The Danger of Stigmatising Mental Health

I recently completed an NCFE Level 2 Certificate in Awareness of Mental Health Problems, and I did the course as a practice for doing my Level 3 Counselling course. Honestly though, most of the course was easy. I already knew most of it from personal experience of my own mental health issues or of those that I’ve known so I had a good ‘working knowledge’ of how to spot the signs.

The reason I am referring to the course is this; we covered the effects of attitudes resulting in stigma and discrimination against people with mental illness and over the past few weeks I’ve seen this first hand. It’s made me mad as hell that in this day and age, there are still people who clearly ‘don’t believe’ in mental health issues. Who behave openly as if it’s an ‘inconvenience’ to them. Employers who even contact the person suffering from mental health issues to tell them not to be seen out in public or on social media (I’m pretty sure there are some discrimination laws being broken here).

So, going back to my course and the case study we looked at, here’s an excerpt;

“During my time off I was mainly sitting and staring, not washing, not bothering to eat and sleeping a lot. I felt like it was all pointless. I remember one situation that really upset me. I hadn’t been out for weeks and my husband suggested that it might make me feel better to get out of the flat. We went to the pub and when we got there it was full of my teacher friends. I said ‘hello’ but I looked a state. My hair was greasy and unwashed. One of the teachers who was covering my class at the time gave me a stare and barged me as she walked past. It was at this moment that it dawned on me how everyone felt about my absence. I was a problem in their eyes, someone who didn’t want to work and was having the time of her life.”

Why am I highlighting this? Because astoundingly, there are still some people who believe that if you are signed off work for mental health issues then you should be displaying the same behaviours as a person signed off with flu. The course used this case study to show the catastrophic effect of stigma on a person suffering from mental health issues. People are still that ignorant to believe that if you are signed off with mental health issues you should ‘stay off social media’ in case anyone sees you having fun. People are still that ignorant to believe that you should not be seen walking around town, in case any clients of the firm see you and instead you should stay indoors the whole time. Yes, there really are those people still out there in 2018… I overheard a conversation outside Costa coffee last week where an older lady said she was upset that her sister ‘didn’t believe in depression’ and that she’d suffered most of her life and still couldn’t get her sister to see it was a genuine illness. How sad is that???

For those people who don’t understand depression I’ll give you a quick neurology lesson; due to varying factors (hereditary, biological, environmental), some people don’t produce the same amount of serotonin, the ‘happy’ hormone as others. Sometimes this can be managed with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (antidepressants) and sometimes it can’t. When it can’t, that person’s brain has a chemical imbalance. When people roll their eyes at mental health issues I want to yell in their face CHEMICAL IMBALANCE, and yes I have actually seen someone roll their eyes this week. It was all I could do – lot’s of coherent breathing – not to punch them in the face.

 

According to The Mental Health Foundation some (but not limited to) of the signs and symptoms are: Tiredness and lack of energy, Sadness that feels neverending, loss of self-confidence and self-esteem, unable to enjoy the things you used to, having anxiety all the time, feeling like you need to avoid people, hopelessness and helplessness, feelings of guilt and worthlessness, unable to concentrate, loss of appetite and sex drive, physical aches and pains, feeling suicidal or obsessing over death, self-harm. But according to some people, they should just ‘pull themselves together’… I’m raging right now!

For those people who are in the midst of the chemical imbalance, here’s the advice that is given by various mental health organisations (actual medical professionals, not know-it-all managers who believe depression is code for drama):

From the Mind website, the self-care they recommend is ‘Work out what makes you happy. Try making a list of activities, people and places that make you happy or feel good. Then make a list of what you do every day. It probably won’t be possible to include all the things that make you happy but try to find ways to bring those things into your daily routine.’ – So go do fun things!!!

Rethink Mental Health suggests ‘Exercising regularly can help your mood. Find something you enjoy so you keep it up. You need to be out of breath but not so much that you can’t talk while you are doing it. Exercise can help if you have problems sleeping. Getting proper sleep is important for your mental health.’ So go to the gym or for a brisk walk!!!

NHS Direct quotes ‘Mindfulness is recommended by NICE as a way of preventing depression in people who have had three or more bouts of depression in the past.’ So meditate, go walking in nature, do arts and crafts!

It sickens me beyond words that people are left feeling like they can’t even come back to their job because of the stigma still surrounding mental health. It should not be like this still. There is enough darkness surrounding mental health without managers and colleagues, friends and parents adding to it. Anyone who knows me, also knows that I will not stay quiet about this subject. Having been down this road more times than I want to admit (thankfully not for a good few years), I am always going to strongly campaign for the vulnerable and suffering.

If you think you may be depressed but aren’t sure, please please go see your GP and get their advice and then take the self-help measures recommended by the many helpful mental health charities online. There are lots, and they are excellent! You should also know that you can self-refer for counselling through IAPT  and if you need someone to talk to and you don’t know where to turn don’t hesitate to call the Samaritans on:

 

References

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/depression/self-care-for-depression/#.W1xCKthKj6c

https://www.rethink.org/diagnosis-treatment/conditions/depression/self-care

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mindfulness/

https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help-you/

https://www.nice.org.uk/

 

 

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