April 15, 2012

Charlotte blogs for Time to ChangeI started experiencing mental health difficulties at the age of fourteen, except I didn’t realise I was suffering with a mental illness. I thought I was ‘odd’ or ‘broken’. I knew something wasn’t right but I didn’t think that I was ill. I started self harming, it was initially an experiment to see if it made me feel any better, but from that first occasion I became addicted. The methods that I used became more and more risky and I had to become very ingenious in hiding my injuries.

I didn’t realise I was suffering with a mental illness. I thought I was ‘odd’ or ‘broken’

I didn’t tell anyone of my problems. If I didn’t understand what was happening, how could I expect anyone else to? Besides I was scared of their reaction. One day in class a boy shouted, ‘everyone who commits suicide is just selfish’. By this stage I was suicidal myself. I visited pro suicide web pages on a daily basis and was making plans to end my life. Hearing this public announcement made me even more determined to keep my secret. How could suicide be selfish? Surely it would be better for everyone if I wasn’t around?

Eventually a stressful day at college tipped me over the edge. I took a substantial overdose that left me comatose in intensive care. I pulled through and was admitted to a child and adolescent inpatient unit until I turned eighteen then faced the CAMHS to AMHS transition – but that’s another blog!

Since then I have spend over a year in inpatient wards, have been sectioned under 136 more times than I have fingers and engaged in various forms of talking treatments including hypnotherapy, not to mention the mystery that is medication. My official diagnosis is Borderline personality disorder, a label that has STIGMA written all over it.

It’s a complicated issue when it comes to stigma. Have I been stigmatised? Yes. Unfortunately mostly by people in caring or authoritative positions such as the police, A and E staff, university staff and even mental health professionals. These so called ‘professionals’ came out with every name in the book, attention seeking, game playing, putting on an A* performance… I could go on but you get the idea.

My official diagnosis is Borderline personality disorder, a label that has STIGMA written all over it.

I asked my nurse how they could be so cruel to me? The explanation? That my dangerous behaviours made people nervous and when people are worried about my safety they say these things in an attempt to prevent my behaviours. In reality the name calling just fuelled my dangerous actions, it was ironic that no one seemed to notice that it made me more distressed not less.

Some of the worst stigma I have experienced has been from the police, who have taken me to custody as a ‘place of safety’ on more than one occasion. During these times I have been stripped, handcuffed, laid face down on a mattress, had leg restraints on and had two police officers holding me down, all to stop me hurting myself. It was all fairly traumatic. But the worse bit? The laughing, telling me I didn’t care about my parents, that I was selfish and asking ‘which side of the BORDER I was’, when I tried to alert them to my diagnosis.

In the months following I developed an extreme phobia of the police. Every time I saw an officer I became  extremely distressed, I got to know their patrols and beats and avoided them. I convinced myself the police were out to get me. Luckily recently I have been working with an amazing officer from the London Transport Police who has shown me that the police are just normal people, unfortunately like in any career you get the talented and compassionate and the not so.

Of course stigma isn’t just name calling - a look or even a silence can hold as much stigma as a nasty name.

Of course stigma isn’t just name calling - a look or even a silence can hold as much stigma as a nasty name. In doing work around raising awareness of mental illness I am faced with the risk of experiencing more stigma. But if we don’t start talking about mental illness we will never dispel the myths that surround it. It’s a catch 22 but I believe if it takes us one step closer towards breaking the stigma of mental illness it will be worth it!

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