Tag Archives: discrimination

Quick Mental Health Awareness Q&A

Why is it important to raise awareness?

People with mental illness not only have to suffer the debilitating effects of the illness but also have to suffer stigma, discrimination and a whole host of effects caused by misunderstanding and ignorance. Raising awareness of what mental health will go part way to breaking this down.

The more society understands about mental illness, the more we talk about it, the more normal it will be for people to get the help they need, earlier, and therefore a meaningful recovery is more likely.

People with mental health problems can work provided they can get the right support. At the moment, this support is not available. Raising awareness will ensure moving from benefits into work can be an easier transition and reasonable adjustments within the workplace will ensure staying in work is possible. It’s not rocket science.

So, basically, what is mental illness?

In a nut shell, when chemicals within the brain get out of balance, thoughts and feelings become out of sink with reality, meaning we may behave out of character. This means it can be solved on a number of levels by tackling the thoughts, the feelings, the behaviours or the chemicals but most people think it is best to manage all of them to some degree since they all impact each other.

Is mental illness scary?

As a sufferer, I would say, “yes” – at times I’ve been petrified.

Watching a loved one suffer, I would say, “yes” – at times, it’s devastating.

BUT this does not men we should be sacred to talk about it – talking will only help these situations. Mental illness will always, by its nature, be painful , it will break hearts and break lives but if, by talking about it, we can ease the tensions and heightened emotions, we will be making progress.

If I don’t know anyone with a mental illness, why should I care?

1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem min any given year. You may think you don’t know anyone but I promise you do, if they’re not talking about it to you, it’s because of fear; fear of judgement, ignorance and discrimination. If you genuinely don”t think you know anyone with mental illness, just for fun, count down a list of friends and ever 4th person, say “it could be them” – that person could suffer this year – think of the devastation that could cause, they might not be able to leave the house, to meet you socially, to go to work, to play with their children, their life might be at risk, they might need specialist treatment – now do you care?

Bit feeling a bit low or a bit worried isn’t that serious is it?

“Depression is sucking the life out of me, it saps me of emotion, it hags over me like a black fog. I feel nothing and everything. I’m completely exhausted but I can’t sleep. I can’t eat. My body aches. No medication is working. I think the only way out is suicide.”

“I feel so overwhelmed that my family is in danger, I have an in uncontrollable compulsion to check the door is locked, multiple time. Thoughts intrude my mind, it doesn’t feel like they’re mine. It’s called anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder but it feels like it’s ruining my life.”

“I’m trapped in a cycle of not eating. Food feels like the enemy, I’m genuinely terrified of what it will do to my body. I hear a voice telling me that I do not deserve to eat. I so desperately want to break free of this destructive cycle but it feels like there’s no hope. I’ve been told I have anorexia but I don’t think I have because I’m not skinny enough.”

“At times I’ve thought I can fly, it might sound funny but it’s not when I’m feeling so elated I climb out of my 2nd floor flat and flap my arms. Breaking my leg wasn’t enough to stop me, my mind was still racing, I ran out into traffic thinking I was invincible. I felt awful waking up in hospital realizing I’d put so many people at risk. This is the sort of thing I do when I’m manic.”

Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 years. Mental illness is incredibly serious, it can stop people working, it can stop people socialising, it can literally stop people living their lives, it affects not only the person with the diagnosis but everyone around them.

Mental health services are still not properly funded, waiting lists are too long and people are not receiving the teat,jet they need.

If it’s all so bleak, what’s the point?

It is possible for everyone to recover a meaningful life, no matter how serious their mental illness has been. For some people this will mean managing with medication and ongoing therapy but the majority of people can move on to be so completely free from their mental illness. This is all only possible provided they have access to appropriate support and treatment – this wil only happen if people feel they can come forward for help and if they help is there!

What do we need to do?

  1. Share this blog ūüôā It’s one small step on the road.
  2. If you think someone might be struggling, just asks them how they are and if there’s anything you can do and don’t be scared.
  3. If you have a story to tell, share it. I know it’s hard but someone has to break the silence – knowledge can only come from the knowledgeable.
  4. Take in interest in things like Time to Change and Heads Together, follow them on Facebook or regularly visit their campaign pages, they’re the experts on how we’re going to move forward with all this!

What’s the point of raising mental health awareness?

I’m really excited to see the The Duke and Dutchess of Cambridge and The Prince of Wales heading up the Heads Together mental health campaign. Only good can come from talking more about mental health and ‘celebrity’ status can aid this.


They’ve brought together The Mix, Place2Be, Contact, Mind, CALM, Best Beginnings, Anna Freud and Young Minds so let’s hope this campaign does the business and gets everyone talking about mental health the way us Brits talk about the weather! (Maybe not, that would be weird!!)

