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Mental health discrimination: the last taboo?
As 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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