Tag Archives: mental illness

Me, my self harm and my scars

I feel incredibly strongly that self harm is an important topic to talk about. Not only because it is on the increase in schools (and talking about it is the only way to prevent it) but I wish to break down the stigma, misundstanding and controversy surrounding the topic.

Don’t get me wrong, I find it a very difficult topic to open up about, I feel sad that I’ve used it as a coping mechanism and I’m gutted that I have to live with my history on show but we have to start talking about it somehow!

Read more about my story here: http://metro.co.uk/2017/06/19/my-history-of-self-harm-has-left-me-with-scars-but-i-see-them-as-a-mark-of-my-survival-6686564/ 

This is my dream

This year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness Week is Surviving or Thriving. I absolutely love this, to me it’s making the point that so many people miss. Getting through a mental illness is all about surviving, surviving the illness itself, surviving what the illness takes away from you, surviving the mental health system and more. 

But once on the road to recovery (which I truely believe is possible for everyone) it really is about finding how to thrive. Many people get stuck in survival mode and I want to cry out to them, you can do better, there is more out there for you, I promise.

I want to be an example, dare I say, an inspiration, that survival in possible.

When your mind is sick and all around you is black, it can feel like there is no hope, like you’re all alone and no one has ever felt as bad as you feel before. I have been there, I have been in deep dark depression and debilitating anorexia. At times I’ve been so stuck in my head my behaviour has made no sense at all. I’ve been in that place where you make the same mistakes over and over again, desperately hoping something will magically solve itself.

But I survived, I fought my way to freedom.

It is wonderful to be positive about the possibility of freedom from mental illness but sometimes there’s an added dimension that makes recovery far harder than just taking medication and forging a few new neural pathways (if that wasn’t hard enough!).

Eating disorders, in particular, are incredibly difficult to recover from because as they are a coping mechanism and therefore there’s a big part of the sufferer that does not actually want to recover. This can be really hard to admit, and nearly impossible for other people to understand. I argued with myself, I was going through hell, I hated what was going on, so, of course I wanted to get better but a big part of me was holding onto (what felt like) a safe coping mechanism.

So, I want to be a warning.

I have recently spent some time thinking about what my mental illness took away from me.

Sufferers are all too aware of how much we lose to our illness but at times we can be so embroiled in the thoughts, feelings and behaviours that we become blind to the scale of the impact.

Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder, from medical complications associated with the illness as well as suicide. – Beat

I’m fortunate that I’m here to tell my story, however…

I have problems with my bones, colon and stomach, I have fibromyalgia and could be infertile. I have to have frequent blood tests which often show deficiencies and I continue to take medication and undergo other treatments including operations to manage the various conditions. Consequences other people face include ongoing liver, kidney or even heart problems, with eating disorders, no body system is left untouched.

If you or someone you know is struggling to break free, I implore you to do everything you can to find that tiny part that does want things to be different and hold on tight! Things will only be different if you try something different. 

Surviving mental illness takes effort, thriving takes something else!

Thriving at life isn’t easy, the truth is, life’s hard – I don’t think anyone would deny that! I have to work hard at the little things, being spontaneous, using the phone, knowing how to take care of myself, smiling when I have no energy and being socialable when I don’t want to. That feeling “stop the world I want to get off!’ – I get that a lot! But I’ve discovered the things I like, I know what makes me happy and I make sure I take time out of life.

When making my way back into the world of work I did some volunteer work to a) find out what I was good at and b) find out what I liked. Trying new things with no strings attached is fun and liberating! It became fairly obvious that my forte was going to be in the mental health world, my personal experience built on my background education. Since then I’ve been gaining experience in a variety of settings and more than anything I’m enjoying writing 🙂

There is no definition of thriving, you are not going to know when you’ve ticked that box and that can be tough! It’s a journey not a destination!

My dream is that people can see that I can recovered and have hope that they can develop their own version of recovery, I want those struggling with the pull of addictive behaviours to find the desire to break free and I want those stuck in survival mode to break free and find how to thrive in their unique way.

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!

Survey reveals referral rates need to improve

As part of Eating Disorders Awareness Week, Beat, the UK’s leading eating disorders charity, asked nearly 1700 people, (1420 of which had an eating disorder, the others knew someone close to them with an eating disorder) about their experience with GPs.

