Neil Springham, Consultant Art Therapist, and Marie France, user of Neil’s services
Neil (right)and Marie-France were involved with workshops developing the materials for the training pack. Afterwards, they discussed their experiences as a clinician and someone who has used mental health services. They shared some of this discussion with us:
Neil: I’m not surprised service users feel they experience stigma within mental health services based on what I see and what they tell me about their care. I think that it’s easier to address, if it’s about other people, but if I discovered it was me who was being stigmatising, then I would genuinely feel devastated.
I think this would feel so catastrophic because I really invest myself in my work, so this would feel like a personal failure, not a technical failure. I would also really doubt myself because I think I make efforts not to stigmatise, so I would be confronted with a blind spot I didn't know I had. I might be tempted to say oh it's because I am too busy, or I am under pressure. Whilst that may be true, I worry that I might be saying that to shift a feeling of blame from myself.
Good clinicians should have some self-doubt on the go all the time.
Marie-France: I have 2 experiences to share. Although maybe not appearing dramatic, they had a profound effect on me. Both occurred during my time as an in-patient.
The first was within hours of my admission – I was in extreme distress and had found the process of being admitted unbelievably traumatic. A member of staff came to see me in my room. I remember her standing in the doorway – she didn’t even make it into the room to either stand or sit near me. Her first 3 words to me were “People like you” – I couldn’t take in the rest of what she said as I just didn’t understand why she was speaking to me like this.
She hadn’t used my name; her tone was completely without care or empathy. I shouted that I didn’t understand what she was talking about, at which point she just left without another word. I felt totally confused, accused, angry and betrayed (isn’t someone here supposed to care?) and dismissed as a human being.
Even now I can hear her saying “people like you” – the words ring in my ears and I have to fight the negative thoughts they bring up for me.
The second was the classic case of trying to speak to staff when they were in their office. It was a huge effort for me to pluck up the courage to approach staff to ask for something. When I did and despite being reasonable and polite, I was not allowed to even finish my sentence and was told in no uncertain terms I was wasting their time and that they were “far too busy to deal with you”.
In both these instances I felt that I had fitted into the staff’s beliefs about in-patients, who just had to be “dealt with”.