Exploring Mental Health Stigma

December 3, 2019 at 5:40 pm

[Content note; this article contains references to mental health stigma and anxiety]

I’ve been stung one too many times from your innocent quip. The joking manner you use to soothe the sting does nothing but help your conscious.

I am not lazy. I am not ‘just worried.’ I am not ‘mute.’

I have a heart that beats so fast, I wonder if it will tire itself out.

I have a mind that tells me I am ‘weird’, ‘boring’ and ‘unlovable.’

No, I do not want to miss out on the fun.

But I fear if I come, I will be once more stung.

I wish I could be like you.

All wide-eyes with a pep in your step.

Charming everyone with your infectious laughter

I’ll go home after

And wish once more that I could be just a bit like you.

 

There’s nothing braver than putting on a smile for the world when your mind is slowly crumbling. You’ve had enough of your mental illness making you seem like you’re no fun. And what your friends think of as ‘helpful’ comments just dig the knife in harder.

Mental illness has for far too long been seen as something shameful or preventive. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve heard just calm down, it’s not that bad, surely?; or you’re not trying hard enough. These comments often add to the guilt of not feeling ‘better already.’ Of course, positive thinking and extra encouragement CAN be helpful, but it’s rarely as simple as that.

People struggling with their mental health often don’t want advice (unless you’re a professional that they’re seeking help from). You wouldn’t offer your opinion on marathon training if you’d never ran a mile in your life. So, why believe that mental illness is something people can just ‘snap’ out of?

The main reason for there still being so much stigma floating around is due to lack of proper education about the issue. The only uttered words surrounding mental illness in school came from my Religious Education teacher who referred to depression as a ‘dark and spooky place’ complete with jazz hands and a stupid expression for effect.

It makes me feel overwhelmingly sad that in 2019 people still feel they cannot talk about their struggles; either as a result of fearing not being taken seriously, or the worry that people won’t look at them the same or even thoughts of rejection. Don’t get me wrong, I know that it’s near impossible to imagine what a person suffering is going through. But the first step is kindness. Kindness and patience.

When I was at the peak of my anxiety disorder, I knew some of the ways I acted seemed ridiculous. Of course, I knew walking to the corner shop on my own should be a simple task. But it wasn’t, and I couldn’t articulate the thoughts that circled around in my head without feeling stupid. But no one should feel like that.

Until proper education is introduced throughout places of work and education, our best tool is to listen. If you suspect someone you know isn’t well, ask if they want to talk; ask if there’s anything you can do to help them feel better. But be patient. Sometimes they won’t feel up to talking about it or hanging out. To let them know you’re there for them and meaning it is more than enough. The bigger our support network, the bigger chance there is of getting them on to the path of stronger mental health and recovery.

This blog has been shared by Meg Headford, a student at the University of the West of England (Bristol), studying Creative and Professional Writing. Meg writes a blog covering mental health and lifestyle, which you can find here.

December 3, 2019 at 5:40 pm | Blog

OCD Awareness Week 2019

October 15, 2019 at 10:31 pm

 

It is a common misconception that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) means being neat, tidy, clean and organised. For those living with OCD, there’s far more too it than that. OCD is a debilitating disorder which leads the sufferer living with intrusive thoughts rendering day-to-day life a living nightmare.

OCD Awareness Week runs annually during the second full week of October. That’s this week! The aim of the Week is to educate the public about the realities of living with OCD and the challenge of having to face up to the realities of the condition on the path to recovery. Misunderstanding and stigma that can be caused by misrepresentation of OCD, particularly in the media, can be hugely damaging. OCD Awareness Week sets out to tackle this.

This Year’s Campaign

The October campaign was originally started by the International OCD Foundation (a US-based charity) in 2009, and is supported by a number of OCD charities.

  • OCD Action are tying into the Week by running #3forOCD; where they ask people in the community to share their top 3 things that they wish people understood about OCD, using the hashtag #3forOCD. They are also supporting the Picture Your OCD project.
  • OCD UK are publishing a series of handouts designed specifically to educate the public on the reality of OCD as a mental health condition, designed to bust myths and misconceptions
  • the International OCD Foundation are inviting all members of the OCD and related disorders community to participate in #FaceYourFear, a social media campaign to educate the public about the realities of living with OCD and the challenge of having to face your fears on the path to recovery. Read more about the campaign and hashtag here. 

