The first form of mental health related stigma I experienced was from my own parents.
When I was first diagnosed with depression, my parents encouraged me to keep it a secret and made it clear they did not want other friends or family members to find out. This made me feel alone and ashamed of how I felt.
For years when I lived at home my parents would try to convince me there was nothing wrong with me and that it was just a phase that would pass on its own. My feelings, issues and anxieties were brushed under the carpet, this made me feel like I was doing something wrong by feeling hopeless. I felt that it was my fault. I wanted to die and my parents would tell me to “pick myself up” and “not be so sensitive about things”. They did not even like using the word “depression” and would tell me that the GP was wrong with his diagnosis.
I was unable to access mental health services until I had left home, as my dad was particularly worried that “people” would find out about my mental health problem (my parents were both working for the NHS at the time). I was not allowed to tell other relatives, other than my immediate family, so when I was feeling too low to leave the house my parents would always make other excuses for me. I think some of my relatives could tell these were just excuses, as a result I am now quite distant and detached from most of them.
In a way, my parents unwittingly taught me to hide my mental health problems, that they were a defect to be ashamed of.
I understand now that this sort of reaction is unfortunately common, especially among Asian families like mine. As with a lot of Asian families, feelings and moods were not really discussed and any sort of display of emotion was seen as a form of weakness.My parents attitude towards my depression made me feel like I had cast a dark shadow over the family and this caused to me feel a lot of guilt.
Over time, my parents’ attitudes changed. They have learnt a lot about many aspects of mental health. Now they are brilliant, supportive and understanding. Both of my parents have an active interest in campaigns such as “Time to Change” - a programme led by the charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, to tackle the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health.
Now, we can all talk openly about everything, my symptoms, medication and treatment which is really useful for all of us. My parents understand my behaviour, that sometimes I will be anxious, quiet and withdrawn, they accept me for who I am and don’t put pressure on me.
My family and I wish we could change the past, as we now realise how important it is to have the support of ones family during hard times. It took me a long time to realise that depression is nothing to be ashamed about. Although now I sometimes forget that there are still people to whom mental illness is still a taboo subject, especially when I just drop it into conversations (sometimes you can see people look uncomfortable, as if you’ve just announced you’re growing a tail!). But I figure, that is their problem, not mine!
To find out more about how to start a conversation about mental health go to www.time-tochange-org.uk or join our online community at www.facebook.com/timetochange.