Mental Health – The Stigma from all Angles

I touched on the Stigma attached to mental health in a previous post, and something I experienced recently made me realise that ridding of the Stigma is a mammoth task.

A few days ago, I went to visit a friend I made when I stayed at a Mental Health ward recently – see post Psychosis – he had left before me and unfortunately, as I suspected, returned a few days after I left. I say as suspected due to my view on how patients are cared for in a Mental Health place, see post My Take on Mental Health.

As I was sat with him and a few other patients friends in the smoking yard, this woman came out shouting and screaming, went to sit on the ground some way apart from anybody else and started ranting to “herself”.

She obviously grabbed my attention and as I listened to her ranting, I realised she was in a similar position as I was when I had my psychosis. She was talking to someone (I suspect God) and was very angry, shouting that she couldn’t understand why this was happening to her, that she was an honest person and had never lied.

I looked back at the guys and said “poor woman”. Their answer? “Don’t mind her, she is loopy, she is a right pain in the arse, last night she kept us up til 5:30 am with all her screaming and ranting, she has no respect for anyone”. Shocked, I tried to explain to them that she probably couldn’t help when her ranting would happen and didn’t do this to be a pain. They wouldn’t have it. They being people with mental health issues!

So I gave up trying to convince them and went to speak to her. I sat on the floor in front of her and asked her how she was. Instantly, her behaviour changed. She started to talk about herself, her life, her passion for guitar, a little support group she got involved starting up which is now a registered charity and many other topics that blew my mind away.

All it took was for someone to listen. But no-one at the Mental Health ward, staff or patients, had bothered before. This really re-affirms my thinking that professionals have no clue and the Stigma starts with patients.

Today, I had another example of this via Facebook. Time To Change posted a little story of how Asda had removed a fancy dress costume from their shelves after they realised their mistake. The costume was “Mental Health Patient”. One of the comments was from a girl who said “How appealing, I will never shop there again”. There the Stigma just there. “Why not” I commented under her post, “They’ve made a mistake, acknowledged it and removed the item, I think they should be commended myself”.

When I started thinking about the Stigma, I emailed a few people who knew me at the time of my first stay in a Mental Health Institution in Canada and who were aware of where I was. I asked them how they felt. Of the 10 or so people I emailed I received answers only from four.

Here are the answers of those people who kindly agreed to reply:

“I can tell you what I felt although it probably won’t be too typical, because my best friend growing up was diagnosed with a mental health issue and on more than one occasion has been sectioned.  I felt profound sadness, helplessness, I wouldn’t know how to help or reach you. I didn’t really feel going in to care would help you, apart from stopping you be a danger to yourself.  I didn’t think it would ‘cure’ you, just remove you from society so you weren’t an embarrassment and a worry to others.  These feelings are just as you asked maybe not justified but they were my true feelings rightly or wrong”

“you had a broken heart, you were not crazy ever.
You were dehydrated, and under nourished and the mind becomes confused, happens to everyone. You could not grasp the reality of what was happening with those closest to you. A broken heart is not a broken mind. Your answers are inside you not from us. Walk in nature and spend enough time alone with no distractions to find.”
Mental health issues and seeking the help of professionals is a positive approach to taking care of your mental health.  Our mental health is so important – it is important to us all. (Perhaps even more important than our physical health and the protector of our physical health). We must all be vigilant about our mental health at all times.  Yes, our society can put a stigma on being in a mental hospital but we are so lucky to have hospitals that care for the mind and spirit.

I hope you are feeling better.  It is a process and must be cared for daily.  You have nothing to be ashamed of”

When I first heard you were going into care, I was afraid for you, my friend and what you were going through. I knew you would eventually “straighten out”, but felt bad that you were having such a bad time.

I was sure that being in care was probably a good thing, as I didn’t want you to hurt yourself (or others, although I wasn’t too afraid of that happening). When we are experiencing great grief, we don’t always think very clearly and can take actions we might regret later.
I feel like I may be “smarter than the average bear” about mental illness and acceptance of others who need help from counselors/psychiatrists as I suffered depression for years and had a break down in my late 20’s.
But I also felt a need to distance myself from you after you wouldn’t listen to reason about getting more sleep. Lack of sleep is one of the most toxic things one can do to kill brain cells and it makes one unreasonable. 

So, although it pained me to do it, I did withdraw from you (as you pointed out to me), knowing that you wanted to be “fixed” and no one could fix you until you had faced the demons/issues in your life that you had indeed been running from for too long.

As much as you were looking for someone to make you happy and feel better than, (or group or activity), you needed to take that down time and depression and just deal with it. I’m certain it made you stronger and and that’s a large part of why your happier today.”

Food for thought don’t you think?
Shame, fear and hopelessness seem to be emotions that go with Mental Health issue.
I will clarify that these days, I don’t feel ashamed of what has happened to me, and going into a Mental Health place was the best thing for me at the times. The only fear I feel is the reactions others may have towards me when I return to work, as I have been away for a month now and my immediate colleagues now know where I have been, others won’t know and really, short of sending an email to everyone (which I will not do), I am not sure how I am going to deal with this situation. 
With regards the hopelessness, this is the main issue for me. How do I break this barrier down, which keeps people away from you when you need them most.
Educating people is the answer, I know it. Because people who have never gone through it will never understand what Mental Health issues are about. I heard recently someone talking about a friend of mine who has been labelled as suffering from multiple disorder that “he isn’t helping himself”.  I have suffered from depression once in my life, and believe you me, we know damn well what we should be doing, however, we are unable to function properly.
And one more thing – why is it ok for some people to suffer from Bipolar (or manic depression as some prefer to call it) and not for others, example:
Stephen Fry – respected
Britney Spears – poopooed
Empathy is the key word here, not sympathy, however as most people have never experienced Mental Illness directly, most are unable to give empathy. So it’s sympathy if it touches someone they like and lack of it if it is something they don’t.
As I said at the beginning, mammoth task changing this Stigma. Still, I have hope 🙂

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