I want to start this presentation with a question. What do Tom Fletcher, Ruby Wax, Stephen Fry, Frank Bruno, Carrie Fisher, Princess Diana, Adele, Alastair Campbell, Rebecca Front, Marcus Trescothick, Hildegard von Bingen and Edgar Allan Poe all have in common?
Each comedian, actor, sports person, royal, composer and politician all have mental health problems ranging from depression, bipolar, eating disorders, hallucinations and more.
I’d now like to ask, now you know this, how do you view these people? Do you think they are crazy, won’t succeed in life and should be kicked down by society? The answer should be no, but majority of people believe that having a mental health problem means you are insane. This isn’t right, and we need to start getting a better understanding of mental health and the stigma and discrimination faced with it.
I’m a 20 year old who suffers from severe depression with psychotic symptoms. As well as this, I have panic attacks, and severe issues with stress. I’ve had majority, if not all, of these conditions ever since I can remember. I tried to talk to my parents about one aspect of what I was experiencing when I was about 7 or 8 years old. At first I thought it was normal to experience voices, but when my parents questioned me asking, “What voices Laura,” that I started to interrogate my own thoughts and feelings. Everything started to change in my head. It was also the last time I told anyone about what I was experiencing for about 7-8 years. I suffered quiet badly in the times I kept silent, but for me it felt like the only option so I wouldn’t get judged.
As a child, I would watch the news, and it always seemed to be that if someone got hurt, it was because the attacker had schizophrenia, or that they were mentally disturbed. This is basically what I heard every time the news was on. At the time I didn’t really understand much, so I myself thought people with mental heath issues were violent. After realising that voices came under the mental health category, I was more concerned about speaking about my problems. In the end, I had to say something.
At the age of 15, I was really suffering. At that point, I knew I needed help, even if I knew that people would come over with straight jackets, tie me up, throw me in a cell and keep me there for the rest of my life. This never happened, but it was still a fear of mine. Back then, I was stigmatising against myself, but only because I didn’t know any different.
Since I started receiving help in 2012, I have been faced with many bits of discrimination. I’d like to talk about three cases in particular.
Firstly, when I was seeking help for my problems, I was told that my symptoms didn’t relate to what the mental health medical journals said, and it was implied that I was lying about my own experiences. I found this really unhelpful and hurtful for me.
In November 2015, I was present when someone was stating that mental health sufferers should hide in the corner and die. I was told by this one guy, “I don’t want to be associated with mental health sufferers, they are loonies.” He also believed that sufferers wouldn’t succeed in life. This really got to me. Although this did affect me, I have to admit that I have to thank him too. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have found the strength to stand up for myself and for others to tell him he can’t say things like what he did. Because of him, I was encouraged to fulfil an opportunity I was unsure I’d be able to do before, and that is become a Time to Change Wales Champion (A volunteer).
In November 2016, I was faced with even more discrimination where someone I used to know very well was very offensive to me. He aimed at me with one thing he knew he could use, and that was my mental health. I won’t be able to tell you word by word what this guy text me, as it’s too inappropriate. However, what I will say is that this guy told me never to have children because he wouldn’t want them turning anything like me with my mental health. He also told me that he felt sorry for whoever knew me. In all of the stigma and discrimination I was faced with, this was the worse case I’d experienced.
"For me, I can honestly say that the stigma and discrimination I have faced has been worse to deal with than my mental health condition."
At the time when this happened, I could happily say I was able to cope with my mental health and that I wasn’t on any medication for it. Unfortunately due to this guy, my mental health spiraled. My depression became really low to the point that I had to go back on antidepressants (which I’m still on now), the psychotic side of my health came back, and I constantly had panic attacks. I’d even get quite powerful panic attacks when my mobile started to ring or vibrate. I actually had to get a new phone because of this guy.
These are just three aspects of discrimination I was faced with. For me, I can honestly say that the stigma and discrimination I have faced has been worse to deal with than my mental health condition. I know many people who agree with me when I say this. However, I can’t quote this or state their names for their confidentiality. What I can say though is some of these people have lost their jobs just for having a condition, and have been being excluded from groups or outings too. Many people have even lost friends and family because they don’t want to know that person. I want to change this. I want to explain that the stereotype everyone thinks about is wrong. This is where my volunteering came in.
When I joined Time to Change Wales, I joined wanting to make a difference. The people I’ve met have all been so kind and supportive. I have built strong friendships with people in the organisation and other volunteers trying to achieve the same thing as me, which is ending stigma and discrimination. As champions (volunteers), we travel all across Wales to speak at events to make this change happen. We hold exhibitor stands, where we have a table set up with props and information about Time to Change Wales, and we talk to people when they come to the table. I have done many of these types of events at venues including the Cardiff City Stadium and the Millennium Centre.
As part of my volunteering, I also take part in Anti-Stigma talks. This involves me sharing my mental health story and experiences at events at venues including the University Hospital of Wales in Heath, Cardiff Students’ Union, the Welsh Government and the Millennium Centre. In the Millennium Centre, I shared a brief background of my issues, which had a live broadcast on Facebook. There were already about 100 people in the venue as it was. I have also taken part in a webinar, which is an online presentation/talk for colleges and schools all over Wales. I am now a regional champion which involves holding meetings for local volunteers and trying to organise more events locally. I have also been on radio and TV for the organisation.
What can you do?
Talk to others about Time to Change Wales and try not to stigmatise and discrimination against anyone. Don’t forget: Just because you can’t see the condition, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
Be supportive - For me, having messages from my family, friends and my boyfriend saying things like, “Stay Strong,” has really helped me. Just sending a text saying, “I’m thinking of you,” or “I hope you are well,” could make a massive difference. I know it helped me when I needed it.
I’ve made my pledge and have taken a step forward to make a difference. Will you?
If you would like to write a blog post about your experiences of stigma or related issues, email email@example.com