I couldn’t help thinking that if I had a physical condition this wouldn’t have been an issue. For the first time, I felt the full force of the stigma of mental health problems.

As a student nurse I encounter mental health issues on a daily basis, however I have been carrying my own secret for years. At the age of 15 I was diagnosed with depression and placed on anti-depressants. We have a family history of depression and anxiety with my Nan undergoing ECT. I remember my GP telling me ‘you won’t end up like nan, this will be short term’.

Twelve years later, I am still on anti-depressants. Through this time, I found myself ‘coasting’ with my medication as accepting that ‘this is as good as it gets’. Only when starting my training did I realise that it didn’t need to be like this. I went to my GP and he referred me to the community mental health team to see a specialist, the first one I’d seen in 10 years since my original diagnosis. He diagnosed me with resistant depression and borderline personality disorder. For the first time I felt my condition was finally being taken seriously and it was something that could be treated.

I also become more open about my illness. I had my medication changed and additional medication added in. This was done just before my first placement of my second year. Not only did I have to deal with the stress of placement (37.5 hours a week on placement, uni work and a part time job), I was suffering side effects from my medication, nausea and dizziness mainly. I did not let this stop me and was open with my mentor and she was very supportive. Once again I felt I was finally being taken seriously.

On a different placement I then encounter another issue: night shifts. My mood is very dependent on my sleep pattern, I take medication at night which causes drowsiness. I became very stressed about this and discussed it with my doctor and tutor at uni. I’m required to do at least one night shift on my training in order to qualify. I decided to try it, so I spoke to my mentor and explained – I said I was on medication and so on. Her response was ‘well what medication?’ I felt this was very personal to me but explained anyway. I said I was happy to do a ‘twilight’ shift in which I would start at 7pm and leave around 2am her response was ‘no you do all the shift, or not at all’.

I was shocked. I couldn’t help thinking that if I had a physical condition this wouldn’t have been an issue. I was left feeling humiliated and shamed. I carried on with my shift and something else happened, something small, and I just broke down. I felt like this was a huge set back – for the first time in my training I felt the full force of the stigma of mental health problems. I was most shocked that this came from a nurse. How could they not be more accommodating of a serious health condition? This type of attitude is damaging to people who experience mental health problems, and to the nursing profession as a whole.

I am nowhere near the end of my mental health story and I know I will have set backs throughout my nursing career. Sometimes I wish I had a long term physical condition as it would be easier to explain. However, although depression doesn’t define me, it is a huge part of me – and surviving this has made me a stronger. It has also helped me become a better nurse, and hopefully I’ll help reduce mental health stigma along the way.

Find out more about the work Time to Change are doing to support mental health professionals to challenge stigma in professional settings > 

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Comments

Fantastic, yet shocking blog

This is disgraceful coming from people that are meant to be in a caring profession. I am also a student nurse (about to finish first year), and have been suffering with mental health problems since the age of around twelve. I can really relate to your blog, so much so it made me cry. You are not alone. Having experienced mental health problems, I believe it makes you even more caring and empathetic, and you will shine in your career. I love what I do because I get to maybe help prevent someone ever feeling the way I have felt, and treat people how they deserve. My university are unwilling to support me at all and, quite frankly, very disrespectful and uncaring, even though my mental health problems were initially disclosed. You couldn't be more right about how attitude towards mental health can be damaging. You sound like you are doing great with your training and are a fantastic nurse. You are much more than your illnesses, and never feel ashamed to be open about it. A fantastic written blog.

More than our illness

Thats a great comment we are more than our illness; and we don't have it all the time. I have been really poorly recently and haven't received the support I really needed from the mental health services; although my work have been amazing....Bpd is really frightening; if you haven't suffered it is really hard to understand. It is complex and terrifying when in full flow. It doesn't last forever though is what I have learned and if we just hold on in there, it can get better. I believe different medication reacts with people in different ways and accept that it isn't easy for psychiatrists. I don't believe that anti psychotics are the answer to treating an attack. I am sure that talking to people about what they are experiencing would be a lot more helpful..

