Thursday, 5 February 2015

Blog for Mental Health 2015

“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2015 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”   

I mightn't have all that much experience with blogging, but I have had much more experience with mental illness than I'd like. 

Everyone has just about enough awareness of mental health to know of it's existence, but having a psychiatric diagnosis remains taboo. 'Let's not talk about that...'  This results in many painfully awkward exchanges, which, inadvertently, make it blatantly obvious that people actually are aware of the exact circumstances they attempt to claim complete oblivion to.  If you ask me, this elephant in the room scenario is the biggest problem in terms of mental health.   

Coming in at a close second to feigned ignorance is actual ignorance, which sometimes verges on arrogance.  With a lack of understanding comes inevitable misconception, which only serves to feed the stigma.  'Just pull yourself together' has become the stereotypical trademark of insensitivity towards mental illness, but there are countless variations of this, some more subtle, that are equally infuriating.  

Generally I don't hold it against someone when they make an unhelpful comment or offer extremely patronising encouragement because, until mental illness struck me, I would probably have been guilty of the same thing.  When professionals get it completely and utterly wrong, however, it can be incredibly demeaning. 

The view that only a certain kind of person is susceptible to mental health issues is wide spread.  In the eyes of the world, the criteria for mental illness are not to do with mood, state-of-mind or self-perception.  Mentally ill people are often thought of as lazy, under-achieving, unintelligent, badly dressed, unhygienic, dislikable or violent, but there aren't any statistics to stand by these speculations.  

In the four years that I've been in contact with mental health professionals, more often than not, I've been left frustrated.  My GP turned red when he was obliged to ask if I'd been having any more of my 'Erm... issues'.  I was told by a therapist that I self-harmed to get attention because people don't self-harm due to anxiety.  (This still bewilders me...)  I was told my depression would alleviate of it's own accord because I'm 'a nice girl'.  Doctor's were reticent to recognise there was a problem, despite me meeting all the diagnostic criteria, because I was well-dressed, polite and could hold a conversation.  When I was transferred to adult services on turning eighteen I met the regional consultant who asked me to tell him my history.  His response to which was: 'What?  Seriously?  But, you're... nice!'  Society has even managed to engrain that mental illness only affects a specific kind of person in people that spend their lives working in mental health care

It seems that no one is immune to the misconceptions flying around about mental illness.  The one thing I'm sure of though, is that no one is immune to mental illness.  In the same way that everyone has a body, everyone has a mind.  We all accept that our bodies have their weak spots; maybe a bad back, a sensitive stomach or a dodgy thyroid, but no one wants to accept that they have emotional weak spots too; maybe a tendency to catastrophise, to become paranoid or to lose control of their temper when things go wrong.  Just like no one is 100% physically healthy, no one is 100% mentally healthy.  If you have a mind, you have the potential to become mentally ill.  We all think that we are somehow personally exempt. 'It'll never happen to me.'  We're all wrong, but some of us will discover that the hard way. 

The stigma surrounding mental health is the biggest barrier to making progress, but that stigma is extremely difficult to shake off.  Every soap opera has an stereotypical psychopathic character and every time an abhorrent crime is reported in the media alongside the facts come conjectures about the culprit's mental health.  How many people form their opinion based on fact rather than fiction? 

Despite having been rather lucky and having always had professionals on board, the best widespread understanding of mental illness that I've come across has been online.  I've learned a lot more from reading blogs in the last couple of months than I've learned from listening to psychiatrists and reading NHS leaflets.  Real, relatable experiences beat clinical jargon.  They say it's all in the mind and it's true.  If people don't understand how their own minds work, what hope is there?  The answer to lies in listening to people, not just reading textbooks.  

The blog for mental health project is new to me, but has been running for a few years now.  There's a long way to go in fighting the stigma surrounding mental health, but I've found blogs to be an amazing resource.  Good blogs can be a little bit difficult to locate, however, but, for me, the Blog for Mental Health Project is has solved that problem!   


  1. Great post. I also faced the same issues with NHS professionals and MH

    1. Thanks :) Unfortunately I don't think such experiences are rare...