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?

I Wish

I bet they never wonder what it’s like? The people who are lucky enough to say that depression isn’t an illness, the people who think a little fresh air will fix an organ with chemical problems. How I wish I was one of those people, how I wish I could turn a blind eye and never experience the agony of the torturous illness that breathes alongside me, the shadow that owns me.
I wish I could erase the scars that cover my arms, those big, fat scars that make me as ugly on the outside as I feel on the inside.
I wish I could shred the legal paperwork that’s stuck in my mind from all the detentions I’ve had under the mental health act.
I wish I could full my bones with density and claw anorexia out of my mind. I wish I didn’t know every affect of starvation on the human body and I wish even more that I didn’t know that from personal experience.
I wish I knew how to cope like everyone else seems to. Why is my go to always ligature? Why do I look at every object and see it as a weapon to use on myself?
I have thought about my death more than my birth. I have thought about killing those baby feet my mother loved more times than the Earth has existed.
I wanted to be someone in this world, to stand on my own feet and help others. I wanted a house and children and a dog called Toast but then my innocence was stolen, I lost my baby and I’m waiting to get a bed in a mental health supported home.
All those dreams, all those hopes, all that energy and enthusiasm was drained out of me and all that remains is hopelessness, heart break and darkness.
And next time they ask me what I do, I’ll tell them that I breathe and that my heart beats and that I’m surprised I’m still doing that.

Prozac Kids AREN’T Violent

When I was in hospital I was flicking through a newspaper and I came across the headline, “Prozac Kids Go Violent” in which The Sun reports that 15-25 year olds on the medication were at greater risk of being convincted of murder, robbery or assault. However the lead researcher at Oxford University says it is too early to blame dangerous behaviour on the medication which suggests that this is The Sun having another stab at mental illness and unnecessarily adding to the stigma and misunderstanding around mental illness.

I will say this time and time again: People who have a mental health problem are more likely to be the victim of crime than they are to be the perpetrator!

I am on prozac and I am under the age of 25 and I know many others who are on prozac. Prozac has not made me violent, neither have I murdered anyone, or robbed anywhere or assaulted anyone….none of these things have entered my mind. Prozac helps me by lifting the heaviness and darkness so that I am able to function to some degree. A functional me writes blog posts and speaks out about mental illness in order to reduce stigma and raise awareness and understanding.

Without prozac I would never have walked up a mountain to raise money for a charity and I wouldn’t have been able to travel to Manchester and appear on live TV. Without prozac I wouldn’t have been able to write a letter to a stranger on the subject of hope and happiness and have it published in ‘Dear Stranger’ which raises money for Mind, the mental health charity.

A Swedish study found that there was no link between prozac and violence in the over 25s and I am certain there is no link between the anti-depressant and violence in the under 25s either. The risk that lays with prozac and under 25s is that it can increase the risk of suicidal feelings in younger people but this is usually whilst starting the medication and side effects tend to disappear after a period of taking the medication.

Sectioned: A Spoken Word Piece

Last August I was sectioned under the Mental Health Act and spend two months in hospital. When I was discharged I decided that I wanted to do something with my life and turn a negative into a positive and so I began working with Fixers. Around the same time I noticed a lot of pro-ana and pro-mental illness posts appearing all over social networking and one comment that really stuck out to me was someone saying that they wanted to be sectioned so that they could have a hug whenever their sad. I was also shocked by the amount of comments about mental illness being fashionable and people likening the psychiatric ward to a big sleepover but that is not the reality.

I wrote a spoken word piece and used my photography along with Fixer’s filming and editing to create a piece to explain what being sectioned is like from a patient’s perspective whilst also targeting the groups in social media that aspire to be unwell. Being sectioned often feels like something I should keep secret and be ashamed of  so that’s exactly why I decided to shout about it publicly. There should be no stigma.

Feel free to share this video and spread it’s message.

We’ve Got a Long Way To Go

Yesterday the Independent posted an article after Belgium doctors ruled that a 24 year old woman with depression has the right to die. I have no opinion on this article, on whether or not she should have the right to die because I have not lived her life and whilst I have my illness, I do not have hers. However what this article made me realise was just how far we have to go in terms of mental health stigma and discrimination.

These are some of the comments from the Facebook page along with my commentary:

“I am intrigued to know what kind of life lead to be so selfishly depressed. Deaths? Rape? Abuse? What exactly have you got to be so depressed about.”

