April 2, 2014

My experience of mental health services started 10 years ago, when I first started being treated under CAMHS services for depression and an eating disorder.  I also developed OCD and after two years under the care of community services, I spent a few months as an inpatient. I continued to be treated in the community after this, until being discharged at 18.

The experience I had whilst ill encourage me to start a career in mental health 

The care I received during this time was, for the most part, second to none. Particularly whilst as an inpatient, I felt valued and respected, and as though it was ok for me to be unwell but that it was possible to recover. This, along with the experiences I had whilst I was ill, encouraged me to base my career in mental health. I was inspired to be as caring as the people who had looked after me, and wanted to be able to support people – particularly young people – to recover. I started my career in mental health services in 2009, and began studying to train as a mental health nurse.

I found the attitudes of those working in services shocking

I initially didn’t hide my past involvement in services, as I had never felt that I needed to. However, I soon found the attitudes and prejudices of those working in services were different to anything I had ever experienced before. Although through school I dealt with a lot of stigma and discrimination, I had assumed that this was through a lack of knowledge rather than genuine prejudice. However, here I was, surrounding by professionals whose idea of how to talk about, and manage, eating disorders was shocking.

When I became unwell with anorexia again 4 years ago, I had never felt under so much pressure to be secretive. I didn’t want people to think of me ‘a spoilt rich girl’ or ‘an attention seeking middle class brat’, or that I needed to ‘grow up and eat some biscuits’, as I had heard eating disorder sufferers described by my colleagues. I didn’t want people to think that I wasn’t capable of doing my job, or to pay extra attention to me whenever they saw me eating.

The added pressure of having to hide my anorexia caused me to spiral

Eating disorders are already renowned for being secretive and deceptive, but the added pressure of having to hide my anorexia so intensely caused me to spiral, and I became completely obsessed about covering it up. I strongly believe that this contributed to me becoming more unwell, and stopped me from seeking help for months. When I eventually did, it was difficult to fit my appointments in around my shifts and I was too scared to ask for the time off, which lead to delays in my treatment.

There were times when I almost plucked up the courage to tell somebody, but then I’d hear another negative comment and I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Occasionally people would ask questions but I often felt an air of criticism in this, and knowing how quickly gossip can spread, I kept quiet. Somebody else joined the team at one point who also had an eating disorder, but unlike mine, everybody knew about it. The comments I heard made about her behind my back disgusted me, and I became even more terrified to be honest having an insight into what people might say about me.

People still believe that eating disorders are a choice, that they aren't 'real'

Don’t get me wrong, the teams I have worked with over the years have mostly been dedicated and caring. There is a lot of understanding and empathy towards people suffering from psychotic disorders, mood disorders, anxiety disorders. But for some reason, unbeknown to me, eating disorders are just not seen in the same way. People still believe they are a choice, that they aren’t ‘real’, that they are a way of seeking attention. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I tried so hard to avoid attention that it ended up jeopardising my health even further.

I understand that by being stigmatising myself, I am encouraging others to do the same

Doing some work for Time to Change this year was the first thing in a long time that made me realise I didn’t need to be ashamed of my illness. I became brave enough to tell two of my colleagues, who I trusted and friends and respected as professionals. Although I still don’t feel ready to offer this information about myself freely, I know now that I wouldn’t lie if somebody asked me, and to me that is a huge step. I understand that by being stigmatising myself, I am encouraging others to do the same.

I have been discharged from services for 5 months now, and am looking forward to doing to some more work with Time to Change. I am going to university in September, and I sincerely hope that throughout my career, I see a change in people’s perspectives, and that I can play a small part in helping this happen.

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Comments

A career in hmm after being a client

What a in site this blog is and rather shocking too :/ I have bpd and after receiving care in the community and dbt I am now studying m h nursing at uni. I never Hid my condition when applying or during interview and am excited to give my career my all! I hope I can help offenders and children within secondary schools with mental health issues and rehabilitation once I've completed my training.

Courage

Hi Cara I think it is very brave and appropriate that you wrote this article for all to read. You are correct, it can be amazing that stigmatisation comes from the places you may least expect to see it. What you are doing is right; and, hopefully, you will help to educate through example, how an illness that is often misunderstood and misintrepeted, so people around you can then relate better to people that are also experiencing illness. I wish you all the best kindest wishes Suzanne Social Worker

great blog

Good for you about speaking out about your problems takes courage and is lovely to read you are going to help others wishing all success on your journey :)

Entering Services

Incidentally, I was discharged from a 6 month inpatient stay a year ago today. The period in which I was looked after at Parkview Clinic changed my life, no doubt about it. I gained a diagnosis (BPAD) and treatment to combat the illness that had left my life in tatters. Yet, I found that the career path I wanted to follow lay in mental health services. To support those adolescents in a situation similar to the one I was in. To be able to aid in rehabilitation and recovery. If I were to successfully help guide somebody through perhaps the darkest, or one of the darkest periods of their lives, my own would be truly successful. I wish you all the best in your journey not only to fight away any relapse, but to support those in situations similar to your own.

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