Mental health discrimination: the last taboo?

Photo of Stephen, a Time to Change bloggerAs a student I am proud to say that no matter how many times we hear the negatives of “the youth of today” that we as a generation are more accepting.

Homophobia and racism though still existing are breaking down and giving way to a generation of those like me who accept and embrace others regardless of their beliefs and we celebrate that diversity.

Yet one taboo remains, mental illness and the stigma attached. Mental health is not discussed as a topic and so lack of knowledge breeds ignorance and labelling.

I’m Stephen and I’m a 19 year old a-level student with type II Bipolar Disorder. Though I could not say how long my struggle with mental illness has been, I was clinically diagnosed 3 years 3 months ago (I refer to it as my Bipolar Birthday.) In that time I’ve seen 3 psychiatrists, been prescribed at least 8-10 types of medication, I turned to drink, to abuse of medication, self-harm and ultimately several failed suicide attempts.

The onset of my BPD coincided with my GSCE’s

For me it seemed like having bipolar seemed the ultimate act of self-cruelty, not just being kicked whilst you’re down but being picked up into the air (hypomania) then being slammed to the ground. Every time I thought I’d hit rock bottom there was a new layer of hell, like I’d only scraped the surface.

The onset of my BPD coincided with my GSCE’s, I felt too ashamed back then that I spent my last school year at home, having work sent to me. With social isolation and limited success with my prescribed medication I began to spiral.

The few friends I had previously became more distant

The few friends I had previously became more distant, I distinctly remember how they told me “it’s all in my head” and to “snap out of it”. I remember vividly the long days, I wouldn’t dress or wash or shave. I laugh bitterly as I look back at how I would lie on the floor behind a sofa when the doorbell rang and how I’d be so scared to answer the phone.

For around 8 months I only left the house for maybe an hour a week, to either visit the GP’s or the psychiatrists. When I began 6th form the following September I wasn’t mentally prepared, my attendance had fallen so low that 6th form asked me to leave but saved me a place for the next year.

I remember how nervous I was about going back, especially as now I would not know anyone in my new year. I promised myself that I wasn’t going back.

I pushed myself more than I ever had before

The day I was due to sign back on I told my parents that I physically couldn’t go back. They pleaded with me to try and not to waste my potential. In that moment I pushed myself more than I ever had before. I got up, I washed, shaved and dressed and headed off for 6th form.

By the second week of September I had begun my A level courses (biology, chemistry and psychology,) though I kept myself to myself and sat in my car at breaks and lunchtimes, I was doing it!

To this day I still cannot face sitting in the common area and still have no contact with other students outside of lesson, but the goal is to stay stable and it works.

It soon emerged that I excelled at psychology

It soon emerged that I excelled at psychology (I am predicted an A*) and for me it was a two way exchange with my BPD. In a way it was therapy, I learnt and am currently learning about the perspectives of mental illness. On the other hand my BPD gave me experience that other students couldn’t hope for and I can feed this back into my studies.

What shocked me when discussing these topics was the student’s attitudes towards mental illness. Not only how little they knew but their preconceived notions of “nutjobs” and “crazies,” like they could spot someone with mental health issues like we have a bell round our necks.

Now in my second year of 6th form, I’m looking towards going to University to study Biochemistry and Genetics. I look forward to challenging those preconceptions of mental health. I talk candidly with the few friends I’ve made and they respect me and support me and my cycling.

I talk openly in psychology about my experiences to educate people

I talk openly in psychology about my experiences to educate people, no matter how small the number. Furthermore, people have opened up to me about their own issues with mental health and so I support them and make sure they get the help that they need.

Even though my generation are ill informed about the last taboo, they are generally receptive and supportive, only through my actions and you the community can we move the cause forward. Perhaps one day the last taboo will be taboo no more, and that’s half the battle won.

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Comments

What a great story, it's

<p>What a great story, it's great that you can speak out about your experiences, wish I could. Good luck with your studies and your health.</p><p>Just a quick note BPD is generally the abbreviation for borderline personality disorder not bipolar, that is normally just BP. It confused me a little a first, so just thought I'd let you know.</p>

In reply

<p>Bi polar and Borderline can be very hard to differentiate - maybe not such an error with the abbreviation.</p>

This is a beautifully and

<p>This is a beautifully and vividly written account.</p><p>Your experiences sound very similar to mine. At the age of 16, something changed and I became very withdrawn, stopped eating and alienated&nbsp;some of my friends who were confused and didn't understand. I left Sixth Form after my first year and thought I'd never return. When I did eventually return, I got A* grades, probably due to the fact that like you, I avoided common sociable&nbsp;areas for quiet study spots. I was diagnosed as&nbsp;bipolar later on. </p><p>Good luck with your A Levels and take care of yourself during exams. You should write another one when you start university, writing has helped me lots&nbsp;at University :)</p>