It is great that Heads Together is the charity of the year for the London Marathon and I’m really excited everyone is wearing the #HeadsTogether headbands but will anyone know what it’s all about and why we need to get everyone talking about mental health? What are we actually going to talk about when we get started? Here’s what I want to say, I’m sure many others with mental illness would echo my words:

  1. My mental health diagnosis doesn’t mean I can’t work. Everyone has skills and experience to offer the work place, it is an employer’s duty to offer reasonable adjuastments to enable people to work despite a diagnosis. Please do not discriminate against me, I am not my illness.
  2. Just because my illness is hidden I should not be made to feel ashamed or guilty nor should I feel I have to prove or justify my illness because people assume I’m making it up.
  3. Sometimes my mind makes me behave out of character, please forgive me, don’t judge me.
  4. It’s ok to talk to me about mental health, it’s not catching, it does not make you weak. The only way we’re going to reduce stigma is if we make it a normal and natural thing to talk about.
  5. Caring for someone with a mental health diagnosis is tough, carers need support too.
  6. Mental health education in schools is vital, early diagnosis means recovery is more likely.
  7. Recovery is different for everyone. Some people need to stay on medication for life, some people need therapy on and off for life. Not everyone will be in full time paid work but striving for recovery means an illness can be managed and a meaningful life can be found.


So, however we do it and whoever does it, raising awareness of mental health issues is important and these are some key messages. We can use all the gimmicks and celebrity endorsement we like but we must remember key messages we’re trying to communicate!

Should I be glad my illness is invisible?

I have read a lot of blogs and articles with people outraged that people have no understanding about invisible illnesses. As a mental health blogger it’s easy for me to climb on the bandwagon but as usual I like to ponder things from a different angle. Mental illness by no means has the monopoly, most cancers, diabetes and most illnesses involving internal organs are on the list of invisible illness.

how-we-feel

Someone came to me the other day and told me about being jeered at in the street. He was confused about why but it made him angry and upset. The gentleman in question has a learning disability and the likelihood is that the way he was standing/walking/looking may have looked out of place/unusual, he is unaware that he looks different. Why would someone jeer at someone with an obvious disability? It’s plain cruel. It made me stop and think about how I feel about my illnesses being completely hidden.

I smile as I recall the number of times, while seriously unwell, even sectioned, in hospital, I was mistaken for a nurse on the ward. Most of the time,¬†from my general behaviour and demeanour, no-one would have been able to tell the torture going on inside my head. No matter how unwell I’ve been I’ve always washed and dressed and tried to face the day.

chronic-illness

Sometimes mental illness is more apparent, for example if someone is unkempt, looking withdrawn or responding to stimuli other people cannot perceive. But most of the time mental illness is relatively hidden if not invisible.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

When I despair about having a hidden illness, am I seriously suggesting¬†it’s better or easier when the illness or disability is on show? I have wept when I’ve watched documentaries about people with facial disfigurements, the stigma, the shame they feel and the impact this has on them day to day as they fear people staring, pointing and making judgements is totally undeserving. Katie Piper¬†is a stunning example of someone who talks openly about what it’s like. I cannot begin to imagine how people manage a condition people can see.

Perhaps this is a blog about judgements people make.

judging-a-person

Why, whether obvious or hidden do people make assumptions and judgements about other people’s abilities and disabilities?

Why should I be afraid to park in the disabled bay? If I have a blue badge it’s because I need to park closer to the building, should it matter to other people why? The wheelchair is the universal sign for disability, it does not mean I have to be ¬†in a wheelchair to use the space. People with conditions from autism to fibromyalgia, from COPD to paraplegia need to use disabled parking. Why is it anyone else’s business? If I have claimed a blue badge fraudulently, this is a matter between me and the authorities, not Joe Blogs Public.

if-you-could-see

On the flip side, just because someone has a visible¬†illness, disability or condition, it seems that people make judgements about what they can and can’t do. For example, the gentleman I wrote about earlier (with the learning disability), we are working very hard with him to become more independent, which he is managing very well and it’s building his self esteem. But the people in our local shop assume he cannot do this and therefore insist on¬†him giving them his shopping list so they pick items for him, it is well meaning but completely unnecessary and making him think he can’t do it!

The benefit of an invisible illness is that you can choose to keep it hidden, no-one else has to know unless you wish to tell them. The down side is, if people assume I’m ok, I do not get the help and support I need.

The stigma and discrimination experienced by someone with an invisible illness is due to lack of understanding and awareness that the illness exists, the assumption is, if you look normal, surely you should just get on with life?

The stigma and discrimination experienced by someone with an obvious illness is due to people making inaccurate judgements about something they think they understand but the reality is they do not understand at all.

Why do we place so much importance on appearance? We need to stop judging a book by its cover. Just because I look “normal” don’t assume I can just get on with life;¬†if I look different, don’t assume I’m not capable.

be-curious

Is it ok to be a little bit OCD?

No, it’s not ok, there’s no such thing!

I was horrified recently when I saw a young girl, hold a creased piece of paper aloft and call out “you’ve triggered my OCD”.

Would anyone call out “you’ve set off my bulimia” or “you’ve sparked off my schizoid personality disorder”? No!

So why is it ok to make fun of OCD?

It seems there’s something cute or glamorous about wanting things neat, tidy and organised. But this is not what obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is about…it’s a thought disorder with devastating consequences where people have uncontrollable urges to carry out meticulous actions in order to avoid perseived disaster occurring to them or their loved ones. People can need hospitalization as short term management. Long term the condition needs therapy to understand the meaning behind the symptoms and to break the compulsive behaviors.

