A move towards targeted mental health awareness?

It’s mental health awareness week so it’s like I should post. I blog on mental health so not posting would be kind of weird…but then isn’t my whole blog raising awareness? It’s not really my goal to raise awareness for one week annually.

I’ve read some thought provoking stuff surrounding the use of mental health awareness events, which I imagine could apply to other awareness days and weeks too. The first was on Twitter; someone talking about being sick of talking about mental illness and not actually doing anything about it. Tonight I’ve seen a great illustration by rubyetc. I’m sure a lot of you have heard of her and I’ve included the illustration for you – you should check out her work if you’ve never seen her stuff before! Any way, this illustration is based on mental health awareness events being tedious. The illustration contains the comment “Yes I am very aware, thank you very much.”

And I get it. Sometimes I don’t want to hear, write, talk or anything to do with mental illness. Sometimes I hate awareness stuff and as a mental health blogger and as a person living with mental illness, you feel like you are not supposed to feel that way.

I guess the point is that some people are not aware, or not enough. I think awareness campaigns for particular areas of mental health are particularly important such as more misunderstood, often neglected disorders or issues such as addiction, personality disorders, and self-harm in adults. As for more common mental health problems like depression, anxiety and increasingly so with schizophrenia, people are more aware of the symptoms and more understanding than ever; but this doesn’t mean awareness isn’t necessary, but that a focus on specific areas – myths, misconceptions and how to help someone – is required.

When you have a mental illness it can definitely be a bit tedious though. Sometimes it feels like people touch on the subject because it’s awareness week, but not because it really means anything to them. But then how can anyone do in-depth work on EVERY SINGLE awareness event?

All of this has definitely led me to do some reflecting – how can I actually do something that makes a real difference? How can I reach the people that really need reaching? What areas of mental health really do need focusing on?

I feel particularly concerned with raising awareness of borderline personality disorder for obvious reasons; it’s something I’m diagnosed with, and you’re always going to care more about something that has impacted upon your life. But there are a number of things that have impacted upon my life, and this one still stands out to me as something to speak up about because it is such a highly misunderstood disorder which carries such awful stigma, and to be honest I’m not convinced that many people could tell me what BPD is if I stopped them and asked them.

My dream would be to educate professionals that come into contact with those with BPD who need better understanding to improve their ability to help. From personal experience this would be A&E staff and the police, but I am sure there are many more people who would benefit.

So I’m left thinking, can little old me do something about that? And what if I came face-to-face with the people who have seen me at my worst that I never thought I would have to face again? The thought of it is a bit sickening!

A weird thing happened a week or so ago. Two police officers that were involved in an incident with me a while ago did a random courtesy (if you like) call to my house. They called it a welfare check – you can imagine my panic when I opened the door and they said my name. I didn’t remember them because I really wasn’t in a state to even notice what they looked like so I was stood there having an internal panic; what have I done? I can’t remember doing anything?!

The first thing they said was “you look better” and it was weird to see them when I was feeling good and “well”. I think it was even stranger for them. It makes you realise the striking difference between how you are when you are managing, and how you are when you’re not. And I think it’s important for professionals to see that who you are when they see you, in that time of desperation and crisis, is not the person you truly are. I think it increases understanding that for the person to be in such a state, is to show that they truly need help because it’s outside of their ‘norm’. I imagine it is quite easy to see someone in a crisis and think that those moments define them, and I get that. I don’t think it is wrong of people to think that; but it doesn’t define them and it’s going to take people showing who they are beyond their label to change this.

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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Looking for participants in an online focus group on mental illness and UK newspapers

I am looking for a few people (12-20) to take part in an online focus group that is in a forum style. There is one active group right now, another will be made once the first is completed for those who have not taken part in the first.

The topic is the portrayal of mental illness in UK newpapers, and more specifically, whether the portrayal has changed. The only requirement is that you read UK newspapers (print or online).

