February 2, 2012

Blogger Claudette Lawrence on mental health stigma and campaigningIn 2007 I was managing a women’s refuge. I was really enjoying my job and was very passionate about it. However I was having some problems with work colleagues and bullying.

I remember going into work one day and feeling a sense of panic, the room started to spin I felt sick and I felt really low and kind of numb. I remember walking out of my job and going home just wanted to hide. I felt so frightened.

This was the start of a downward spiral. I never returned to work, I started to get about 10 panic attacks a day and feel very depressed. I wasn’t new to depression. I had a bout of it in 2002. The worst part about it all was the discrimination I faced: my employer continually harassed me, calling me daily and asking me when I would return to work. I received bullying emails.

Things just went from bad to worse. The depression worsened and my anxiety was so severe I was offered a hospital admission. A couple of weeks later I received a letter from my employer saying they were dismissing me. I had studied law for 12 years and knew this was unfair. Despite feeling like my world had fallen apart I managed to take action against my employer and won an out of court settlement for unfair dismissal. I wasn’t worried about compensation, it was the principle: how dare they treat me like this.

I started to make a recovery and it was while I was in a waiting room at my local mental health team that I saw a notice about Time to Change. I looked it up on the internet and started campaigning. I decided that my situation wasn’t unique and that the discrimination out there must be happening to others.

I wrote a letter to Gordon Brown asking him if I could have a meeting with him and discuss the Time to Change campaign and mental health stigma. The weeks went by and not a word. I phoned number 10 and was told I would get a letter. To my utter amazement a letter arrived from Gordon Brown asking me if I would go to see his senior health advisor. I was gobsmacked. I had just written an ordinary letter.

I went to number 10 and met Greg Beales who was the senior health advisor at the time. I told him my story and how much discrimination I had faced. I said there needed to be a change to the law and job applications that ask questions about disability should be stopped. Greg said he was very interested in Time to Change and would do all he called to support the campaign.

About six months later I heard that there had been a change to the Equality Act, which included pre- medical questionnaires being abolished. I was ecstatic. The charities Mind and Rethink had been campaigning hard and so had I.

Since this time I have campaigned on behalf of Time to Change. I have given talks about the campaign and done a roadshow. I recently attended the Time to Change event at Admiralty House, which was to thank people for what they have done with Nick Clegg. The launch as I understand it was a celebration of the campaign so far. It was really good and great to hear from two young champions and their experiences of mental health. It was also great to meet so many other campaigners and celebrities.

Time to Change really changed my life as it gave me the courage to speak up for myself and others. My friends and family used to walk away from me in shame.

I was determined that I should use my story and help others.


 

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