I’m sure this young girly meant no harm by her comment but unfortunately, language like “I’m a little bit OCD” perpetuates stigma that people with serious mental health disorders could do without. If OCD (or any other disorder) is banded about in a frivolous way, full understanding of the nature and impact of the illness is missing, people think they understand but they miss the point. Misunderstanding has many consequences including discrimination and isolation.


If person A has advertised their OCD as not wanting a crease in their leaflet, how will anyone understand that person B will always be late for meeting friends because they have to perform a repetitive ritual lasting many hours before they can leave the house or they fear for the life of their children? Everyone experiences OCD differently, it’s a highly complicated and varied illness.

I’ve had anorexia and depression, at various times I’ve been more or less ill but at all points in my illness it impacted my ability to function. Yes, it can appear that some illness are on a continuum with neurotypical individuals but there is a line where you fit the criteria for diagnosis and it’s at that point, life is severely impacted. Anorexia is not losing a bit of weight, depression is not feeling a bit sad. Mental illness is complicated, sometimes not even fully understood by the individual who’s suffering.

We must stop this unhelpful language around mental illness. Talk about it, yes, if you suffer, talk about the triggers and how it impacts you but if you do not have a diagnosis, more sensitivity is needed, it is not ok to poke fun at or making light of something you don’t understand.

If we’re “other”, are we mad, bad and dangerous to know?

barriers#2

When considering language, my first port of call is a dictionary to make sure I understand exactly what the word means. But language is complicated by the fact that we use words in different contexts and will mean different things as we try to communicate from our unique set of experiences. For example, do you say “loo”, “lav”, “toilet”, “bathroom” or even “restroom”? For some would consider one more posh than another but if you use the more “posh” word, are you placing yourself above someone who would choose the more “common” word?

Definitions can be found in dictionaries, but the real meaning can only be found when considered in social context. When I hear that someone has a mental health condition, to be honest, not much happens in my brain as I know everyone’s story is different and I do not know someone until I hear their story (once I hear this, empathy is the most usual emotion I experience!). But for a lot of people, they hear “mental health” and a torrent of assumptions and questions will cascade through their mind, “are they dangerous?”, “will they be weird?”, “are they going to cry all the time?”, “are they going to be off work sick all the time?” or maybe “will they be like my friend I know has X condition”.

Stigma and discrimination in mental health are rife due to misunderstanding and the presence of barriers. Our world is full of boundaries. It is interesting to observe that social boundaries e.g. “who’s in, who’s out” are harder to shift than physical boundaries e.g. a garden fence.

Is it helpful to consider mental health conditions and continuation of the norm? This could enable people to develop¬†a degree of empathy with those who have a diagnosis. It¬†could, however, have the opposite effect as it is difficult for people to understand that one person can cope with anxiety, while the next person cannot and, where is the threshold for a diagnosis? “If I can cope with feeling down now¬†and again, why can’t you?”.

Do we call it “mental distress” so that people can relate to the words? Or does this diminish the experience?

Is it more helpful to set mental illness apart from “the norm” and consider them “other”? Unfortunately, history has shown us that this leads to high levels of stigma and discrimination as being “other” is associated with being “bad”, “mad”, “imperfect”, “uncontrollable”, “unpredictable” and generally not fitting in, which is just inconvenient!

At times during my illnesses I can see quite easily that my symptoms have been an¬†extension of the norm, a continuum. For example when my mood has been low…how many days is ok and when have I slipped into not really functioning anymore?

But at other times, I’ve definitely felt “other”. For example, I would hear a voice tell me not to eat the yolk of an egg because it contained cholesterol and I obeyed the unquestioning compulsion to only eat the egg white. At the time, I knew it was healthy to eat the whole egg and that I actually needed the nutrients but it was impossible for me to consider this. At times I felt so alienated and “other”, I was crying out (literally) to be “normal”, the only problem being, I had no idea what normal was! Now recovered, I feel my brain works in a completely different way, I still know that the yolk of an egg contains cholesterol but I never question eating it.

There was also a point in time when I decided suicide was not an option. Before this point, I was told it was important to get to this point but I couldn’t understand how this was possible – surely for every human being on earth it’s an option? Maybe not a serious one, but it’s there?!¬†¬†Once I did¬† get to the point where I decided¬†it wasn’t an option, I began to fight for a better life. There is no continuum, suicide is either an option or it’s not.

So what’s the answer? Education! The problem is not whether we’re the same or different, the problem is the value we attach to the differences. In truth we are all different and it’s far more fun to celebrate those differences than¬†set up barriers and fence people into categories.

So how do we view people with mental health problems? Is it a continuum so we’re all the same and this keeps everyone safe from prejudice? or can we tolerate difference?

There’s nothing wrong with trying to relate, empathise and share experiences but what if “other” just means different and doesn’t mean mad, bad or impossible to understand? What’s so scary about different?

What if “other” just means “I have a different story to share”.

different