Selfishly depressed? Have I missed something in this society? See I thought an illness you have no control over has nothing to do with your selfishness or selflessness. I know many people with depression, most of whom are incredibly selfless human beings. What have I got to be depressed about? Well the my neurotransmitter function is disrupted in my brain meaning that the transmission of serotonin fails to function and therefore the signal is disrupted.

“She should be grateful for life there’s a brain surgery op that turns off depression permanently via a small chip planted in the brain so she hasn’t tried every option I hope she donated her organs to give someone else the chance to live”

Are you her doctor or surgeon or have you had any access to her medical records? You do not know the options she has or has not tried or the options that would work for her specifically. Organ donation has nothing to do with this story. Her life is her life, she is not responsible for anyone with a physical illness.

“Bye then.”

Did you accidentally post this comment? You know when you’re texting and talking at the same time? Like maybe you were saying ‘Bye’ to your friend but typed it on this post by accident or maybe you’re incredibly ignorant and cruel.

“She sounds like an attention seeker.”

If I wanted attention, I probably wouldn’t try to die for it because as far as I am aware you don’t get attention once your life has ended. Mental illnesses are not easy to live with, nobody would choose to be unwell. If I go to bed with a migraine am I an attention seeker?

“She needs #yoga”

Oh yes the cure for all cancers, organ failures and blood borne viruses. Yoga. I’m on a waiting list for it now! Who needs medication and doctors and medical school, just stick to PE!! Erm…no!

“She’s 24…she hasn’t seen life yet. The best cure for her would be to visit a real third world country and see how people live through real hardship, forcing smiles on their impoverished faces.”

Cure? Or would it just make her feel even more guilty because no matter what she sees, whether it be hardship or freedom then she will still be poorly and still be stuck in a stigmatising and discriminating society that doesn’t want to be educated.

“To the woman who wants to end her life. Go join ISIS, they’ll give different ways you can end your life.”

I hope this is a joke…but then again I don’t. How inappropriate and disgusting especially only a week on from 30 Brits losing their life to terrorists. Why bring ISIS into this? What have the got to do with a woman’s mental health in Belgium?

“Send her to Syria, she will see the true depression and suffering…she will appreciate the life she has now…”

True depression? Hold on…I might be mistaken here but I thought that depression was an illness not an emotion. Sadness, heart break and devastation is what is happening in Syria but there are probably people with depression too and guess what? They would probably have depression had they been born and bred in Oxford because the issue is the brain chemistry. There is suffering in Syria but there is also suffering in the EU. Slavery, rape, trafficking, poverty and more so shall we not assume that she has an easy life? Last time I checked the only life you have lived was yours.

“She just needs a good old fashioned life check there’s people starving in Africa and they have to provide for there family’s yet she had an upbringing, grandparents who actually cared and loved her yet she wants to end her life she gets no sympathy from me ending your life is a cowards way out she should fight for what’s right and if she sat down and flipping snapped out of it then maybe she could find a resolve, a way out by helping others! This is a weird world we live in people but this is ridiculous!”

And breathe…There are also people with mental illness and clinical depression in Africa. Mental illness isn’t just for the developed countries because it isn’t a choice! Oh damn…that’s where I’ve been going wrong! All these years of illness, hospital and medication and I could have just sat down and snapped out of it. What a shame the doctors didn’t give me that advice….or maybe they have the education to know that isn’t how illness works. Got the flu and need to run a marathon? Oh just snap out of it! Okay then. Sorted. Why do we need doctors?

“Come to me lady I am sure I will remove ur depression and make u happiest girl in this world.”

Yes, that’s what her brain chemistry is missing, some egotistical, sexist and very single man. Depression cured.

“Shame she could not go to nepal or some other problem area and see how people handle disasters!  it would give her a new and much needed perspective”

This morning I was thinking, ‘Ahh how can I cure my chronic mental illness’ and then I thought, ‘Yes, new perspective, that’s what I need!’ Plane tickets to Nepal booked and hopefully this new perspective will cure my arthritis and asthma too. Who needs medication and medical professionals when you can see more trauma and devastation to cure you.

“Natural selection, why doesn’t she then.”

Whoa

“In latin american and in africa people gets killed every day for less than nothing…she wants to die? Pay the proper taxes so everybody really DONT CARE jump off a bridge”

I’m really struggling to jump on your wave length here. I’m not sure what taxes or any of this has to do with an individual’s health in Belgium. Little bit of advice for the future…Don’t tell people to jump off of bridges because one day it might be someone you know and you will wish you had been less closed-minded and more compassionate so that they had someone to talk to instead of ending their life through isolation and shame.