I took part in this survey to get my voice heard and it seems many people feel the same way I do…

The survey revealed that half of sufferers rated their experience as “poor” or “very poor”. Of people who would have benefitted from immediate psychological support 3 in 10 were not referred to specialised services.

More than half of the sufferers felt their GP didn’t understand them and only one third (34%) thought their doctor knew how to help them.

Only 20% of patients came away from their appointment with information about eating disorders and services that could help them.

It will have taken many of these people months if not years to have reached the point of asking for help, the courage to make the appointment, get through the door and start talking about their problem would have taken such courage, to be turned away with nothing is very worrying.



Why is early referral so important? Simple – recovery rates improve.

Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses and currently, of those who live, many remain chronically ill. The sooner someone is referred for specialist support the higher their chances of full recovery.

It is important to work out why these vital referrals aren’t happening…

I do not want to come across as GP bashing, there is no way that some of the most caring people in our society are deliberately denying people the support and treatment they need. Andrew Radford, Beat’s Chief executive believes medical students, hoping to become GPs, need more training. I went to medical school, the shear volumes of information you need to absorb is vast. Maybe it’s not just about “recognising the signs and symptoms” as Mr Radford put it, maybe there’s more to it.

When I went to the GP as a 15 year old, I was not referred. I was not given any information. I did not receive the help I needed. It was hard enough just getting through the door but there is no way of turning back the clock to find out why. Maybe I didn’t explain myself well enough? Maybe there should be more eduction in schools so I was more equipped when I went to my GP?

My experience was 20 years ago but the Beat survey reveals this is still happening today. Is it the “old school” doctors who aren’t keeping up to date with training? Do newer GPs need more training? Are GPs/secondary services using out-dated/overly stringent criteria as referral criteria e.g. BMI? Is there an inaccurately held belief that if you refer someone there’ll develop an eating disorder where there wasn’t one? Are GPs so overworked, although they know the signs and symptoms to looks out for, they miss them? Do they think, “if it’s that serious they’ll come back”? Do patients go with too many problems and the GPs are distracted by other issues they consider more important? Do doctors not have enough times to refer people? Are doctors unaware of what secondary care is available? Do GPs think the secondary care is inappropriate/unhelpful? Is the mental health stigma still getting in the way?

We really need to get to the bottom of what is going wrong in the consultations where people are not getting what they need.

Perhaps some positive news is that once some of the sufferers swapped GPs (as nearly 1 in 6 did) they reported receiving the help they needed. When I approached a GP in my 20s I’m very glad to say I’ve had much better support. By this time I was a lot sicker, my GP had to persuade me to access the secondary and then tertiary services, she was excellent. Since then, I’ve moved a couple of times and each time, I’ve had a mixed experience with GPs. It’s been very difficult to find what I need but each time, with some perseverance I’ve found a GP with the right skills and experience to support me. Maybe I am a tricky/difficult patient but I’m definitely not alone with these feelings as the Beat research reveals.


Somehow we need to make sure that every single one of the 725,000 people in the U.K. affected by an eating disorder gets the support and treatment they need to recover.

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

For more information:

Independent.co.uk

Full results of Beat survey

Back on medication – have I failed?

Some of you will know, this time last year I was gradually coming off my psychiatric medication. I’d been on medication most of my adult life, I was still in therapy but I felt it was the right time to give it a go. If you’ve been on medication a long time it can be hard to tell if you still need it. The only way to be sure is to try coming off them in a controlled way and see if symptoms return. I did this, I came off everything very gradually, keeping a careful track of how I was feeling and what thoughts I was having. Soon after, my therapy came to an end and all seemed to be going well.

