose parents were too. You tell yourself you will ‘snap out of it’ soon. Maybe you just need to work harder. Only weak people take a step back, take a break. But it is getting worse, and you end up going to see your GP. I mean, he will just say you are fine.

Well, apparently not. Apparently you have signs of depression, but mental illness is not something you will ever experience, right? He must be wrong.

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