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Take the plunge and talk about mental health

written by Jane Battye 27/02/2014

Take the plunge and talk about mental health
I was anxious about being rejected by the groups that I would be presenting to, but in reality, educating others has been a very positive experience. The social support from other Champions and the “Time to Change Wales” team has been empowering.

My name is Jane Battye and I am 58 years old.

I have a recurrent mental illness. Since my teens I have suffered from depression. I attempted suicide in my twenties and spent some time in a psychiatric ward, and had three episodes of major depression in my forties. For the last 15 years I have been taking a maintenance dose of antidepressant medication, which has kept me relatively well.

I now realise that I was not a “bad” child. The bullying I experienced at junior school was because of a teacher’s attitude to my being in a family with a mother who was mentally ill and who took refuge in alcohol. My mother’s problems were well known locally and coloured other people’s views and expectations of me. I spent most of my teens alternating between anger and depression.

When my first husband developed schizophrenia, I experienced the isolation, which many carers of mentally ill people suffer. Because of stigma, I was trapped, away from normal social contact and I lost myself in caring for him.

When I had my first bout of major depression, I experienced the consequences of having a mental health illness on my return to work. Relationships with co-workers became strained. Management expressed doubts about my ability to perform and the likelihood of failure to meet the requirements of the job. My confidence plummeted and I became anxious about everything I was doing, every decision and every comment made. I knew that I was being watched closely by managers and my colleagues and felt constantly under scrutiny. With repeated bouts of illness, I became less and less confident and eventually gave up my career of nearly 20 years.

Central to most people is the need to identify with and be valued members of groups. This gives us our identity, social value and sense of belonging. I belong to many groups, at work, in society and through leisure activities. I also have been a “Family member of someone suffering from a mental illness” and a “Person with a mental illness”. I am now also a member of the “Time to Change Wales” campaign.

People with experience of mental illness are some of the most tolerant, understanding and compassionate people I have known.

For over 50 years I have avoided sharing with others my association with mental illness, because of society’s attitude towards mental health problems and the people who have them.

People have treated those affected by mental illness very badly, and caused untold suffering to neighbours, colleagues, acquaintances and other fellow human beings. Society compounds our difficulties by ostracising us, devaluing us, bullying us, and, in some cases, verbally and physically attacking us.

Once the label “mentally ill” has been applied to you, other people’s behaviour changes. Their expectations and opinions of your value also change.

Society and culture place shame onto people with mental illness and onto their families.

 “Time to Change” is now.

Society judges us as weak, when actually we are the strong ones. We face and deal with mental health problems and we endure, in spite of our difficulties, both as individuals and as members of society. Nobody is perfect and we all have the right to be treated with respect and dignity.

I believe it shames all of us as human beings if we devalue people, for we are devaluing humanity, which includes everyone.

I have been an adult for 40 years now and estimate that I have known approximately 400 people, through being a work colleague, friend, neighbour or acquaintance. Of those 400 people, three have suffered from schizophrenia, four have had a bi polar diagnosis and over 20 have been open about their problems with anxiety or depression.

People with experience of mental illness are some of the most tolerant, understanding and compassionate people I have known.

People have treated those affected by mental illness very badly, and caused untold suffering to neighbours, colleagues, acquaintances and other fellow human beings

When I joined “Time to Change Wales” I was accepted and welcomed as a Champion and encouraged and supported to become an Educator.

I was anxious about being rejected by the groups that I would be presenting to, but in reality, educating others has been a very positive experience. The social support from other Champions and the “Time to Change Wales” team has been empowering. Disclosing my experiences to groups has become more comfortable. I am pleased to have the opportunity to share my personal experience to help and educate others.

Feedback from the sessions has been encouraging. After the sessions, people have been friendly and often have felt comfortable enough to discuss their own problems with mental health, or their worries about friends or relatives. There have been occasions when complete strangers have come up to me just to say “Well done”.

Each time I have taken part in an event or done a presentation, my hope that attitudes can change is strengthened.

To anyone who is thinking about getting involved I would say ……

“Take the plunge. The water is not as cold as you think it is”.

“Let’s all talk about mental health”.

Jane

If you would like to write a blog post about your experiences of stigma or related issues, email info@timetochangewales.org.uk

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