This has really triggered

<p>This has really triggered some severe feelings in me.</p><p>I was diagnosed with depression and severe anxiety when I was 15 and was pulled out of mainstream education (because I couldn't face daily education), put into a Pupil Referal Unit full of teenagers who had violent disorders and expected to get Cs in GCSE Maths, English and Science. After half a year of torture, I refused to go back to that place and, instead, forced my old school to take me back (they initially refused - citing my refusal to turn up to contact meetings <em>despite</em> being diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety that accumulated in a month-long period where I couldn't leave my room). I managed to get 10 GCSEs, none below a B grade, and then took myself off to Sixth Form. I managed AAA in Biology, Chemistry and Mathematics - top grades (this was before the introduction of the A* grade). </p><p>Then I went to university for biochemistry and tried to kill myself. The university I went to (Manchester) were disgustingly uncaring to me (to the point that when I requested an appointment with my "so called" pastoral care supervisor, he refused and mocked me in front of the rest of my pastoral care group). I left university and was diagnosed with ADHD, a diagnosis I am still trying to get used to.</p><p>The whole experience has killed any desire of mine to participate in education. A lot of people have told me it's a "waste" of my intelligence, or of my life, but I find it impossible to want to participate in a society that seems so hateful to anyone who can't work the way the majority does. I feel so horrible whenever I have to explain this to people, call myself stupid or thick in front of people to explain away my lack of career path or higher education. Because, am I not stupid, or thick, as stupid and thick are defined by ability to work?</p><p>Anyway, yeah. I just... I wish I could have that hope. As far as my life's been, I haven't been called crazy (apart from myself, to reclaim it), just hurt, time and time again. Both by those who think they know what's best for me and those who would prefer to laugh than help.</p>

Hi Jennie It sounds as if you

<p>Hi Jennie</p> <p>It sounds as if you have had to deal with some very painful and difficult situations in and around your education – as school and university years are such a transient time, it can mean that people have to deal with new situations and new groups of people very regularly, which can often be unsettling – not to mention work and exam pressures creating a lot of stress and anxiety. </p><p>If you feel that you’d like to talk to someone about the feelings that this blog has raised, you can contact the <a href="http://www.samaritans.org/">Samaritans </a>to talk it over with someone 08457 90 90 90&nbsp;– or email &nbsp;<a href="mailto:jo@samaritans.org">jo@samaritans.org</a>, find a trusted family member or friend, or maybe call Rethink 0300 5000 927&nbsp;or Mind 0300 123 3393&nbsp;to speak with their advice teams about what groups or support might be available locally.</p> <p>You may also find the <a href="your-organisation/support-workplace">information about employment and your rights at work</a> on our website.</p>

ADHD

<p>Hello. I am sorry to hear that you haven't had the support you needed. I didn't receive it either when I approached staff at school and college with my problems. I've only been recently diagnosed as well (after approaching the GP over 2 years ago to be referred). Unfortunately, the health practitioners in my area do not have much knowledge of adult ADHD. Luckily, I am now being seen by a specialist unit and have been referred to a psychologist for specific help to function with ADHD (CBT approach). I just wish I was diagnosed sooner, as it could have helped me along the way. Others wouldn't have understood, but I would have had more tools to help myself (though I'd already been doing some of the things suggested). The fact that I pick out problems has bothered some of my employers. The better managers have seen that I find solutions as well and have harnessed this strength. I've noticed the book called 'The Edison Gene' by Thom Hartmann. People with ADHD are hunters/explorers/inventors in a world of farmers. Other books I've found very helpful are 'You Mean I'm Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?!' (2nd edition) and 'ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life'. I wish you luck. Embrace your positives as you have a lot to offer, despite what some misguided people have said. I felt very angry about that myself. I'm trying to make things better for myself going forward by working in environments which are a better fit.</p>

What a story..

