October 9, 2008

In this sometimes chaotic, fast moving world we all live in, I hear so many times from people, many of who I mix with, that 1in 4 people suffer sometime in their lives with mental health problems. I am 57 year old woman and just one of the many women that have mental health problems. I live independently alone, not necessarily lonely. My home is a flat within a building of five flats. My neighbours see me as I see them: as a friend, I can talk and listen, chat and laugh, help one another in any way which we need to. They see me first as a neighbour even though even though they know I have mental health issues.

There are always people that associate mental illness and the patients with asylums and institutions, and don't appear to see or know how or what the true picture is today. The media often reports on a minority of incidents relating to the mentally ill in a discriminatory way, to blacken the true picture of mental illness, destroying confidence in the majority of readers. We all know any person from any walk of life can suffer from mental distress. The biggest challenge for me is my family. On many occasions they forget the support I receive or are blind to my gain in wellbeing - I am seen with the label first before being seen as Margaret. They don't see what I can achieve.

I've done the [Open Up] Fundamentals and Train the Trainers course in Carlisle. I wanted to gain knowledge and understanding of discrimination, not just in mental health but in every walk of life. I hoped to learn how to pass on the knowledge I gained to others - to put those principles across in a way that everybody can understand. The group got to know each other and the little ways that we had - we enjoyed each other's company. The trainer put it across so that we could feed off each others opinions. We were all relaxed and we gained confidence from each other - we didn't have to answer the questions that were asked but we wanted to answer them. We loved learning with each other and educating each other. It wasn't like you were a child who didn't want to go to school!

I'm a member of a charter monitoring group from Cumbria Mental Health. A carer in the group raised a concern when her son who suffers from schizophrenia had a reply from the local council to a letter he had written to them about his council tax. The terminology used in their letter to him, and apparently used for anyone who suffers from mental illness, was ‘severe mental impairment'. I clearly saw that this is offensive to vulnerable people as well as people like me. In a knowledgeable and skilful way I used my experience from the course to write with a friend to the local council to remind them that everyone deserves respect with sensitivity. I received two letters headlined ‘House of Commons', saying that they were considering changing this terminology and if in the near future this does not happen, we are determined to put pen to paper again. If I'm strong enough to help someone who is vulnerable then I'll do it - we can all speak up by using our voice if it's strong enough.

As part of the training she participated in, Margaret wrote a poem speaking out about the effects of mental health discrimination. You can read this poem below.

Prejudice

Discrimination can deepen that depression, make voices louder, destroy happiness when you start to own.
The word prejudice - It can be strong, but weak, hurtful but helpful, regardless but be regarded.
The P - can be painful. When you are seen only as a sufferer of mental pain. But also the P - all being persons having each owning distinct qualities and personality.
The R - to be rejected for that 1st job is painful and soul destroying. But the R - to have regard and start to believe and understand.
The E - to exaggerate, when it's easier to be enchanting and charming.
The J - can be a jab. Foolish and hurtful criticisms when it's painless to offer joy and give delight to build a happiness to be felt by all.
The U - can be unable and incapable and weak, but can be to undertake and begin to understand.
The D - can be distress and afflict pain when it's more comfortable to dismiss and discard and learn to understand.
The I - can be incredulous - to doubt and suspect, when an increased knowing of a situation can lessen the doubt and suspicion.
The C - contagious - all mental illness doesn't carry a warning of danger but can be cared for and provided for.
The E - to evolve and develop an understanding of mental illness, to remember in society there will always be mental illness, but wellbeing can follow close behind.

Life is a precious gift, to live and to cherish. Whether male, female, whatever age, religion, colour of skin, sexuality each and every life deserves DIGNITY & RESPECT.

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