BIMHN’s Work Around OCD

The Bristol Independent Mental Health Network (BIMHN) are working to support those living with OCD, and break down mental health stigma surrounding both the condition and mental health generally. Tracy, one of the trustees of the Independent Mental Health Network, our parent charity, is working to set up a local OCD Social Support Group. Following on from Lifting the Myth of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), a very successful open discussion event that took place earlier this year, Tracy is looking to hold further meet-ups.

If you are interested in Tracy’s work, or would like to attend the next OCD Support Group meeting (provisionally set for November), please feel free to email Tracy directly at tracy_tainton[@]yahoo.co.uk (taking out the brackets from the email address).

October 15, 2019 at 10:31 pm | Blog

Mental Health and My Identity – World Mental Health Day 2019

October 10, 2019 at 6:02 pm

This blog was written by a member of BIMHN, sharing their thoughts on what how they’ve learnt to see mental health as a part of their identity. Content note; medication, depression, mental health treatment, recovery, relapse.

Today, on World Mental Health Day 2019, I am reflecting on my own mental health.

My story is thus; about five years ago, I began experiencing symptoms of mental ill-health that eventually developed into a full-blown episode of clinical depression. Without sensationalising it, my life ground to a halt for six months. As someone who had taken pride in never sitting still, it’s an understatement to say that experiencing this for the first time was a shock to my system.

Gradually however, with the aid of medication(s) and a gradual return to work, I began to improve. During this time of adjustment, I was fixated on ‘getting better’; returning to a facsimile of my life and state of mind before this first period of being unwell. Occasionally, I was able to attain this for a brief period; a few hours of enthusiasm here, a day of productivity there, spells of regular sleeping and motivation. But I couldn’t make it last.

I treated this inability to sustain ‘being better’ as a setback – proof that in reality I wasn’t ‘better’ and ‘recovery’ still eluded me.

I lost faith in medicine as an effective means of treatment, because it didn’t put me back to where I was before I became ill. My outlook was that I needed to find something to ‘jolt’ me back to where I was before my first period of mental ill-health – the fact that I hadn’t found this yet was proof that I wasn’t doing something right.

After a while, a pattern began to emerge; every few months, I would become unwell for a time – life would again grind to a halt – before stabilising again. I took this as a further sign that my efforts to ‘get better’ continued to be focused in the wrong direction. With the support of professionals, I re-started taking medication, but remained sceptical because it hadn’t worked for me before.

However, this time, it seemed to at least make something of a difference.

Fast forward a few years, and more recently, I’ve been hearing and learning more about other people’s mental health, and what that’s involved for them. I’ve met people who have been seriously unwell for a very long time. I’ve heard about their despair when they feel shoehorned into a model of ‘symptom-free recovery’ rather than ‘wellbeing.’

Some chronic physical conditions might never fully ‘go away,’ – why isn’t it accepted that the same might be the case with mental illness?

It’s only been over the last few months that I’ve finally been able to get past my obsession with getting to a stage where I’m completely symptom-free. I’ve learnt to forgive myself for the fact that it might not be possible, at least immediately. My personal mental health difficulties and fluctuations are a part of my own identity. In my case, it’s probable that I might need medicine to manage it for a number of years. I’ve now learnt to see past this as being a personal flaw, it’s just who I am. After all, we wouldn’t classify it as a character flaw if someone needs to take mineral pills for anaemia.

What is it that I’m trying to say? In recent years, awareness of the importance of mental wellbeing and the different types of mental difficulties that people can experience is fortunately on the rise. World Mental Health Day has been observed for over twenty-five years now, and even in that relatively short time, more campaigns and charities have come alive, dedicated to campaigning and educating on the issue. There’s still a long way to go – but it’s fair to say that with even basic levels of awareness becoming more prevalent, mental health problems are no longer as much of a taboo.

I now feel comfortable with accepting that my own mental health is a part of my identity, rather than something that I just need to ‘get over.’ It just so happens that my identity means that occasionally, life is more challenging than normal. I’m working to accept this, rather than battle it as something to be overcome.

October 10, 2019 at 6:02 pm | Uncategorized