Richard, March 13, 2019

My response was the same advice given to me: "Get some education"

My name is Richard and I’m coming at mental health from the “other side” of the fence.

I have worked in mental health support for over 10 years and, thankfully, have witnessed many improvements in the way in which society in general treats people who experience mental health problems. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a long way to go to eradicate all the discrimination and stigma which affects people with mental health problems; but please allow me to share some of my experiences - from the early days of my flowering interest in mental health to where I think we are now.

In the mid-nineties my girlfriend, now wife, began working at a mental health residential unit. I remember being astounded when she informed me that she was working night shifts. On her own! By herself! With all those “Psychos!” Her response was just 3 words: “Get some education!” So, I did.

Within 6 months I began to volunteer; doing all the nice stuff, music groups, days out, even a 10-day holiday to Spain supporting the “residents” as they were called then.

It took over ten years to make the leap to working full time in mental health. You see, I worked in construction! I was regularly subjected to the blinkered comments, the like of which I had made to my girlfriend years previously; “Are you out with the nutters this weekend?” and “Make sure you hide all the knives!” My response was the same as the advice given to me: “Get some education.”

Well, 10 years later and I now see two of the guys I worked the building sites with on a semi-professional level, supporting them to manage their depression and anxiety.

I know that for one of these friends, the experience of opening up and talking about his problems has helped him enormously. He’s had a few tough years, but he is currently in a much better place; he’s cut out the booze and is back on an exercise regime he hasn’t engaged with for years.

To close, I’d like to recount an experience I had while on a train journey with a colleague and three service users. One of the service users, Lee (not his real name) began to loudly regale the party with stories of some of his exploits from over the years, when his symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia were very pronounced. My colleague and I were unsure of how to subtly change the subject or how to quieten him down.

He finished his story by telling the whole carriage how he had turned things around by finally getting the medication he had wanted and seeking professional support.

As we left the train, he turned to me and said; “Do you think I was a bit loud there?” I replied that he probably had been and may well have made some of the other passengers a little uncomfortable.

He responded; “Well, if everyone on that train had been discussing their mental health openly and with no shame; BANG! The end of the stigma!”

A little simplistic I suppose, but he did have a point.

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