Unfortunately, my physical health in 2016 has taken a bad turn. I’ve had to see specialist after specialist as one organ system after another started going wrong. I was having numerous tests, appointments and procedures. For a time I was managing to keep positive and take it in my stride but there was only so much I could take and I started noticing symptoms of mental illness creeping back in. In an appointment with my GP I was updating her on all the hospital appointments I’d had and talking about test results etc, I was trying to hold it together but eventually the tears started falling. I then explained the other symptoms I was struggling with.

zebra

We had both been keeping an eye on my mental health as it’s common for physical health problems to take their toll on ones mental health and so at this point we discussed going back on medication. I felt disappointed about the prospect but I made the tough decision to give it a go and see if it could help. Starting on a low dose, of course, and stepping it up gradually until I felt a benefit.

woman-with-head-in-hands-e1449085629223

Initially this felt like a failure, I’d worked so hard to remain stable but I’ve managed to re-frame how I see it and I now don’t see it as a failure. In fact, noticing my symptoms and flagging up the problems earlier rather than later is an achievement for me. If the chemicals in my brain are out of balance again, surely it’s sensible to try and put this right? My old habit was to ignore it for as long as possible and hope it would sort itself out but this landed me in hospital too many times! If someone breaks their leg, you don’t expect them to walk around on it, ignoring the pain, we’d all advise them to have it x-rayed and put in plaster. It’s the same with mental illness, it’s important to find the right treatment.

Fortunately, this time, it seems we’ve spotted the signs early enough and the medication is helping.

Like all medications it’s important you’re not on them if it’s not necessary. We’ve all heard about the antibiotic crisis, over treating can have a devastating effect. It is important that anti-depressants and the like are not taken lightly without thinking about therapy and lifestyle changes as well. Also, we need to give careful consideration to any unwanted side effects. It’s also been much trickier for me this time as we’ve had to consider the interactions with all the physical health medication I’m now taking.

tablets

I do not want to be on psychiatric medication longer than necessary so when things settled down I will consider coming off them again. Unfortunately, this doesn’t look like it’s going to happen any time soon. But, I’m not going to beat myself up or apologise for putting my hand up and saying “I need some additional support just now”.

shutterstock_104302670

Fake it ’til you make it – does it work?

As a mental health recovery worker, my heart sank when I heard my colleague (who I respect a great deal) use the phrase “fake it ’til you make it” with one of her service users.

This was the worst thing someone once said to me during my recovery journey. I had spent my whole life faking it, and this was what was making me sick. Constantly trying to “fit in”, to be “normal”, meant I’d lost sight of who I really was and it made me more and more unhappy.


I’m an introvert and in a world built for extroverts I feel I constantly have to fake social confidence. When I say I’m an introvert, I mean I’m at the extreme end of the spectrum.

By no means do I want anyone to feel sorry for me. Now I know I’m an introvert and I’m ok with it, I love it! How lucky am I that I don’t NEED other people to recharge my batteries? How great is it that I can amuse myself with a ball of yarn on the sofa for hours without getting bored or needing attention from anyone?

Faking being an extrovert is exhausting. In a room full of people, where background noice makes my ear drums painfully contract and  the ridiculously high watt light bulbs just want to shut my eyes, I smile and nod along to the conversation. I try desperately to drop in some interesting or helpful remark now and again just so someone doesn’t ask me if I’m ok.

No, I’m not ok…faking having a great time when your heart is screaming “get me out of here” takes a lot of self discipline!

If introverts don’t fake it, they’re considered a “party pooper” or “billy-no-mates” or a “hermit”, these are not considered indearing qualities, they’re unfair derogatory insults. The truth is, I just like being on my own, I find peace and quiet restful and other people (except a select few) sap my limited energy. Why is this considered strange?


I felt angry that my colleague had no idea the pain my faking had caused me and I considered her comment insensitive. Add insult to injury she has to be the most extrovert person I know! In my anger I was wondering how she could possibly make such a rookie mistake. But, as I say, I respect her so I knew she meant well and I had to stop and think about what she was trying to say.

The context of her comment was with someone who had mild depression and anxiety. They had previously been an extrovert and were disappointed and frustrated that they’d lost that part of them. My colleague was suggesting that they do the things they knew they’d previously enjoyed. The idea being if you immerse yourself in things, you know, deep down, are part of your character and enjoyable, then, fake a smile now and again, eventually the old you will emerge. My colleague was helping her service user believe in himself again. This genuinely works provided you also address the issues that led to the mental illness occurring in the first place.


