I was very young the time I first noticed changes in myself but it wasn’t until much later on that I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. I’m 50 now so, at that time, mental health was much less talked about. I have developed methods of coping by learning about schizophrenia through talking with others.
Some people can be unkind - that’s why anti-discrimination campaigns are so important
The most important thing that has helped me is having a really good group of friends and family who love me and who I can talk and laugh with, which is the best medicine. I’m a mother of 3 children who are all in their 20s now. My kids can find it difficult at times but we all love each other very much and this gets us through the hard times. Being understood and loved when I am struggling has really helped. That said, I have experienced stigma and discrimination. Some people can be unkind but I guess it’s because they don’t know any better, and that’s why anti-discrimination campaigns are so important.
I have worked but during episodes this becomes untenable as I completely breakdown; I suffer very strong panic attacks and my behaviour becomes out of my own control and can only be managed through medication and through convalescence. I would like to work and have tried but it’s difficult when I become really unwell for long periods of time, even up to a year. I was a dinner lady, I really love kids and liked that job and I also did gardening with a friend.
Talking about mental health is a really positive thing
I spend most of my time working at the barge. They understand what I’m going through and I feel supported and valued. I think I am lucky as most of the people I meet have been very nice to me. If I am having an episode someone will run me home or call an ambulance. I notice that sometimes some people are scared or find it difficult so it’s important to keep campaigning and raising awareness about mental health.
Talking about mental health is a really positive thing: I don’t mind at all talking about my mental health, in fact I welcome the opportunity. Helping to run events and stalls for the ‘Talk to the Experts’ project was all about talking about the subject of mental health so I think was really a great experience for me to help everyone understand each other, talking’s good.
Taking part in events and being involved in organising them makes me feel useful
Things have changed a lot since I was young and I’m glad – society is not equal to all people and it’s good that campaigns like Time to Change are helping to increase equality and decrease stigma by supporting projects like Cathja which has always promoted a positive attitude towards individuals with mental health via creativity. Making things and taking part in exhibitions provides a chance to talk about the project, be more confident socially and learn skills and the materials that Time to Change provided us with give us a great way to talk about mental health and be open about it.
I am constantly learning and sharing things with other people. Taking part in events and being involved in organising them makes me feel useful, I don’t know what I would do without this project; it’s hard to describe but it makes me feel good. I have got quite bad physical problems too, so I’m not as active as I used to be - being able to take part in an event in the way that I could was really brilliant. It’s really fun meeting so many new people next year we are even going to Belgium and I’m really looking forward to being right at the front talking to people!
Debbie was a member of the “Talk to the Experts” team organising a series of events under the Time to Change campaign. Debbie attends the Cathja Project, a mental health creative therapy service based on a 120 foot Dutch barge. The barge is mobile and Debbie helped develop the “Talk to the Experts” events plans involving taking the barge away to London Bridge where members of the public could visit us, marketing and organisation of the events as well as attending planning meetings and talking with the public about her own mental health experience.