“Give her something real and external to be depressed about and she’ll soon want to live. North Korea or Saudi Arabia should make her realise things aren’t so bad.”

Is that how it works? Give a poorly person more trauma and sadness and they become happy? This feels a little bit like 2+2=5

“She needs to get married, have a family and trust she will as happy as Larry”

Ahh marriage! I haven’t tried that one yet…oh I won’t bother taking my medication today, I’ll just go and get engaged!! I wonder if marriage and a family cures post-natal depression too?!

“No! No! Go to Africa!”

Why would that be? Some new form of medication? Or maybe they are less discriminating that the Brits on Facebook? Who knows.

The problem is that these comments are happening every single day and I feel like a blind eye is turned. Would these comments be on a cancer story? Or a multiple sclerosis story? I doubt it and if they were then there would be many arguments starting. Nobody chooses to have depression and nobody wants to spend any length of time in a psychiatric hospital. We’ve got a long way to go. We have got many people to educate. It can be done. Attitudes towards racism and cancer and same sex marriage have changed and I have every belief that we can change these damaging attitudes too. Let’s dissolve stigma.

The Media Need to Stop Ignoring Mental Health Discrimination

If somebody makes a racist comment on national television then they normally lose their career over it. Discrimination is discrimination regardless of whether that is about colour of a person’s skin or a person’s disability. Discrimination is wrong on every level and yet discrimination around mental health seems to be ignored in the media time and time again.

This can be seen in reality TV programme ‘Big Brother‘ where in the past a contestant was removed from the house for saying “N*gga” however when Helen Wood referred to Brian Belo and Nikki Grahame as “psychos” and then went on to say “Straight jackets are in the storeroom, psycho” Helen was merely given a warning. Considering that Nikki Grahame has had a long battle with a mental health condition the comment was very damaging and had it been about race I am sure a comment of the same severity would have been met with removal from the house.

It is apparent that stigmatising or discriminating public comments about mental health are happening in all parts of the media and are simply brushed over and forgotten as though the implications do not matter. Meghan Trainor said in an interview “I wasn’t strong enough to have an eating disorder…I tried to go anorexic for a good three hours. I ate ice and celery, but that’s not even anorexic. And I quit. I was like, ‘Ma, can you make me a sandwich? Like, immediately,” This statement is damaging in more ways than one. Firstly it reinforces the idea that people with anorexia choose anorexia and also the idea that those with anorexia don’t eat anything. Nobody chooses anorexia just the same as nobody chooses to have asthma or arthritis or cancer. People with anorexia do eat and often sufferers eat more than ice and celery so clearly Meghan Trainor does not know what anorexia is. As for the comments about being strong, what message is that sending out to people? That having an eating disorder is a good thing? That’s dangerous.

Then there are the newspaper headlines that continuously reinforce negative stereotypes. Sufferers of mental health conditions are more likely to be the victim of a crime than they are to commit a crime and yet you would not realise that from the way newspapers front pages look all too often. “Killer pilot suffered from depression” was plastered over the front of The Daily Mirror when in actual fact nobody knew if the incident had anything to do with his depression and most people with depression have not killed anyone just the same as most people without depression have not killed anyone. The Sun‘s front page back in 2003 was plastered with “Bonkers Bruno Locked Up” and The Sun are still running so there were no implications for their language. Only the other day my local paper reported on a ‘lunatic’ teenage driver. Are we really still using this discriminating and unnecessary language? There are other words that could be used for example, wreckless or dangerous. It isn’t right to comment on the colour of someone’s skin when they have committed a crime because it is simply not relevant but the same goes with mental health. There are some rare and unfortunate cases where someone’s mental health does result in crime but for the majority of people the biggest risk is to themselves and the constant stigmatising and discriminating attitudes in the media leave people finding it even harder to seek help and therefore more likely to end up in a crisis situation.

A comment I often hear when discussing mental health discrimination is that I need to get a sense of humour but none of the above points have anything to do with comedy. We need to start treating all discrimination equally. Discriminating against race is unacceptable but so is discriminating against mental health. The media are in a powerful position, they can either educate a lot of people or cause a lot of damage. It’s about time they stepped up and began educating instead of sensationalising and discriminating.