July 20, 2012

Being a mental healthcare professional with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder is not easy. In my experience, there are two camps in terms of whether I "should be able" to work in this profession. The first is that I "should be allowed" because I have a unique insight. The second is that "I shouldn't be allowed" because I'm "not stable enough".

I have heard these opinions voiced from every tier of the profession in my 3 years working in a hospital (which shall remain un-named). I have heard doctors, qualified nurses, psychologists and support workers venting such opinions, often changing them to suit the current circumstances on the ward.

The huge stigma I have witnessed mental health professionals attaching to staff experiencing mental health issues is incomprehensible

The huge stigma I have witnessed mental health professionals attaching to staff experiencing mental health issues is incomprehensible, to the point that I've tried vehemently to hide the fact I have mental health problems. Unfortunately, despite my efforts, I recently went on to experience a huge breach of confidentiality and stigmatisation a few months ago.

I was detained under section 2 of the Mental Health Act (something I now realise was necessary). The problem is that when you work in services, you inevitably end up bumping into someone who was once a colleague in this totally different capacity. I always thought that nobody would be so callous as to divulge such information as "gossip". However a nurse I had once worked with, and who was now working at the hospital I was detained at, then went on to breach confidentiality, with the "gossip" reaching many of my colleagues.

I was lucky, I have 4 good friends there who visited me and didn't judge me and one of whom heard the "gossip" (which was portrayed negatively) and reported it. The one positive thing is that the matron where I was detained took the matter very seriously and dealt with it effectively.

I’ve never really had a positive reaction to my diagnosis of bi-polar

I’ve never really had a positive reaction to my diagnosis of bi-polar but, then again, I tend not to tell many people. It's not like a badge you can wear. The way I always think about it is "would I be comfy telling this person right now if I had a heart condition or some other physical health problem?" and use that as a guide to when/how I open up about things.

Most people, I've experienced in my personal life anyway, don't seem to know how to react. They just sort of say "oh right" and change the topic. I think this would be considered rude if I was talking about a physical ailment but I guess it just illustrates how uncomfortable some people are when talking about mental illness.

I've found people are pretty accepting of depression

I've found people are pretty accepting of depression and usually have their own experience of it to share. However, eating disorders and personality disorders are always met with disdain. Although I don't have a diagnosis of a personality disorder, I did struggle with an eating disorder for years and I rarely tell anyone about my recovery from anorexia and bulimia.

This is because as I've worked in services, I have noticed that there is a long-standing negative attitude towards individuals with eating disorders, to the tune that it's all for attention and such individuals should just eat and get on with it. But don't get me started on that rant. I'm particularly disgusted by the attitudes of some professionals I've had the displeasure of working with, towards individuals experiencing an eating disorder.

stigma rages... even amongst those most educated in terms of mental health

Yet, my experiences have taught me how stigma rages not only amongst the general public, which can be attributed to a lack of education, but even amongst those most educated in terms of mental health. How can we stamp out stigma, when the most stigmatising environment of all is mental health care services?

C.C Neish is the author of 'The Flight of the Bumblebee', an online book about stress-related illness.

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