I have for many years struggled with anxiety and depression. I'm in no doubt now that this is due to a very traumatic childhood. I am not complaining about this as this is a fact of life for many people.
I lost my father at about 11 years old and my mam re-married rather quickly to a very violent man. As I was growing up my mam was very fragile and consequently over the years I developed post traumatic stress disorder but this was not picked up on until very recently.
At the time, I was also unable to do a full time physical job in a shipyard or the steelworks like I used to do and I was in considerable pain but could not prove it at that time. I had suffered many back problems including two slipped disks, spina bifida occulta, curvature of the spine, none of which have been picked up by the local hospital until recently.
I became quite isolated and went along to my local Mind to see if there were any groups I could join. I was dreadfully lonely and it was nice to have support from people who cared and didn't shun me because I was quiet.
I was invited to come along to help at a drop-in centre for adults two days a week and then later on to a youth group as I was a natural comedian. I found it very easy to get along with both groups and started working as a volunteer four days a week. I loved it. No one judged me and every one felt safe to talk with each other because we all had similar Issues.
On one occasion I was asked if I would go along to a coffee morning at a local venue that did snacks and drinks in the centre of town. The idea was to man a table where we had a stall, there were lots of posters and leaflets and other information about Mind, mental health and also a raffle to try to raise funds for our local group. After about two hours of standing there behind the stall no one had paid the slightest interest. No one had come over to chat to us, no leaflets were taken and the only person that ventured up asked me what day the wrestling was starting in the hall. My Development Officer said to me, you’re an approachable kind of person, why don't you go around to some of the tables where people were drinking there coffee and asked if they would like a leaflet.
Great idea, I thought rather gullibly. So off I went with a handful of leaflets and with high hopes. As I approached the tables I noticed a distinct lack of eye contact from people whose tables I went to. In fact some of the people actually turned their backs as I approached. At the last table, I thought, "OK stay positive" and, with a happy smiling face, said, “Hello My name is Stephen, I don't know if you have noticed but we are holding a campaign today for Mind, it is a charity that helps promote mental health awareness and I wonder if you had time to talk about how mental health can effect people from time to time?”
As I spoke the lady looked straight at the man and then glanced away out of the window. The man literally turned his back to me and said, “No we don't know anyone with a mental illness.” I persisted a little bemused by the couples actions and said, “Maybe there's a friend of the family or some one that may like a leaflet?” “No” he said still not looking in my direction, "We don't know anyone with a mental illness!"
It's an unspoken issue
Tactfully I retreated back to the stall with a heavy heart and a puzzled mind. After we all got back to the office at Mind, we sat a talked about the day. To be honest I was more than a little taken aback by the lack of understanding of the people I approached but also by the lack of interest. I am not sure if this was a case of genuine discrimination or more about the way people are scared to admit that someone might be experiencing mental illness in their family or even experiencing it themselves. Even today, it’s a kind of unspoken issue in a many circles of the community. I have no intention of being ‘in your face’ about the many diverse aspects of mental health. I don’t think I am strong enough to be able to talk at length to most people, even in my own family, but I have become some what of a mental health militant when it comes to talking about dignity, discrimination and respect for fellow service users, as we are now known as!
Following the event my Development Officer asked me if I could come up with some sort of ditty or rhyme that we could use on a leaflet. I explained I had never written anything in my life. She then said about saying something about the day’s events. I went into another room with a pen and paper, thinking about the conversation I had had with the couple. Within 15 minuets this poem had leaped in to my head. I suppose it was a measure of the passion I had then, but even more so now and having so many bad bouts of mental and physical ill health myself since then. It is a privilege to share this poem with you all now.