You've got the words to change a nation
But you're biting your tongue
You've spent a life time stuck in silence
Afraid you'll say something wrong
If no one ever hears it how we gonna learn your song?

You've got a heart as loud as lightning
So why let your voice be tamed?
Maybe we're a little different
There's no need to be ashamed
You've got the light to fight the shadows
So stop hiding it away

Read All About It – Emeli Sande

Every two weeks from June 1st until August 24th 2020, Time To Change will be giving those who have signed up to StoryCamp, a theme to use as inspiration to create content on. This fortnight, the theme is ‘why I believe it’s important to talk about mental health.’

When my mental health first began to deteriorate in 2009, I couldn’t even consider the prospect of telling someone or asking for help. For me, it wasn’t an option. Back then, there was really no talk of mental health – no one told us about it in School, there was very little in the media, and my friends didn’t ever mention if they were struggling. I assumed this meant that it was taboo and a bit of a forbidden subject that was something to either be ashamed of or to just deny was occurring. 

So, when I started experiencing auditory hallucinations aged 18 (two years after the abuse had ‘ended’) I was so terrified at what it meant and the worry that I was ‘going crazy’ left me convinced that I’d be locked away in the local psychiatric hospital that I’d heard horror stories about! Looking back, had I known what I know now about mental health and services, if I’d gotten help when the hallucinations first started, maybe I wouldn’t have ended up attempting suicide two weeks after they’d begun. Unfortunately, though, it took taking an overdose and being sectioned under the 1983 Mental Health Act before I finally opened up and talked about my mental health.

I remember being taken to the psychiatric hospital and watching the other inpatients talk to their hallucinations and scratch at their skin in frustration because no one else could hear what they could; and I thought ‘if I don’t get help, I might never get out of here.’ So, I went to the Nurse that I’d already bonded with and told her all about the voices and talked about why I’d attempted suicide; and immediately felt a massive sense of relief. It felt as though talking about it was the first step to getting help to get rid of the voices, and the knowledge that there was a chance I’d feel better sometime soon, was so reassuring and it filled me to the brim with hope! Hope that one day I would have my head all to myself again. Hope that one day I wouldn’t want to die. Hope that I’d be allowed home.

From that moment, for the following three years; my conviction that talking about my mental health would be beneficial to me really fluctuated. Largely because I was met with very varied – and sometimes incredibly harmful – responses from professionals. Being told that I was self-harming or attempting suicide as a way to get attention or that I was faking the hallucinations, understandably made me very reluctant to tell anyone when I was struggling. It felt as though I couldn’t win; if I called the Crisis Team or my Community Mental Health Team to say that I was having a hard time, I was labelled an attention seeker; but if I just went ahead and self-harmed then I’d be criticized for not asking for help beforehand!

So, when I started experiencing visual hallucinations in 2012, I didn’t tell a soul and once again, my silence resulted in a suicide attempt. This time, I ended up in Intensive Care on life support though, and when I was woken from the coma I was sectioned and admitted to a specialist psychiatric hospital over 100 miles away from home. It was incredibly hard to find the courage to open up to new staff because I had no idea what their response would be; whether they would be validating and reassuring, or discriminatory and stigmatized. Somehow, though, I found the bravery and I built good, strong, boundaried relationships with a number of staff who I found out I could trust to help me when I talked about my mental health.

After being in hospital for almost a year, in 2013, the staff’s responses had built up my confidence so much that I created I’m NOT Disordered and began blogging about my mental health for the entire world to see! I think it was a ‘go big or go home’ kind of scenario! A large motivation in speaking so publicly was the knowledge that it could provide insight for the friends and family who were now so far away from me. I hoped that my blog would improve their understanding of what I was going through and that would make them better placed to support me through the hospital admission and the years beyond it.

My other aim in blogging was that being so honest and open about mental health might encourage others to do the same and assure them that doing so, is a good, positive step; a step that can contribute to the eradication of stigma and discrimination. I believe that a large, contributing factor to mental health stigma is a lack of education and pure misunderstanding and assumption, so talking about it can help to teach and show others a lot about the topic. It can aid them in developing empathy and lead to expressing validation for those who are struggling – a response that really means a lot in a mental health crisis.

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