My Journey and Discrimination – Make a Positive Difference
23 July 2017
I want to start with a question. What do Tom Fletcher, Ruby Wax, Stephen Fry, Frank Bruno, Carrie Fisher, Princess Diana, Adele, Alastair Campbell, Rebecca Front, Marcus Trescothick, Hildegard von Bingen and Edgar Allan Poe all have in common?
Each comedian, actor, sports person, royal, composer and politician all have/had mental health problems ranging from depression, bipolar, eating disorders, hallucinations and more. I’d now like to ask, now you know this, how do you view these people? Do you think they are crazy, won’t succeed in life and should be kicked down by society? The answer should be no, but the majority of people believe that having a mental health problem means you are insane. This isn’t right, and we need to start getting a better understanding of mental health and the stigma and discrimination faced with it.
Firstly, I’d like to talk about Time to Change Wales. Time to Change Wales are an organisation run by three of Wales’ leading mental health charities: Mind Cymru, Hafal, and Gofal. The aim of the organisation is to end the stigma and discrimination faced by many mental health sufferers, their families, friends, neighbours, work colleagues and more. Before I continue, I’d like to explain to you what stigma (stigmatisation) and discrimination is (according to Time to Change Wales).
Stigma – “Stigma is a form of prejudice (“pre-judgement”) which can set a person apart from everyone else.”
Discrimination – “Discrimination arises from stigma and and results in people being treated unfairly.”
Now we know what the terminology of both words are, I’d like to give you some examples of stigma and discrimination based on my own background.
I’m a 20 year old who suffers from severe depression with psychotic symptoms. As well as this, I have panic attacks, and severe issues with stress. I’ve had the majority, if not all, of these conditions ever since I can remember. I tried to talk to my parents about one aspect of what I was experiencing when I was about 7 or 8 years old. At first I thought it was normal to experience voices, but when my parents questioned me asking, “What voices Laura,” that I started to interrogate my own thoughts and feelings. At the time, my parents thought I had an imaginary best friend, I don’t blame them for thinking that due to my age. Everything started to change in my head after then though. It was also the last time I told anyone about what I was experiencing for about 7-8 years.
I suffered quite badly in the times I kept silent, but for me it felt like the only option so I wouldn’t get judged. As a child, I would watch the news, and it always seemed to be that if someone got hurt, it was because the attacker had schizophrenia, or that they were mentally disturbed. This is basically what I heard every time the news was on. At the time I didn’t really understand much, so I also thought people with mental heath issues were violent.
After realising that voices came under the mental health category, I was more concerned about speaking about my problems, but in the end, I had to say something. At the age of 15, I was really suffering. At that point, I knew I needed help, even if I knew that people would come over with straight jackets, tie me up, throw me in a cell and keep me there for the rest of my life. This never happened, but it was still a fear of mine. Back then, I was stigmatising against myself, but only because I didn’t know any different.
Since I started receiving help in 2012, I have been faced with many forms of discrimination. I’d like to talk about one case in particular.
In November 2016, I was faced with even more discrimination where a guy I used to know very well was very offensive to me. He aimed at me with one thing he knew he could use, and that was my mental health. I won’t be able to tell you word by word what this guy text me, as it’s too inappropriate. However, what I will say is that this guy told me never to have children because he wouldn’t want them turning out anything like me with my mental health. He also told me that he felt sorry for whoever knew me. In all of the stigma and discrimination I was faced with, this was the worse case I’d experienced. This guy mentally and verbally abused me. At the time when this happened, I could happily say I was able to cope with my mental health and that I wasn’t on any medication for it. Unfortunately due to this guy, my mental health spiralled. My depression became really low to the point that I had to go back on antidepressants (which I’m still on now), the psychotic side of my health came back (which I’m also on medicine for), and I constantly had panic attacks. I’d even get quite powerful panic attacks when my mobile started to ring or vibrate. I actually had to get a new phone because of this guy.
This is just one aspect of discrimination I was faced with. For me, I can honestly say that the stigma and discrimination I have faced has been worse to deal with than my mental health condition. I know many people who agree with me when I say this. However, I can’t quote this or state their names for their confidentiality. What I can say though is some of these people have lost their jobs just for having a condition, and have been excluded from groups or outings too. Many people have even lost friends and family because they don’t want to know that person. I want to change this. I want to explain that the stereotype everyone thinks about is wrong. This is where my volunteering came in.
When I joined Time to Change Wales, I joined wanting to make a difference. The people I’ve met have all been so kind and supportive. I have built strong friendships with people in the organisation and other volunteers trying to achieve the same thing as me, which is ending stigma and discrimination. As champions (volunteers), we travel all across Wales to speak at events to make this change happen. We hold exhibitor stands, where we have a table set up with props and information about Time to Change Wales, and we talk to people when they come to the table. I have done many of these types of events at venues including the Cardiff City Stadium and the Millennium Centre. As part of my volunteering, I also take part in Anti-Stigma talks. This involves me sharing my mental health story and experiences at events and venues including the University Hospital of Wales in Heath, Cardiff Student’s Union, and the Millennium Centre. In the Millennium Centre, I shared a brief background of my issues, which had a live broadcast on Facebook. There were already about 100 people in the venue as it was. I have also taken part in a webinar, which is an online presentation/talk for colleges and schools all over Wales. I am now a regional champion which involves holding meetings for local volunteers and trying to organise more events locally. I have also written a blog for the Time to Change Wales website.
As well as these volunteering opportunity, I am now also a media volunteer for Mind where I have been on BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio Wales, BBC News Wales and ITV Wales News. I will also soon be potentially be appearing on BBC3! I have also written a blog for Mind. All of these I hope will make a difference to mental health sufferers and for people who need some support or extra information. Through all of this, we have already made a major impact in changing the mental health taboo in Wales. Although we are getting the word out there, we need your support to help us continue our goal of ending stigma and discrimination.
I would like to share with you a few statistics about mental health now.
– 1 in 4 adults have a mental health issue.
– 1 in 10 young people have a mental health issue.
These statistics have been accumulated based on those who have been able to go to see a GP or nurse. However, many are too afraid of speaking about their condition because of stigma and discrimination. This leads onto the statistic:
– 9 in 10 people are faced by mental health stigma and discrimination. This includes the sufferer themselves, their families, friends, neighbours, work colleagues etc.
I’d like to now give you a few facts and myths on mental health found on the Time to Change Wales website.
– “Myth: Mental health sufferers shouldn’t work.”
“Fact: You probably work with someone with a mental illness.”
– “Myths: People with mental illness never recover.”
“Fact: People with mental illness can and do recover.”
– “Myth: There’s nothing I can do to help someone with a mental health problem.”
“Fact: There’s a lot you can do to help.”
What can you do?
Talk to others about Time to Change Wales and try not to stigmatise and discriminate against anyone. Don’t forget: Just because you can’t see the condition, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
Be supportive – For me, having messages from my family, friends and my boyfriend saying things like, “Stay Strong,” has really helped me. Just sending a text saying, “I’m thinking of you,” or “I hope you are well,” could make a massive difference. I know it helped me when I needed it.
If you yourself or anyone you know would like to know more about what we do, or want to be part of our campaign, then please let me know.
I’ve made my pledge and have taken a step forward to make a difference. Will you?
Thank you for reading my blog post! Please feel free to ask any questions you may have. I will answer to the best of my ability.
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