You do NOT need to have a history of mental illness. If anyone is interested use the link below or message me and I’ll talk you through how to do it if you struggle. There are 4 topics and a lot of questions but there is no requirement to answer or comment on everything. I will be commenting on replies to create a two-way conversation.

This is the link: https://focusgroupit.com/groups/d46db971

If the number of questions overwhelm you, it’s fine to do as much as you have time for and it’s going to be open for a few weeks too.

Thank you!

#TheDollEvolves

I only had a quick glance at the latest range of Barbie dolls that have been revealed, before leaving it open in my tabs to look at later, but I have to say my instant reaction was a positive one. About time crossed my mind.

The new dolls are much more inclusive and realistic than their former counterparts. Barbie dolls have been produced by Mattel for 50 years, and this new line-up of dolls features four different sizes including petite, curvy and tall as well as seven skin tones and twenty-two eye colours and are ready to pre-order under the new Fashionistas Line. The aim of these new dolls is to be diverse.

I think it’s good. It’s needed. These dolls play a much larger role in how children grow up to view women’s bodies, and their own, far more than we can understand. If these dolls only reflect one body shape, they are promoting that shape as the “ideal”, as the norm, as the way you should look. By bringing in these new dolls the brand will be showing children a much more realistic image and challenging this notion of the perfect body.

If you don’t realise how ridiculous the traditional Barbie doll is, take a look here. It is clear that these new dolls are at least making some kind of step forward. I was feeling pretty positive about it. But..then my friend comes in and states that it annoys her because everything seems to offend someone and the only reason they’re doing it is because they have to make people happy. I get her point, I do. However, the potential impact the traditional Barbie doll has on children’s body perception means that yes, people get “offended” by the unrealistic body of standard Barbie dolls, and yes, we have to do something about it. Barbie has received a lot of criticism over recent years from the public, and the fact they have responded to the public’s concerns with this new range makes sense – it’s good for their company image, it’s good for their public relations and it’s probably going to be very good for their profits.

I’m not saying this is by any means the solution to low self-esteem and poor body image in young girls, but it is a small step in making a difference and hopefully it will inspire others to challenge the “ideal” body we seem to look up to within society, and stop people being judged on their appearance.

(But what about Ken?)

To read other peoples thoughts on Twitter look at #thedollevolves

Mental Health stigma has not vanished.

We are bombarded with information relating to mental illness very regularly. Most people know the basic fact that one in four people suffer, at some point in their lives, with a mental illness. It hasn’t always been this way and things have definitely improved, but I can’t help wonder if this change is only in very specific ways.

Certain illnesses seem to be increasingly made aware of and myths and misconceptions challenged; depression is the main illness focussed on, but bipolar disorder, eating disorders, anxiety, OCD and schizophrenia all seem to be highlighted at least more than before.

Yet I can’t help but consider the illnesses most people still don’t understand to really any degree at all. Namely personality disorders and addictions. And I can’t help wonder if we all like to think things are improving more than they actually are, and that everyone likes to think they’ve changed when they haven’t.

Everyone knows someone who has had a mental health issue but I don’t know if people take this and assume they understand from it. And do we really realise the scope of the problem when we are throwing the one in four fact around? ONE in every FOUR people. That’s a terrifying and shocking fact when you put it into real terms, when you look around you and see yourself in a group of 20-something people and realise that at least five people in that group statistically speaking could have a mental health problem.

The biggest issue I find is that people understand mental health to a degree but we are brushing everything under this catch all umbrella when having a mental health problem can actually mean so many different things. We don’t know one person with a physical health problem and assume we understand about all physical health problems and yet we seem to do just this with mental illness.

And people with mental health problems still have to filter themselves, they still fear peoples responses applying for jobs and going to interviews. That hasn’t gone. It feels like everyone wants to understand, but from a distance. And the focus is very often on people once they are ‘recovered’ or managing.

It’s a complicated one. I’m not knocking the work that has been done or the changes that have happened because from where we were 50 years ago, it’s astounding. I just hope that people don’t start thinking enough has been done simply because we’re all talking about it now.