…and if you’ve read my blog before you’ll know by now that I have several mental health conditions. Sometimes I describe myself as “mentally ill” or “crazy”, sometimes I call my collections of symptoms “illness” or “problems” or “difficulties”, other times “conditions”. Whether I’m “ill” or not, what I’ve had to learn to live with is the fact that my mental health conditions aren’t going to go away. They can be treated, yes, managed, yes but not ever really “cured” if cured means “Not experiencing symptoms again” rather than “Knowing how to fairly quickly deal with symptoms as and when they appear and how to prevent symptoms becoming worse”. Rather than ceasing to have these problems, I just have to learn how to live with them, how to work with my brain instead of always against it and how to treat symptoms promptly to stop them from developing into something more difficult to fix. The way my brain works simply becomes my normality.
Today people are sort-of expected to tell their stories of life with mental health problems in order to “stamp out stigma”. I’m not going to, not just because it’s easy to find other posts on this blog where I have written very frankly about my experiences of life with various mental health conditions. I’m not going to because I don’t believe the approach of telling our stories to convince others of our humanity, to show that we are “just like everyone else” or to show that we are people who deserve compassion, is the best approach or even really a good approach to solving the problems of stigma, prejudice and discrimination facing people with mental health problems. It is *an* approach and one that I have participated in before and will do again but I dislike that it has for many organisations become *the* approach. Because, well, it looks good, it’s easy to arrange and free or low cost. It generates good publicity very easily…
But it also places the onus on people with mental health problems ourselves to solve the problems caused by stigma by making ourselves vulnerable to the very people presumed to hold that stigma in an attempt to change the minds of individual people. This is slow, inefficient and not good for the health or safety of mentally ill people who try to do it – especially as there is some shame attached to not wanting to do it.
People should not feel like they have to risk the possible consequences of stigma and prejudice – which range from social ostracisation, to job loss, to being sectioned – in order to do something about stigma and prejudice.
THESE ARE NOT INDIVIDUALISED PROBLEMS, THEY ARE SYSTEMIC PROBLEMS AND NEED A SYSTEMIC SOLUTION.
Part of that solution can be encouraging people to view those of us with mental health problems as people – as members of their families and communities. But that cannot be the whole of the solution.
So as my part towards building a better world for everyone today, I’d like to leave you links to (UK) organisations you can contact if you’re worried about your own mental health. No worry is too big or too small and they’ll be able to help you find local help.