Thursday, 16 May 2013

Why is mental health stigmatised?

Today is day 4 of Mental Health Awareness Week 2013.

I received a comment on my Tuesday blogpost asking WHY I thought mental health was so stigmatised, and thought it would be an interesting point of discussion for a blogpost. I've thought long and hard and come up with the following points of interest:

  • Ignorance I feel plays a massive role. I live in a massive city which is very much associated with people who are nothing but on the lookout for themselves. It it doesn't concern them, they won't bother to research or find out about it, so will continue to judge or undermine those who do suffer, belittling them as 'weak' or 'not good enough' for them. Sounds strange and shocking but it does happen, especially amongst high-school students or those in successful professions. There is a huge chance that someone you are living with or who you know is struggling with a mental health problem, if not publicly, then most definitely in private. If it was your brother, your parent, or your daughter who had come to you needing help and support, would you still consider mental health as a topic not worth thinking about? As my friend just said on Twitter and very well so, 'ignorance isn't bliss, it's rude...'
  • Ignorance, combined with not making the effort to actually find out more about mental health problems, leads to the ridiculous phrases such as 'nutcase', 'crazy', 'cuckoo' 'psychos', or 'lunatics'. It can be too much effort sometimes to try and find out what IS right or wrong to say, so instead dismiss it entirely.
  • Fear. Mental health has built a huge reputation of being associated with violence and violent activity, and while that can be the case, more often than not this is not true. 25% of people believe that their perceptive link between mental health and violence comes from film and television viewing, often the media reporting on homicidal and murderous cases committed by those with mental health problems. This has no doubt let to this cloud of fear and mistrust when approaching someone with a mental health problem 'will they just lash out?' 'will I be safe when I am around them?'. In actual fact, 95% of homicides are committed by those who do not have mental health problems/not been diagnosed with mental health problems (information taken from the Time To Change website). It's really important not to jump to immediate conclusions about a person after hearing they've been diagnosed with a mental health problem, as the truth is quite often not what you may think.
  • Lack of education. We often receive classes and taster classes in schools about sexual health, physical health, ways to prevent drug use and teenage pregnancy and crime rates, but for me, there was never any classes educating about mental health, or what to do if I felt like I had a mental health problem, or vice versa. As someone who begun struggling with issues such as self-injury and mild depression from the age of 12 it would really have been useful to know that I wasn't overreacting and that there was help available to me. It may also have meant that I wasn't horrifically bullied due to other kids thinking I was weird and a freak for cutting myself. 850,000 children/young people in the UK have a mental health problem, and this is just including those who have been diagnosed. So many children suffer in silence and maybe they wouldn't if that education was made available to them within their schools.
  • That is isn't 'real'. Unfortunately, mental health is something you cannot see. They are illnesses of the mind and are therefore not something you can just run to the hospital or doctors and get treated like a broken arm or a chest infection. It is an illness where although there are possible cures, it doesn't mean they will work. Due to this invisibility, people decide to dismiss it and decide it doesn't actually exist, and that it is something we make up, either for attention or God knows what else. I'd like to wonder what goes on in other peoples heads to make them assume that I would actually rather CHOOSE to have the illnesses that I do, and choose to have wasted the last 8/9 years of my life being in and out of treatment, throwing friends and family away, and taking time out of education and work. If a person cannot see what's wrong with you, it is assumed it is made up or 'in your head'. It is 'in my head' and that is just the problem!
The truth is that the further we stigmatise against mental health problems, the more the sufferers decline the opportunity to receive help or never end up taking that first step to get help due to shame, embarrassment, or concern over what others think about them. Everyone is worthy of treatment regardless of which mental health problem they suffer, for how long or regardless of the impact it has had on their lives, and should feel able to access that support without consistent stigmatisation from the general public.

I could go on all day but those are just some of the reasons and explanations why I feel mental health is stigmatised. If you have anything else you wish to say on this topic, feel free to tweet me @amoogle or comment on the blog post below - I'd really appreciate your input! Let's keep talking!

5 comments:

  1. You make some really good points. And to add to the "it isn't real" point, I think a lot of people probably just look at you and think "you've got it all, what right have you got to be [depressed], there are things worse than your life" - again they think it's something wrong with your personality, rather than something you don't want and that happens to you xx

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  2. And that having a mental health problem is in some way your 'choice' - you could 'choose' to eat/snap out of it/recover, you just 'choose' not to. Which means people have less compassion and therefore get annoyed or angry with you, because obviously you are simply choosing to have this problem - either because you 'choose' not to recover or, worse still, you 'chose' to have it in the first place. Gah!

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  3. Thank you so much for writing about this i'm very passionate when it comes to this topic.

    I feel the same way, i feel like People think i want this for myself, they think i can automatically fix it. They see my bipolar disorder as imaginary , normal and that everyone has their ups and downs. They see my eating disorder and tell me to " just stop it" as if it's the easiest thing in the world. Sometimes i wish people would live in my shoes for a few days just to see the struggle i go through every day, but i would never allow someone to be in my shoes because i wouldn't want someone to feel like i feel. Everyone seems to be ignorant to the fact that those with mental health illnesses WANT this, that these are things that can just disappear.

    Sometimes i wish no one knew, i wish this could go away, but then i realize if no one knew then they wouldn't be educated about mental illnesses. If all of my mental illnesses went away then who would i be because these struggles make me who i am today. I wish people understood and weren't so ignorant.

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    1. You make so much sense and make some fantastic points. It's that struggle between wanting someone to know how you feel so they understand but at the same time, never wishing somebody to experience what we have.
      I'm here to talk if you ever need somebody. Do you have a blog?

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  4. Bravo Amy Louise and Jennifer for speaking out so eloquently and honestly for all of us who suffer under the stigma of mental illness. I've been bipolar since 10 and will soon be celebrating my 60th birthday. I've seen a lot change and a lot just stay the same. I've tried hard all my life to hide who I am from the public but sometimes I can't and always crash into the wall of misunderstanding. Thank you young souls for carrying on the banner!! Thank you very kindly. .....

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