Saying this to me, or any introvert, however, would just compound the issues that led to the illness developing. When this comment was said to me, it confirmed that was the failure I felt and unfortunately led me to feel that if I had to fake it for the rest of my life (since I’d been faking it all up until now and I’d never “made it” I wasn’t going to suddenly be able to make it now) there really was no point in going on.

If you tell an introvert to “fake it” to “make it” in the world, instead of building them up, you will be smashing their self esteem to smithereens. We’re already great fakers, what we really need is to be told, “it’s ok to be you”.

For an introvert, finding recovery can be a lot more subtle than for an extrovert. When depressed, the usual reaction is to hide away from the world. Extroverts needs to get out there, find people, build their energy from them. An introvert needs to be truthful about what makes them happy, it might be about treating yourself to some luxuary bath salts or lighting a candle while doing some breathing exercises. I’m not advocating introverts continuing to hide away, we all need someone in our lives, I’m just saying an introvert needs to find balance.


When searching for freedom from a mental illness, it’s about finding out who you really are. If faking being an extrovert will remind you of how fun it is, go for it. If faking being an extrovert will just remind you that you hate faking being an extrovert, please stop!

Goodbye my friend, choosing to forgive

TW – Trigger Warning – contains suicide theme

A dear friend of mine died as a result of her own actions. We do not know if she intended to end her life, she was deeply unwell and the only way she knew how to cope with the despair was to repeatedly take extreme risks with her life and it was one of these actions that finally took her from this world.

broken

She was beautiful, inside and out. A bright light in the world. She was an inspiration to me. I first got to know her when she was facilitating an eating disorder recovery course I was attending. She been through the pain that is anorexia and she showed me it was possible to come out the other side. We grew to be good friends, but her vulnerability to mental illness continued and it took its grip once again.

At her funeral, I was very fortunate to be reminded about the power of forgiveness and how essential it is at times of grief. I needed to be reminded that holding onto sadness, anger and guilt won’t help anyone, the only way to move forward in life is to manage these emotions in a healthy way.

  • Days before she died, Mary (not her real name) had applied for a job and she was rejected by email because she’d previously been suspended relating to her mental health problems. Of course, I do not blame this person for her death, the world is full of triggering events, but this was a contributing factor to how she felt. I need to forgive this person for not giving her the chance she needed.
  • Mary’s husband had some difficulties which Mary really struggled to deal with. A lot of her friends tried to persuade her to leave him but I listened to her while she wrestled with her thoughts and feelings saying I would support her with whatever she decided. She decided to forgive him, I need to follow her amazing example and forgive him for putting her through such pain.
  • Before going to hospital Mary had received inadequate support from the community mental health team. This could have been for number of reasons. It’s sad that people with Borderline Personality Disorder often receive poor or disjointed care due to lack of understanding, stigma and discrimination. I blog, aiming to improve understanding of all mental health conditions, it’s one small way I hope I can help. All mental health services are stretched due to lack of funding. We can all join campaigns to improve the state of mental health services. Instead of feeling angry and let down, I need to forgive and use my emotions to act and improve things.
  • According to newspaper reports of the inquest into Mary’s death she’d been assessed on her admission to hospital and the doctor did not pick up that she was a suicide risk or at risk of harming herself and did not therefore recommend she be on a high level of observations. In my mind, something went wrong in this assessment. questionsWas Mary given the opportunity to tell someone how distressed she was? Did Mary feel she couldn’t tell anyone? Was she so distressed, she didn’t want anyone to stop her acting? Did Mary tell someone but they didn’t act or even record it? Was Mary so impulsive, she had no idea she was going to do what she did? These questions could go around in my head forever but I will never find the answers, no one can ever ask Mary what happened from her perspective so I need to forgive and let them go.
  • I need to forgive the ward manager who smirked during the hearing and had to be removed from court to be told how to behave. He has no idea how hurtful his behaviour was.
  • It is really hard to admit I feel angry at Mary for doing something so dangerous and putting her life at risk so many times. But I know she was ill. Mental illness is powerful and the voices accompanying the darkness can persuade the sufferer to act in uncharacteristic ways. Admitting I’m angry with Mary is the first step towards forgiving her.
  • I believe in God, as did Mary. The existence of mental illness doesn’t make sense but the brain is an organ like any other that can go wrong and get sick. God bears the brunt of much anger from anyone and everyone, whether they believe in him or not. Some people seem to think, when  all else fails, at least there’s God to blame. But holding onto anger doesn’t do anyone any good. Accepting that we live in a fallen world may be the only way to get past this one.
  • I wish I could ask Mary for forgiveness, I’m sorry for:
    • Not being there for her
    • Not making people step up and give her the care she needed
    • Anything I did that added to her distress
    • Anything I should have done but didn’t that could have prevented this tragedy
  • Ultimately, I need to forgive myself…

