Tag Archives: discrimination

Why we're still struggling to talk about mental illness

We’re making a lot of progress as more people get involved in talking about mental illness but it’s still very difficult for individuals to put their hands up and say “I’m struggling”. I believe fear is at the centre of this and there’s no easy way to break this down but we can do with small steps. 
1. Lack of understand and confusion
When I was first suffering with symptoms, I had no idea what was going on and I had no way of describing my distress – I didn’t know that the tight bundle of thoughts in my head, increased heart rate and tension was anxiety, I had no idea my lack of appetite was caused by an illness, I had no idea that feeling low and having to fake smiles was a sign I was unwell. I was frightened but I had no idea what I was frightened of. I didn’t know anything about mental illness and I had no language to describe it.
We need to raise awareness of signs and symptoms and make talking about our feelings common place, just like we talk about physical problems. More knowledge will make everyone more likely to see if someone gets unwell, and if we’re already talking about, it’ll feel less strange and awkward.
2. Fear of stigma
In general mental illness still has a negative reputation; people perceive the individual as weak or lacking in something. There are many misconceptions, such as thinking that we’re dangerous, unpredictable or unreliable. Some people think it’s our fault we’re ill, that we’ve done something wrong.
The truth is, mental illness does not discriminate, it is not a sign of weakness and we have good and bad characteristics, just like everyone else.
The way I fight this one is to go about my life and when someone least expects it, I let them know a little bit about what I’ve been through – this helps people see me for who I am first, then they realise being mentally ill is just part of me, it does not define me.

3. Fear of discrimination
“What will I miss out on?” is the fear. People worry about all sorts of things if they divulge a mental illness, “will I be able to get a job?”, “Will I lose my job?”, “Will I be able to get the promotion I want/deserve?”, “Will I have fair access to healthcare?”. I have heard stories about people being discriminated against in both work and personal life simply because they happen to have a diagnosis.
Someone’s mental illness should not be used as a excuse to overlook them in anything – it’s important to look at an individual’s characteristics and skills rather than judging them and making assumptions about them based on their diagnostic label. This is not unique t mental illness, there are numerous reasons people will be overlooked or left at the back of the queue – fortunately, the law is on our side. I sometimes feel like I have to work extra hard to prove myself but with perseverance, I hope we can stop discrimination.
4. Normalisation
When I first started having problems, in my teens, I thought it was ‘normal teenage angst’, I thought everyone hated their changing bodies and so I coped with it as best I could. Turns out my intrusive thoughts and anxiety were pathological!
I was trying to explain what went on in my head when I was embroiled in anorexia to a colleague recently (they asked!). I explained about the fear of food, of fat, of calories and of putting on weight. The reaction I got was “don’t all women feel like that?” – this person may have been trying to make me feel better or they may have completely missed my point, that these fears paralysed me and stopped me functioning. No – these feelings are not normal and I had to undergo years of therapy to enable me to eat with strangers or in public.
Sometimes it helps to see symptoms as ‘on the normal spectrum’ but this can prevent people from seeking help if they do not realise what they are experiencing is illness.
It’s important that talking about symptoms is normal but we need to remember the symptoms themselves are part off an illness and need treatment.
5. Wanting to protect other people
When struggling with something, it’s a common human instinct not to want to burden other people with it.
When someone you love is mentally ill, it’s natural to worry about them and want to help, not being able to help/solve the situation can add to the worry! When I’m ill, I do not want people to worry about me, I don’t see the point in someone worrying when there’s not usually anything they can do. It can make a relationship awkward.
Keeping loved ones in the dark does not protect them; people are more likely to worry if they think something is going on but they don’t know what it is. It can help, when telling someone about your illness, to also let them know what they can do. This may be something practical like cooking a meal, to come to appointments or to listen to you, without judgement, criticism or advice, but whatever it is, if someone feels the can be helpful, they are less likely to worry.
6. Guilt and shame
Due to stigma, discrimination and lack of understanding, people feel guilty and shame about being ill. We feel guilty about being ‘a drain on public resources’, we feel ashamed that we’ve relapsed despite therapy, we feel we ‘should’ be better but would anyone say any of this to someone with chronic lung disease or someone or renal dialysis? Of course not!
There is nothing shameful about being mentally ill – it is what it is, an illness, none of us choose to be ill nor are we to blame. We need to have compassion for ourselves, we need to talk to ourselves as we would talk to a close friend who was ill. Once we’re making steps to diminish the (wrongly placed) guilt and shame, we will have more confidence to talk about it.
I know, it can be very difficult to speak out but the current situation with discrimination and stigma will never change if we do not bravely continue to talk about mental illness.

