I think that many of the labels that are attached to us are negative, some are positive. These labels make up our identity. They may depending on how you perceive it, make us ‘who we are’, or they may show how others see us as individuals. Along with some labels comes stigma. Labels such as being a person who is disabled, being a lesbian, being gay or being transgender or for people like me, being a person who is a carer or being a person with mental health problems.
In 2015, these labels should not carry the stigma that they do. I’ve decided to write about the stigma of mental ill-health, because it is something that is close to my heart. I’ve been diagnosed with anxiety and OCD for nearly a year and a half now and I still feel stigmatised. I feel that people think I’m ‘weak’ and that I’m ‘unstable’. The media portrayal of mental ill-health is not one to be desired. I think that it reinforces the stigma and the negativity that is placed onto people with mental ill-health. We aren’t ‘crazy’, ‘loonies’ or anything else – other than a HUMAN BEING. We still have feelings.
I write ‘we’ because I feel part of the group of people who have a mental health problem. I feel included in that group and I feel that I have a good identity because of that. I may feel stigmatised and judged, but I do feel that I am part of the collective. If you want to label me and paint me with the same brush, then that’s absolutely fine, but no-one is exactly the same.
We all experience life differently. Even though I have the same mental health problem as someone else, does not mean that I experience it the same way. There is a spectrum within mental health, at least that’s how I see it. I feel that mental health is more medicalised than physical health and that is for a reason. I think some people have mild mental health problems and some people have severe mental health problems that impair them in a significant and perhaps detrimental way, but we aren’t who society say we are.
I get told to ‘chill’ and ‘calm down’, all of the time. But it isn’t that easy. I’ve had to distance myself from people, in order to do this. I’ve been looked at in weird ways when I use my hand sanitiser in the street or in a lecture, but in all honesty, it’s what I do. We all judge, but at the same time, by behaviour now, is not as bad as it was. I used to have panic attacks and used to completely isolate myself from people. I had no friends throughout school and would worry a lot (because I had extra responsibilities as you may be aware). I constantly felt on edge, wondering what people think of me. I still worry about what people think of me, but that is gradually wearing off a little now.
I think that campaigns such as #TimetoChange and organisations such as MIND are really helping with the stigma, but I don’t think that it is enough. People were institutionalised because of their mental health and some people still are now, although social care is pushing for people to be cared for in the community. The stigma needs to be broken down. We need equality with physical health. We need better services and more funding. I always ask for a lot, but a LOT needs to be done in order for us as individuals to feel equal and to feel as though we aren’t labelled negatively. Everyone has their problems – ours is to do with our mental health. Everyone has mental health and ill mental health is not chosen by you, ill mental health chooses you.