forgive-yourself

None of these people will know the process I’m choosing to go through but if I don’t forgive them, I will be choosing to hold onto my anger, sadness, guilt and despair. Keeping myself trapped in these emotions will gnaw away at me, it will not bring Mary back and it would devastate her if she knew I was doing that to myself. Forgiveness is not a feeling, it’s a choice. I must follow Mary’s example of how healing forgiveness could be. I will never forget but the only way to ease the extreme pain is to forgive.

not-for-other-people

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 a diagnosis, a label or an identity?

I’ve had a number of conversations over the years about the language used around mental illness – it’s complicated matter, made more complicated by people not knowing the power behind their words.

“I am not my illness”

I’ve had a gentleman with schizophrenia say they detest being called “schizophrenic”, explaining this by saying “you would not say someone is a cancer”. However, we are not saying he “is schizophrenia”, we would be saying he “is schizophrenic” just like we say someone “is diabetic”. However, I think what he was trying to express was that he is not his illness, he did not identify with his illness, he did not want to be labelled in this way and this is to be respected.


Even professionals use words derogatorily

If I said someone “is diabetic” I would not have any opinion or judgement on their personality or any other characteristics. However, I recently heard a paramedic say this patient “is schizophrenic” with so much power, bitterness and judgement, I could tell he was casting aspersions on this person’s character. I had presented my service users as a “56 year old gentleman with [a number of medical complaints] and schizophrenia” as information that may lead to conclusions about the current presenting complaint. While one person may be able to say someone “is schizophrenic” without any preconceived judgements, this paramedic was not one of them. Stigma in society is so strong, but it’s people who are being stigmatised that suffer, those doing the stigmatising don’t realised a subtle language change could have a powerful impact. With this small change, a person is not labelled as their illness but someone who has an illness.

“I am more than my illness”

Mental illness can have a negative impact on one’s identity. When I was diagnosed with anorexia I could have let this be my identity… i could have felt, I am not Frances anymore, “I am anorexic”. I have seen people so consumed by their illness, they may as well say “I am anorexia” – I am not a person anymore, I am an illness. But I did not want to label myself in this way, although it was true I was “anorexic” I preferred to see myself as “a person with anorexia”, then my character and personality traits could exist alongside my illness. It has been proven that assumptions about what it means to be mentally ill such as incompetence and inadequacy (commonly held) will lead to a vicious cycle of impoverished sense of self and low self esteem, ceasing to try and work or fit into society and poorer psychosocial outcomes and sustained symptom severity. (Read the full article here.) It follows that, if you identify as your illness, you identify as incompetent and inadequate, whereas if you consider yourself to have an illness, you are not your illness, you can distance yourself from these negative characteristics.

Of course, this is down to the individual and if saying “I’m bi-polar” or “I’m schizophrenic” does not impact on their ability to see themselves as separate from the illness that’s their prerogative. Or, if they want to be identified as their illness, that’s also, up to them. Perhaps I’m saying, from within a mental illness it can be very difficult to see the path to recovery, how you see yourself in relationships with your illness can be the turning point. In my opinion, recovery and turning away from being consumed by mental illness is possible for everyone (recovery may not mean cure – but that’s a subject for a different blog).

labels

When is a diagnostic label unhelpful?

I’ve had other conversations with people who think we should do away with mental illness diagnoses all together as the words can have such a negative impact on the experience. It can be very confusing when some words can be used by the general population, for example feeling depressed or anxious are valid and appropriate emotions, however, clinical depression and anxiety disorder are very different experiences, in some ways a million miles away from the basic emotion. For other diagnoses there are other problems e.g. the use of derogatory terms, such as “schizo” which has been used to mean “unpredictable criminal”. Personality disorder is a confusing term, we think (as society) we understand what is meant by personality so if someone’s personality is disordered, surely, their core being is fundamentally altered/damaged? Well, no, personality disorders are extreme complex and there is much discussion about changing the label to fit the experience better. But an individual experience of different personality disorders is unique such that everyone has a different perspective on which words would be more useful.


