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.
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!)
Is a suicide attempt only really a suicide attempt if the person intended to kill themselves? Is a suicide attempt only serious if the person intended on ending their life?
Often it appears that suicide attempts are not taken seriously. You will hear a whole range of statements; ‘Well, if they had really wanted to die they would not have called for help.” “It probably would not have killed them anyway.” “If they really wanted to kill themselves they would just do it.”
I do not know why people say or believe these things. I think people do not think about it enough to hear what they are really saying, or they are just too far from being able to put themselves into a suicidal persons shoes to be able to understand what it is really like to be that person who attempts to end their own life. In some cases I think people do not want to believe that someone really actually meant to cause themselves life changing, or life ending, harm.
People do not understand that even if a suicide attempt is not successful, it could have been. People do not realise the state of mind a person has to be in to even attempt to end their own life. They do not understand just how traumatic going through that kind of act is.
No, not everyone that attempts to end their own lives wants to actually kill themselves. Does this mean they are not suicidal? No. People do not want to be suicidal. People do not want to feel like death is the only way out. People wish there was an alternative option.
People are desperate, and they can only see that one solution. People make suicide attempts because they feel like there is no choice remaining, so yes, sometimes people do something and call for help. They call for help because they are scared, they call for help because dying is terrifying, and dying alone is even more so. People call for help because they did it because in that moment they could not see a way out, but they also know now that this is not the way through it – but does that mean they did not have an intention of dying? Does that mean it is not serious? No.
Being suicidal, and not wanting to be, is one of the worst types of suicidal experiences there are. You are trapped, and there is no correct way forward. If you do not act on your thoughts you are going to be left with them and nothing will change, if you do act on them you will be left with a million more (but different) problems.
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.
It is #TimetoTalk day tomorrow.
‘Time to Talk’ day is held by the mental health movement ‘Time to Change‘, which aims to change how people think and act about mental health to reduce isolation, and feelings of shame or worthlessness.
‘Time to Talk’ day tackles the difficulty of being able to be open about mental health problems by supporting people to be able to take the time to talk and listen.
For someone with a mental health problem talking can be a complicated issue. There is wanting to be open and honest Vs the fears of being judged and treated differently. There is wanting to share your struggles and experiences Vs wanting to maintain privacy. There is wanting to raise awareness and reduce stigma Vs not knowing what, nor how much, to say.
Talking is important. Being able to talk if you want to is particularly important; but I have to highlight that it is OK for you to choose how you approach this. Some people are private, some people are open, and many are somewhere in-between. There is no right or wrong way to talk about mental illness. We all share different things with different people; some people find strangers easier to talk to, some people prefer to talk to a select few. Some people talk online to raise awareness, but do not talk about it in their day-to-day lives.
Talking to raise awareness is incredibly important, but this does not mean you have to talk about anything you do not want to. The point of this campaign is to help people, not pressure them. You might just want to raise general awareness, rather than divulge personal information. Finding how you want to use your experiences and voice is a journey that takes time.
The reality is though, that despite amazing improvements in public understanding of mental illness, there remains stigma attached to having a mental disorder. There can still be feelings of shame attached to struggling with something that is both extremely common, and also not the your fault.
The biggest thing we need everyone to understand is that nobody is immune from mental health problems. The chances of you knowing a friend, family member, or colleague with a mental health problem is high. One in four people will experience a mental health problem in any given year. Not having a mental health problem right now does not make you immune. Having a great career, great family, good income, or anything else does not make you immune neither. Just become someone “looks fine” does not mean they do not have a mental health problem.
Mental illness does not discriminate; it can affect everyone.
Sadly it often takes personal experiences to fully understand the impact and reality of life with a mental illness. It often takes having, or knowing someone with a mental illness, to make people take an interest – but mental illness should be something on everyone’s agenda.
“The way you act towards someone with a mental illness can change their life: by opening up to mental health you can make a real difference. ”
Time to Change
Mental illness is a disability, but with the right treatment, understanding, empathy and adjustments, it does not have to be disabling.
For ideas on how to get involved with #TimetoTalk visit the website here.
If you have not yet signed the ‘Time to Change’ pledge and joined the 96675 other peopple who have, do so now!