March 19, 2013

Stephanie blogs about mental health and her relationship with her motherI’m currently studying Fine Art at University. A lot of my work currently is focused on my relationship with my mother and how it has always been and still is affected by her ongoing mental health problems. The work I’m producing at the moment is mainly using photography, drawings, personal writings and diary entries. All the work I create is very personal but also very therapeutic, as what I create is generally expressing what I’m feeling at the time.

My experience of growing up with a mother who is struggling with mental illness and seeing the damage it does everyday has, at times, been scary and left me feeling in some ways responsible and helpless. It was like nothing I did could do would make her any better. Obviously now as an adult I can see that it wasn’t my mum’s fault but it is still very hard to this day to come to terms with. I have had on and off therapy for a few years now and it really does help to have that extra support from an outsider of a situation.

Management didn't seem to take mental health seriously

I was once signed off work for a week when I was working full time as I was finding work and every day things hard to cope with. I remember telling my work and, although I had worked there for 4 years and was a valued member of staff, it didn’t feel like there was any real support from management. They knew my history of problems with my mother and knew I struggled to deal with that. However, if anything, they seemed to see it as an inconvenience for me to be off for what felt like not a ‘real’ health problem. I thought to myself at the time that if I had broken my leg, ankle, bone of some sort, that it would be taken much more seriously and more empathy would have been given. Instead I got no concern when I called to inform them or when I actually went back to work.

Things just carried on as normal and I was expected to as well. I feel very strongly that mental illness is not taken seriously enough, that people don’t see it as a real problem as they would a physical health problem. Many people say: “we all get down days”. Yes, people do, but it’s not the same as having an on-going mental struggle and then getting to a point when it becomes too much for someone to function ‘normally’ with. I think it is very important to make people more aware of mental illness and the ways in which it can affect people’s lives.

Mental health problems affect people differently

Some people who experience mental health problems like, my own mum, don’t leave the house regularly in fear of the outside world but some people can get up and go to work every day. It just depends on the extent to which the illness effects your life. I can’t say, as of yet, that I have ever experienced a severe mental illness but I have witnessed a parent who has and I have seen that it can have a major impact.

If anyone who reads this has a similar situation with a close relative who is living with a mental health problem, just remember that it’s not your fault, you are not responsible for their illness. All you can do is be there for them but also remember to be there for yourself. Trust me, it does take time. It is hard and the road can be long but I believe there is always light at the end of a tunnel. Find ways to express your feelings and ways to turn something not so great into something positive, whether you draw, sing, dance, cook or whatever makes you feel better.

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You can view Stephanie's Flickr photostream here.

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