Of course, diagnoses are an essential part of communicating. It’s helpful if a collection of symptoms has a name so that treatment can be targeted appropriately. I have also had the experience of an inaccurate diagnosis being used which then had a negative impact on the treatment I received.

Language changes, this is normal

The word spastic used to mean “muscle spasms, a common symptom of cerebral palsy” – it is now an offensive term, because of how it was used, and has fallen out of use. The media may hide behind “the dictionary definition”, but if we follow this through, we can still use the word spastic, but we don’t. The ~”dictionary definition” of “schizophrenic” is “a person with schizophrenia” or “contradictory”, e.g. “the rehearsal was schizophrenic” could mean “frantic and disjointed” but this is as it’s at odds with the definition of diagnosis. Many people still think someone with schizophrenia has a split personality or they will definitely be violent…continuing to use the word in different contexts perpetuates this misunderstanding of the illness.

Just hoping people think about what they say…

It’s not hard to change, “schizophrenic person” to “person with schizophrenia”.

Breaking down stigma is vitally important in a cruel and judgemental world. Not realising the power behind our words can have a negative impact on those affected by the illness by perpetuate societies misunderstanding, judgements and stigma. Even if you do not mean offence by the words you use it can have more of an impact than you realise.

Prevention is better than cure

The incidents of mental health illness is rising. Currently the statistic quoted is 1 in 4 people will suffer during their lifetime and this is thought to be rising. Community Mental Health Teams are so under resourced they are constantly having to raise the threshold people have to reach to gain access to the service. All too often I hear people in crisis are not getting the support they need.


With mental health crisis services in crisis what can we do? 

In the past medication was the cure-all. But people often need therapy to fully understand the underlying problems and to develop management techniques. The government initiative of Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) is great. Although it sounds great that I recently heard one service is doubling the number of Psychological Well-being Practitioners (PWP) it’s training, it concerns me that (although these therapies are obviously needed) we’re throwing money at the wrong end of the line.

Surely, prevention would be better than cure? But what’s being done in this respect?


Mental illness develops due to a variety of factors. These include biological, psychological, social and societal factors.

There is controversy about whether we genetically eradicate illness. Finding the genes responsible for mental illness predisposition is a long way off so we do not need to consider this just yet. So, what can we do about the other risk factors?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) published a document in 2004 detailing how prevention of mental health disorders is a public health concern. They found a number of protective factors to avoid developing a mental illness, these included:

  • Empowerment
  • Ethnic minorities integration
  • Positive interpersonal interactions
  • Social participation
  • Social responsibility and tolerance
  • Social services
  • Social support and community networks

The BBC published an article recently citing a longitudinal study of 10,000 people showing that if children had been involved in scouts or guides they were “15% less likely than other adults to suffer from anxiety or mood disorders.”


The Scout organisation states that they:

  • Offer challenging and unique opportunities
  • Enable people to help others and make a positive impact in communities
  • Help young people reach their full potential by developing skills including:
    • Teamwork
    • Time management
    • Initiative
    • Communication
    • Self-motivation
    • Cultural awareness
    • Commitment
    • Creativity
    • First aid
  • Help young people to get jobs
  • Create an environment to make friends and have fun
  • Ensure young people get outdoors

It strikes me that the being involved in scouts or guides covers all the the protective factors quoted in the WHO publication!


There is something unique about the variety of activities and opportunities offered and the environment created by scouts and guides as researchers “didn’t see the same protective effect from, for example, volunteering or from church groups”.

We assume that the “15% less likely to suffer…” is due to the protective factors produced by being involved in scouts of guides, however, it could be that people who are less susceptible, choose to be involved. There may be no way of knowing which way round the relationship is but I’d say there’s no harm in joining, it sounds like a lot of fun and the opportunity to gain skills and experience will definitely be of benefit to any young person.

Find out more: