After they had had their second child, my younger sister, they were deemed ‘unsuitable and incapable’ of looking after two children under two-years-old by the courts and we were sent to live with our grandparents. As we grew up my sister and I were asked continuously by social workers to repeat to them the reason for our living in care: we had to explain that our parents had mental illnesses and as such could not look after us.
We saw our parents regularly, sometimes staying weekends, depending on their adherence to medication and their state of mind. We grew up believing it is scary to have ‘mental illnesses’, with no-one explaining (perhaps because they were not educated enough to) as to why dad sat talking to himself and why mum thought aliens were coming to take her to a better place.
I had depression myself in 2000. I know my abilities. I am both strong and insecure at the same time, but so too are other people un-diagnosed with mental health issues. I am not ill, I am capable, I am different: I am me and I am happy with that, depression and all.
I have seen the stigma surrounding mental health
My family’s history of mental health issues have had a strong influence on my own life and the decisions I have made. I have seen the surrounding stigma my parents have suffered as a result of been diagnosed mentally ill. My childhood confrontation with mental health stigma prompted me to learn why these mental differences exist and to what end.
Studying psychology and undertaking my own research, I have embarked on a campaign to re-consider the term mental health and have adopted the little-known term ‘neuro-diversity’. It is my hope that this will replace the negative connotations of mental illness and mental health, which both imply disorder and having something wrong with you. Upon starting my first year at university, the organisation Time to Change (who themselves campaign to end the stigma surrounding the neurologically diverse) appealed to universities, asking students to get more involved.
I began a project to put on a play
After considering smaller scale and lower-impacting ventures, I began a project to put on a play concerning the positive aspects of neuro-diversity. The idea was to look at the other side of mental illness, as there are plenty of plays, films, documentaries, books etc. depicting the stereotypical negative aspects of being mentally “different”. When each performance finishes the audience will be invited to have their say on the themes portrayed and to re-consider their own beliefs about the 1-in-4 people who will experience mental illness.
I want to put an end to defining a person exclusively according to their mental health. Neuro-diversity has produced some of the greatest minds of humanity: Dickens, Tolstoy, and Hemingway, to name a few. We should not continue to discriminate against neuro-diverse individuals.
Book tickets to see Stigmaphrenia
Stigmaphrenia is showing on the 1st and 2nd of Feb 2013 at 8pm (doors open at 7.40pm)
Tickets: £4 | Book tickets online or call 01227 782817