<p>I am so glad you can share your experiences Stephen!&nbsp;</p><p>it's so easy to misconceive people with mental illness and I'd like to think that one day, like you, that last taboo of mental illness will be gone!&nbsp;</p><p>Stay strong you wonderful human and together we'll eradicate this final hurdle!&nbsp;</p>

Overcoming stigma

I think this post is excellent. I would love if you joined our facebook page. We are working to educate people in hopes of eliminating stigma. I know we are a US org, but unfortunately, this is an international problem... I would love for your input and for you to share if you felt up to it. You can find us at Facebook.com/sharethelight1 Regardless, you shared your story beautifully and I am glad to know that you are using your experience for good. Hopefully stigma will be eliminated.... Or at least lessened... One day (soon). Best, Kristen

I go to the same sixthform as

I go to the same sixthform as you in the year below and this is truly inspiring and had me in tears. I suffer from clinical depression and anxiety and I know what if feels like to be alone as I'm quite new to the whole process and I am on an urgent list at my councillors waiting for more serious help. I often feel as if people may view me as "crazy" or "insane" if they find out what I do or how I deal with stuff. I'm happy that I'm finally getting help after also many suicide attempts and self harming and seeing your story has given me hope and I respect you so much. You are an inspiration.

I hope you get the support

I hope you get the support you need, it took a long time for me to get an appointment after being referred to a psychiatrist. If you are in desperate need I would ask your GP about a referal to the home crisis team who will in turn get you a quicker appointment with a psychiatrist. It can be a long frustrating process but it is worth perseverance, good luck

Re:

<p>I also have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and quite agree that there is still a taboo on mental health. Im 36 now but when I was at secondary we did religious education and learnt about all kinds of religions and as such I have never grown up with any stigma of any kind to people of different religions. I have also grown up very open minded towards gay people and have had gay friends and if I find out someone that i know is gay, it doesnt rock my world or cause me to be nasty to them or bully them. Gay people as well as hetrosexual people are all the same to me, I like any of them. However, when it comes to mental health people always seem to have a problem. I have my own serious mental health problems with the bpd and I have stigma within my own family. Out of a family of five it is only my mum that can talk about what I have and sympathise with me. Shes been there for me all the way going to hospital appointments, listening to me when im upset and cuddling me. Although we are quite a close family my dad and my elder two brothers never ever talk about what I have. You wouldnt know it existed when we are together. I also have a small group of friends that I have known for at least 14 years and none of them take any interest in it either. I have tried talking about it to them but they always clam up so now I have stopped bothering trying to bring it up. I have made a few friends from various groups that I have attended to do with mental health and when we get together we talk about our problems so easily and there is no stigma there because we are in the same boat all though we have different diagnoses. I do wonder how long it will be though before people start accepting mental health as they have done with sexuality, religion and other things. I think it will take alot of education.</p><p>Im married now and my husband is fantastic. He always listens to my problems, cuddles me if Im upset, he has had days off of work to stay at home with me if I have been having a crisis. I thank god that I met the right man and he didnt have a stigma towards people with mental illness.</p>

I can definitely relate to

<p>I can definitely relate to your experiences of Psychology A Level. You'd think the people who would have chosen such a subject would approach it with an open mind and empathy, wouldn't you? I remember getting so angry when my classmates laughed through a documentary about people with agrophobia, and when the teachers made light of schizophrenia. I too returned to college after a gap from education, and couldn't believe the disrespect and ignorance my peers were exhibiting. f it weren't for the fact I was sat next to a friend who also had mental health problems in these classes, I would have struggled. I applaud you for speaking out in these classes - I never had the courage, and I'm sure it would have made a difference. Good luck with your studies! I hope you find university to be less of a struggle. People are generally more mature, I have found. Keep on doing what you're doing - it seems to be working!</p>

thank you Stephen,your

<p>thank you Stephen,</p><p>your experiences sound so similar to how my daughter is.</p><p>she is 17 &amp; has dropped out of a levels, she is changing school &amp; will restart the 1st year in september, with new subjects, she too has chosen Psychology. however at the moment she is at home &amp; like you rarely gets dressed, (today is the forst time she has been out on her own for a very long time) even her boyfriend cant seem to get her to go out. iv'e asked her to do a few little jobs around the house, nothing major, just whilst i'm at work, e.g putting washing in the machine, but they never get done. she sees the psychiatrist on monday &amp; the doctor tomorow. so theres 2 more outings, but both with me.</p><p>im so pleased to hear you are looking forward to university, good luck &amp; i hope you achieve all you hope for.</p>

Similar life!

Thanks for sharing your story Stephen. I can relate to alot of what you have been through. I too had to drop out of school. I dropped out for year 9 and year 10. I tried to go back but couldn't cope so i was referred to a pupil referral unit where i studied maths and english, i just about passed my only two GCSE's due to two years out of education. You are very inspiring, and i wish you all the best!

Very Relatable

For the past six months, I have had reduced school hours (three everyday), which even that is mentally and physically draining. I prefer not to discuss my reasons why to people who ask, as the one person I told, said that "it was ridiculous", and that "I would fail all my GCSE's", but what would make it worse is if I were too say, "I'm feeling so tired and worn out", and it would be dismissed, and I would be called "attention seeking".

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