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The fact that I believe this totally won’t come as a surprise is actually really saddening; but the stigma of mental illness and the discrimination those with such diagnoses are treat, is an extremely well-publicised topic. Unfortunately, making people aware that this issue exists, doesn’t always mean that it will be resolved or that talking about it will have any of the even more remote benefits. That very obviously hasn’t stopped me though! I look at it with the mindset that as long as I do my bit to help minimise such negativity in whatever way possible, then that’s all I can – and should – really expect or hope for.
My thoughts on the cause of stigma and discrimination are focused on the belief that it’s largely a result of a lack of education, information, knowledge, and understanding. Not being able to comprehend someone’s struggle/experiences or being incapable of stopping yourself passing judgements on those people (and particularly the ways in which they cope), can result in a person being somewhat ignorant and spiteful when interacting with those who have a mental illness. And I think this is because you can very easily – and rationally/understandably – be terrified at the thought of something you know nothing about. And, unfortunately though, I fully agree with the popular thought process and belief that in mental health; there are many things that you can never truly understand if you have no personal experience. I mean, I always say that a psychiatric professional who has empathy can help someone so much more effectively than a person with purely education and qualifications on their CV.
That said, a lack of experience or education does not – and should not – excuse a person from showing discrimination and stigma toward someone with a mental illness and treating them in accordance with your own personal (and potentially misled or naïve) assumptions and judgments. I’m a huge advocate for that saying: ‘treat others how you want to be treated’ and I think that it really becomes important in mental health… I mean, when I was helping my local psychiatric NHS Trust (Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust – CNTW) provide mental health training for the new recruits of my local Police Force (Northumbria Police), I always used to highlight that a professional’s response, behaviour, and attitude towards a person in a mental health crisis, can be so influential on the person’s thoughts and feelings. These Police Officers – and Paramedics and Doctors and Nurses and Social Workers and the list goes on – all have the power and potential to either talk someone ‘off the ledge’ (out of their crisis or suicide attempt) or give them more motivation and reason to ‘jump.’
The additional frustrating element to this topic, is that for years psychiatric professionals absolutely pounded and bombarded me with lectures on taking responsibility for my actions… And they were completely right to do so because I used to self-harm and say it was someone else’s fault for upsetting me or for triggering memories of the abuse. However, now I’m pretty rigorous (in my opinion!) at taking responsibility and fully accepting the consequences to my actions, it’s meant that I’m noticing that a lot of people – the same people who taught me not to do it – should seriously, also be learning how to do these things too!
There’s now been so many instances where I’ve had to raise concerns, and I even made a formal complaint (about a psychiatric inpatient service) on one occasion, about the attitude and behaviours of various professionals – particularly the Police. And besides the formal one, the responses have always been either flat out denial or an admission to it, but with excuses in a desperate attempt to validate that their response wasn’t worthy of disciplinary actions. These responses have meant that on my recent formal complaint, I was so very grateful that it was filled with acknowledgement of the evidence supporting my ‘accusations and numerous apologies… And thinking on it, this is kind of sad because they are things that really should be expected and not seen as a rarity.
Aside from it being frustrating to recognise that a lot of professionals don’t practice what they preach, it’s also really worrying to realise that when I am treat poorly by them, I’m likely not the only person they do that to. And if no one speaks up, why would they ever change their attitude and/or their actions? So, putting complaints in and speaking to managerial staff…
Well, I do it with the recognition that it’s too late to change what has been done to me in those instances, but I can do something to prevent it happening to someone else. And I think it’s important to me, to do everything in my power to achieve this because I recognise that everyone copes with hardships differently and sometimes this means that something said to me that is upsetting and frustrating… If it was said to someone else, it might be absolutely horrendous and leave them completely unsafe. Or vice versa in that something might be intolerable for me, but a daily occurrence to someone else who is accustomed to not letting it even so much as phase them. And so, with the concern that a professional repeating their behaviour to someone else could have a catastrophic affect, I feel motivated in complaining.