May 20, 2014

Time to Change blogger SteveStereo-Hype Festival 2014 took place at the Midlands Art Centre (MAC) in one of Birmingham’s amazing green spaces, Cannon Hill Park. The 2-day event aimed to promote the wellbeing of African and Caribbean communities through a program of art, performances and discussion.

Life before my diagnosis was very different and very scary

A quick bit about me. I have been experiencing Mental Health issues since my teens (I’m now 30), and as I got older things got progressively worse. I was finally diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in summer of 2010. Since that time I have been able to access a wealth of treatments, including counselling, psychology, a training course and an amazing CPA and doctor. Life before my diagnosis was very different and very scary, but with perseverance, a focus on getting well and the support of my best friend I am able to live a great quality of life.

I came across Time To Change through Facebook and instantly started following the posts and sharing anything that was relevant to my own condition. I was so impressed by the positive approach they were taking to tackling to stigma and discrimination. I signed up as Time To Change Champion because I wanted to be part of this movement. I have never had an issue with my diagnosis; in fact it was a blessing. I could finally understand why I think and behave the way I do. But I knew that many people didn’t speak about their mental health, for fear of how people might treat them. This looked like a way that I could help those people.

Becoming a Time to Change Champion has been a life changing decision

I had no idea just how life changing my decision would be. Though I have been able to manage my condition well, I never really found a place where I felt 100% comfortable. The minute I walked into my first Time to Change training session, something happened. I felt that I was in a safe place, a place where I didn't have to pretend to be OK, where everyone in the room understood what it was like to experience mental health issues, but also what it is like to experience some level of recovery.

There are so worrying misconceptions about what people with mental health conditions are like and how they behave. Depressed, manic, unsociable, un-controlled. In times of crisis, yes this maybe how people can present. But for the majority of the time people with mental health conditions are just like any other person on the planet. What met anyone who visited the MAC on the day of Stereo-Hype Festival, was a carnival atmosphere, and lots of people all wearing t-shirts with the phrase “Let’s end mental health discrimination”, smiling, laughing, friendly and energetic. I felt that this welcome alone, would go a long way to challenging some of these damaging misconceptions and instead leave people with a positive personal experience of someone with mental health issues.

As Time To Change volunteers, our role was to engage with members of the public and initiate conversations about mental health and wellbeing. It can seem very daunting to talk to people you don’t know, about anything, but especially mental health. However the event had a carnival vibe and it felt very easy to approach people and start talking to them. On the whole I found that people were more than happy to talk about mental health, and all agreed that it was wrong to discriminate against a person with a mental health condition.

Men from the African & Caribbean communities don’t talk about their mental health

Men don’t talk! In particular men from the African & Caribbean communities don’t talk and it is a huge problem. It stems from an upbringing where you just didn’t talk about your feelings and certainly didn’t do it in public. However, we all know that talking and sharing how you feel with another person can be a key step to recovery from mental illness. One of the main events on the program was Black Men on the Couch, and it was totally amazing. To see a prominent and well-known figure from the football world, talking openly about his past and his mental health struggles was a real indication to me that things are changing. I feel that I can speak more openly about my own mental health and I know that the more that I do, the more other men from my background will feel able to do so to.

Many people from the African-Caribbean community don’t come forward about their mental health struggles for fear of rejection, and discrimination. Many also fear that the people in power don't care and don’t understand where they are coming from. I feel that Stereo-Hype has gone a long way to creating a different way of thinking. One of the triumphs of the weekend was the attendance of the head of Birmingham & Solihull Mental Health Trust, the Lord Mayor and the police. Their presence showed how serious Birmingham is to addressing the issues facing people, especially young men from the African-Caribbean community and to working to understand how best to help them get the care they need.

I came away from the Stereo-Hype festival inspired to run events in my community

As well as engaging with member of the public I also took the opportunity to speak to other volunteers and the Time To Change staff. Being a Time to Change Champion has given me the greatest opportunity to understand what other people with mental health have experienced. I met so many resourceful, creative, intelligent and brave people, who have all battled and continue to do so with their mental health. I came away being so inspired by their stories and it has made me even more motivated to not only volunteer, but to want to run my little Time to Change events in my community.

Time to Change allows us to shout from the rooftops that stigma and discrimination will not be tolerated any more

I feel incredibly blessed to have received such great care and to be able to manage my condition relatively well. I feel that it is so important that I speak about mental health discrimination and act as a voice for people who don’t feel strong enough to do so. I believe that those that can should. By that I mean people who have experienced success with their own mental health or that of someone they care for, should contribute, in whatever way they can, to Time To Change campaign. What I love most about this campaign is that it celebrates the character and achievements of people living with mental health and allows us to shout from the rooftops that stigma and discrimination will not be tolerated any more. The more people with lived experience that talk openly about mental health, both within their families, communities, workplaces, or as part of Time To Change the sooner we can reduce the stigma and discrimination around mental health.

 

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