Quick Mental Health Awareness Q&A

Why is it important to raise awareness?
People with mental illness not only have to suffer the debilitating effects of the illness but also have to suffer stigma, discrimination and a whole host of effects caused by misunderstanding and ignorance. Raising awareness of what mental health will go part way to breaking this down.
The more society understands about mental illness, the more we talk about it, the more normal it will be for people to get the help they need, earlier, and therefore a meaningful recovery is more likely.
People with mental health problems can work provided they can get the right support. At the moment, this support is not available. Raising awareness will ensure moving from benefits into work can be an easier transition and reasonable adjustments within the workplace will ensure staying in work is possible. It’s not rocket science.
So, basically, what is mental illness?
In a nut shell, when chemicals within the brain get out of balance, thoughts and feelings become out of sink with reality, meaning we may behave out of character. This means it can be solved on a number of levels by tackling the thoughts, the feelings, the behaviours or the chemicals but most people think it is best to manage all of them to some degree since they all impact each other.
Is mental illness scary?
As a sufferer, I would say, “yes” – at times I’ve been petrified.
Watching a loved one suffer, I would say, “yes” – at times, it’s devastating.
BUT this does not men we should be sacred to talk about it – talking will only help these situations. Mental illness will always, by its nature, be painful , it will break hearts and break lives but if, by talking about it, we can ease the tensions and heightened emotions, we will be making progress.
If I don’t know anyone with a mental illness, why should I care?
1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem min any given year. You may think you don’t know anyone but I promise you do, if they’re not talking about it to you, it’s because of fear; fear of judgement, ignorance and discrimination. If you genuinely don”t think you know anyone with mental illness, just for fun, count down a list of friends and ever 4th person, say “it could be them” – that person could suffer this year – think of the devastation that could cause, they might not be able to leave the house, to meet you socially, to go to work, to play with their children, their life might be at risk, they might need specialist treatment – now do you care?
Bit feeling a bit low or a bit worried isn’t that serious is it?















“Depression is sucking the life out of me, it saps me of emotion, it hags over me like a black fog. I feel nothing and everything. I’m completely exhausted but I can’t sleep. I can’t eat. My body aches. No medication is working. I think the only way out is suicide.”

















“I feel so overwhelmed that my family is in danger, I have an in uncontrollable compulsion to check the door is locked, multiple time. Thoughts intrude my mind, it doesn’t feel like they’re mine. It’s called anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder but it feels like it’s ruining my life.”

















“I’m trapped in a cycle of not eating. Food feels like the enemy, I’m genuinely terrified of what it will do to my body. I hear a voice telling me that I do not deserve to eat. I so desperately want to break free of this destructive cycle but it feels like there’s no hope. I’ve been told I have anorexia but I don’t think I have because I’m not skinny enough.”










“At times I’ve thought I can fly, it might sound funny but it’s not when I’m feeling so elated I climb out of my 2nd floor flat and flap my arms. Breaking my leg wasn’t enough to stop me, my mind was still racing, I ran out into traffic thinking I was invincible. I felt awful waking up in hospital realizing I’d put so many people at risk. This is the sort of thing I do when I’m manic.”

Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 years. Mental illness is incredibly serious, it can stop people working, it can stop people socialising, it can literally stop people living their lives, it affects not only the person with the diagnosis but everyone around them.

Mental health services are still not properly funded, waiting lists are too long and people are not receiving the teat,jet they need.

If it’s all so bleak, what’s the point?
It is possible for everyone to recover a meaningful life, no matter how serious their mental illness has been. For some people this will mean managing with medication and ongoing therapy but the majority of people can move on to be so completely free from their mental illness. This is all only possible provided they have access to appropriate support and treatment – this wil only happen if people feel they can come forward for help and if they help is there!
What do we need to do?

  1. Share this blog 🙂 It’s one small step on the road.
  2. If you think someone might be struggling, just asks them how they are and if there’s anything you can do and don’t be scared.
  3. If you have a story to tell, share it. I know it’s hard but someone has to break the silence – knowledge can only come from the knowledgeable.
  4. Take in interest in things like Time to Change and Heads Together, follow them on Facebook or regularly visit their campaign pages, they’re the experts on how we’re going to move forward with all this!


What's the point of raising mental health awareness?

I’m really excited to see the The Duke and Dutchess of Cambridge and The Prince of Wales heading up the Heads Together mental health campaign. Only good can come from talking more about mental health and ‘celebrity’ status can aid this.

They’ve brought together The Mix, Place2Be, Contact, Mind, CALM, Best Beginnings, Anna Freud and Young Minds so let’s hope this campaign does the business and gets everyone talking about mental health the way us Brits talk about the weather! (Maybe not, that would be weird!!)
It is great that Heads Together is the charity of the year for the London Marathon and I’m really excited everyone is wearing the #HeadsTogether headbands but will anyone know what it’s all about and why we need to get everyone talking about mental health? What are we actually going to talk about when we get started? Here’s what I want to say, I’m sure many others with mental illness would echo my words:

  1. My mental health diagnosis doesn’t mean I can’t work. Everyone has skills and experience to offer the work place, it is an employer’s duty to offer reasonable adjuastments to enable people to work despite a diagnosis. Please do not discriminate against me, I am not my illness.
  2. Just because my illness is hidden I should not be made to feel ashamed or guilty nor should I feel I have to prove or justify my illness because people assume I’m making it up.
  3. Sometimes my mind makes me behave out of character, please forgive me, don’t judge me.
  4. It’s ok to talk to me about mental health, it’s not catching, it does not make you weak. The only way we’re going to reduce stigma is if we make it a normal and natural thing to talk about.
  5. Caring for someone with a mental health diagnosis is tough, carers need support too.
  6. Mental health education in schools is vital, early diagnosis means recovery is more likely.
  7. Recovery is different for everyone. Some people need to stay on medication for life, some people need therapy on and off for life. Not everyone will be in full time paid work but striving for recovery means an illness can be managed and a meaningful life can be found.


So, however we do it and whoever does it, raising awareness of mental health issues is important and these are some key messages. We can use all the gimmicks and celebrity endorsement we like but we must remember key messages we’re trying to communicate!