Stigma Can Be Devastating

Stigma surrounds our society. It means that something perceived as different is seen as unacceptable and this leads to prejudice. There is stigma around the LGBT community and mental health among many other issues our society deals with. Stigma can be devastating because it isolates people and makes it harder to reach out for help and support. It prevents people from socialising, visiting GP surgeries and can even lead people to suicide. “The effects of stigma and discrimination about a mental health problem can be worse than the mental health problem itself” says Louise Penman from Time To Change.

This is why it is so important that people speak out about mental health in general and people share their experiences of mental illness because we need to get rid of this stigma from our society. Imagine a society where people could discuss their mental health easily and openly rather than keeping it as some deep, dark secret. Wouldn’t that be a breath of fresh air?

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Time To Talk Day

Today is Time To Talk day 2017 so take 5 minutes to talk about mental health. It is so important that we get these conversations going because they can save lives as well as working to stamp out stigma.

This Time To Talk day, I’m going to tell you a little bit about how I’m spending it. I’m currently in a general hospital being tube fed for my anorexia, I’m on 2:1 observations meaning I have two members of staff with me at all times and I’m on a level 4 which means I must be within arms length of the staff members, this includes when using the toilet. So there the facts about my situation but now it’s time to talk about how I feel.

I’m confused, recovery and weight restoration is being forced on me and I’m not sure that I want it. I’m scared about the future, my team are looking for a unit to send me to and so far none have accepted me. I don’t know what the near future holds for me. I’m homesick, I haven’t been home in 18 months and I would give anything to sit on the sofa with my family and dog and watch some rubbish telly. I feel alone and lost, I haven’t seen many people in the last 18 months and my grandmother has passed away during that time, I never got to say goodbye, I wasn’t well enough to go to her funeral and that breaks my heart everyday. I’m annoyed and angry at myself for losing out on so much. My goddaughter will be 3 in March and I’ve missed so much of her growing up, my dog is 14 and I’m scared she will die before I get home.

I have conversations about mental health every single day because I am unwell, but you don’t have to be ill to talk about mental health. We all have mental health, so please this Time To Talk Day 2017, take 5 minutes to ask someone how they are, send a text, natter over a cuppa, get the conversation going about mental health.

Happy Time To Talk Day everyone!

Mental Health Should Be A Compulsory Lesson

I didn’t leave school that long ago and looking back I can’t remember any lessons or assemblies with a focus on mental health. We had PSHE (personal, social and health education) lessons and PSHE days and the main focus of these lessons were either on sex or drugs with the occasional career day that involved circus skills and meeting the army…it didn’t exactly set us up for life! It is important to talk about sex and drugs and careers, of course it is but the H in PSHE stands for Health and with 1 in 4 of us suffering from a mental health problem, mental health should’ve been focused on.

I often wonder if statistically more people out of my class have experienced mental illness than used ecstasy…I imagine they probably have and yet we spent hours talking about drugs and not a second talking about mental health. Mental health affects all of the main three focuses of our PSHE lessons, mental health and drug use go hand in hand, as do mental health and sex and mental health and careers. If someone is experiencing a mental health problem then they may turn to drugs but also the drug use can cause mental illness. Sometimes people use sex as a way to cope with mental health problems but also the emotional feelings that sex bring up can affect someones’ mental health. We were taught how to put a condom on a banana but we weren’t taught how to deal with the feelings of guilt or inadequacy that sex can bring up. We were encouraged to join the army but not taught about post-traumatic stress disorder. That is wrong.

We all have mental health, the same as we have physical health. We are taught to take care of our physical health, to eat a nutritious diet and to take medicine when we are ill, we are taught to get enough sleep and to dress warmly in the winter. We should all be taught how to look after our mental health too regardless of whether we have a mental illness or not. Everyone should know how to self-soothe, how to distract themselves when they are sad and how to describe their thoughts and emotions. We all have mental health and we all need to look after ourselves both physically and mentally.

I think the secondary school age is key, 11-18 year olds are at a crucial point in their lives and if people get it wrong when it comes to mental health it can be devastating. These are young people with their whole lives ahead of them and if young people are taught to talk about and look after their mental health then their future is a bright and successful one. At the moment people get left behind, self-harm and depression is swept under the carpet, pupils end up feeling isolated and ultimately education fails them. Education failed me, I got A grades, I was an intelligent student but I was made to feel weird, different and ‘a risk’ and in the end I lost my place and had to leave education because of my mental illness. I felt like I couldn’t talk to people about my mental health, friends or teachers because it would scare them or worry them when looking back there should’ve been mental health lessons or days to make students more aware of mental health. I wonder how many other people there were that hid their mental illness in order to carry on their education.

Education is the first building block of life, the foundation on which young people build their own lives and personalities. It’s the start of forming peoples’ opinions and views on the world. If we want to stamp out stigma and stereotypes then it needs to start in school. Educate young minds and tell them that it’s okay to talk about mental health so that they will go through the rest of their life feeling like they don’t have to hide the truth, so that they can help their mum or sister or future child because mental illness is close to us all whether we have realised that yet or not.

Physical education is compulsory, mental health education should be too.