March 5, 2014

In the eulogy at my brother’s funeral I challenged everyone.  Would they stand with me to challenge perceptions of schizophrenia and especially the inappropriate and liberal use of the term ‘schizo’?  That was almost nine years ago.  I have made some contribution in the intervening years, continuing to volunteer at a mental health drop-in centre and then serving as one of its trustees.  Owing to cuts in funding I then presided over the closure of the centre – not what I signed up for, but these things happen. And so did more family tragedy and difficulties. Having battled with low mood much of my life, it got to the point of having to seek some help for myself as well, over a much more lengthy period than I anticipated.

The turn of this year has had something of a new wind to it.  Perhaps I’m starting to resurface.  The date 2014 struck me too, one year short of a decade since my brother took his own life.  That challenge thrown out to others came back round to face me. Fleetingly I had seen some campaign materials about an attitude shift in society towards mental health and I realised this is what appealed to my sense of action this time, rather than practical support for sufferers. 

But where to start?

A surf round the ‘Time to Change’ website found me signing up to become a Champion

A surf round the ‘Time to Change’ website found me signing up to become a Champion, though I wasn’t quite sure what that might entail, nor whether I felt ‘whole’ enough to fully embrace it.  Then I spotted that there was a training course in Harrow, not far from home, on ‘Speaking Out’.  I’ve done presentations and suchlike for paid and volunteer work in the past, though confidence has been running low in recent times.  So this seemed a good first step to engaging directly in the campaign and perhaps learning more about it.

The leader of the session could not have been more helpful and courteous beforehand and as we were welcomed on the day.  It was well attended with a spread of people who have experienced mental ill-health themselves, as well as carers and associated professionals.  Both trainers were firm yet sensitive in their leadership and facilitation of the day and the diverse group, but also enormously encouraging and inspirational.  We did cover the key principles of the Time to Change campaign and supporting information we can use in speaking out, how to become involved and how we might research further related information.  There was also plenty of interaction and some breakout sessions. 

Speaking out for the first time

As we worked towards our opportunity to speak out for two minutes each we discussed different ways of doing so, presentation tips, how to establish and maintain boundaries in sharing what can be especially sensitive.  There was a choice of spending time quietly to prepare the two-minute talk, or with the support of the course leader, or to participate in a creative writing session or a craft one.  We were also blessed with a delicious lunch.

I’ve no doubt the day proved to be a breakthrough for many there.  Some found that they had a strong voice in combating discrimination, others were encouraged by shared experiences. We embraced creative ways of unlocking and demonstrating our story or message, carers and professionals expressed gratitude to those bravely making a stand, friends and brothers had the chance to thank and pay tribute to each other for mutual support.  It made my heart soar and I wasn’t alone.

The day gave me the space to start to shape what I have to say

The day gave me the space to start to shape what I have to say for the campaign and some thoughts on how I can start to contribute.  I needed to take action before the idea fell away into the busyness of life and another anniversary passed by.  So here it is – my start to speaking out for an end to mental health discrimination.

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Too many people are made to feel ashamed. By sharing your story, you can help spread knowledge and perspective about mental illness that could change the way people think about it.