Bipolar

I was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder in 2010 at the age of 44, it was a relief to know what the spells of depression and unrealised over excitement were about. I have found talking a the most helpful alongside medication, often I have found that combining activities I enjoy in music, friends and family help. There are times I need reminding I'm not superman, on being diagnosed it helped me to understand my behaviour as a child. I now experience steadier moods and enjoy working with special needs and horticultural projects.

I can strongly empathize with Alice

I have EUPD without the BPD traits. After going through much tragedy with my own mental health issue. I decided to study child protection, and childrens disabilities. In my studies I use my experience of domestic abuse caused by mental health trauma, as I have been through that. A professional once told me 'that would be too much for you, after what happened to you and your children.' I pushed it away, because I know that people like you and me have the knowledge and strength to do these kinds of jobs. I feel that professionals should be more aware and more encouraging with people like you and me. It is often people like us who learn to deal with many vulnerable and harsh situations effectively. I also believe that as a nurse, you have the right to consider your own health as you would others.

Mental Health Discrimination

What a brave thing to do speaking out about your experience. My history is similar to yours (except I haven't trained as a nurse). Recently, in May at a mental health assessment, I was told that "some people have illnesses so severe they can't get out of bed" by the CPN interviewing because I had made it to a 10.30am morning assessment slot. This was after I had told her about my severe depression and current suicidal thoughts. There is something very wrong with mental healthcare in 21st century Britain.

To be or not to be

I have found your blog to be a truth not universally known by those of us working in professional settings and struggling with a mental illness. People will never know nor will they sympathize with the daunting task set before those of us who have to fight just to appear normal everyday. I have worked in many different establishments and at most of them I never said a word about my illness. I am sorry you are being so unjustly treated and hope you know you are making a difference for many by voicing your struggles here!!

So True

This is such a glaring example of the stigma around mental illness and how it is sometimes treated by employers. There is much work to be done around the stigma. Thank you for sharing your story!

depression

i am suffering depression from past few months. i am taking medicine but it won't work what should i do now?

Support

Hi there, I'm really sorry to hear that you've been experiencing depression. As an anti-stigma campaign, we can't offer advice on treatment directly. We do have some information on our website that I hope you will find useful: http://bit.ly/1SzXo4B - Take care of yourself, Tim at Time to Change

I know the feeling

Terrible to be treated like this. I am a radiologist and was going through a terrible time during my training. I was very tearful but never shirked my work. In fact I was doing double most of my fellow trainees was doing. A fellow trainee who said to me everyone feels like me but just don't show it and I shall pull myself together. What Catherine Grierson did not realise you actually can't help crying sometimes with depression. It's like you can't help screaming if you get burnt.

BPD. Depression

Hi there. I am a nurse. I too have grown up with deep rooted history of depression (my. Mum). Me and my 3 siblings suffered neglect and a very toxic childhood. I am on anti depressants and was admitted last week for overdose. I think I have BPD. I've spend my life feeling I am inadequate and less important than others. Yet I am a high achiever.

Mental health and healthcare professionals

Thank you so much for posting your blog about your experiences, and I'm really sorry to hear that you've not been supported by your university. I truly hope that you stay within nursing as we need people like you! I am a medical student, going into my final year. My depression started in 2012 - I'm still having to battle it every day, but I'm winning the battles more and more often! I find that a great number of healthcare professionals stigmatise people with mental health issues and this culture makes it so difficult for professionals with their own mental health issues. I'm glad to say that the university itself have been largely quite supportive, allowing to take a year out when I was experiencing troublesome suicidal thoughts. But this needs to be reflected in the clinical environments that I work in. A few years ago there was a tragic case of a psychiatrist with bipolar disorder who ended up taking her own life and that of her child - due to stigma, she had hidden her mental health issues from her colleagues, and it was very difficult for her to access the psychiatric care that she needed. If it weren't for stigma, then she (and many others undoubtedly) would still be alive today. The more we talk, the more open we are, the more we can battle the stigma. Thank you for being brave enough to share your story!

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