I’ve encountered a lot of relationships in my life that have made me feel a stigma surrounding mental health. It's been important for me to recognise and become aware of the individuals who I felt have done this. In doing so, I’ve been able to improve my own mental health by talking to those individuals, help them to understand how what they say or do is stigmatising. that causes your reaction, which could result in an agreement that such interactions should be avoided, or at the very least significantly reduced. In the worst case scenario, where a relationship is having a detrimental effect on your thoughts on the stigma around mental health; it might be that the only way to move forward and stop the negative relationship from continuing by reassessing those relationships and sometimes, ending them.
Some of my relationships with professionals have been harmful
Personally, I haven't just been affected by people stating that mental health service users are 'crazy' or that ill mental health is something to be 'ashamed' of, but also by the way various people have treated me. When I've had A&E staff call me an attention seeker, Police saying that I'm wasting their resources, Crisis teams accusing me of wanting to be sectioned, and Doctors telling me that they should be helping poorly people instead of me, it's made me feel ashamed of my mental illness. It resulted in me being reluctant to ask for help when I needed it, and it affected my self-confidence in a negative way; something that can be quite dangerous if you're already feeling depressed, anxious or suicidal. Ultimately, I think that as hard as these negative relationships around stigma were at the time, they're now motivation for me to do whatever I can to improve things for others.
It also meant that upon meeting individuals in such professions, I saw them immediately because of how their colleagues had treated me. I'm ashamed of that now, because now that I'm in recovery, I know that assuming that all those with a mental health disorder are the same as one another is one of the biggest sources of stigma. This was mostly problematic in relationships with medical hospital staff and police because they were the most vital in saving my life. However, throughout my long-term hospitalisation and now through my recovery, there are some vast improvements among those professionals who have little training in mental health, yet are often called upon in crises. It’s essential that these professionals don’t belittle and stigmatise the people who need their help.
I've also had really helpful relationships for my mental health
As with most things in life, there's an alternative point of view; I’ve had relationships that can help you feel it’s okay to have a mental illness. Personally, I have found this to be through my relationships with my mental health community support team, my friends, my Mum, and the organisations and individuals who I've met and worked with through my blog and subsequent opportunities. My Mum always respected my silence when I first became poorly and when I would lie to the rest of the family and my friends so that they had no idea as to what was going on; and when I finally felt confident enough to be open about my mental health, she supported that too. And often, when my Mum would overhear people having very stigmatised and judgemental conversations about mental health, she'd speak up.
I've had a community team for 7 years now, and I can safely say that they have been the most consistent professionals in their attitude to mental health and myself as an individual. They've always fought for me to be treated respectfully and equally, as well as being supportive in all of my decisions and choices surrounding being open about my mental health, speaking up when I felt mistreated, and my blogging work that was centred around educating more people about mental health in order to minimise the stigma.
Finally, the surge of support I had from my friends on the day that I finally told everyone that I had a mental health problem, motivated me to continue being more open with them, and to feel secure in that my true friends wouldn't judge me. Both the negative and positive relationships in my life have contributed to my journey with mental illness, but I hope that as time goes on, more people experience positive relationships that empower and support them.
Aimee blogs about her experience of borderline personality disorder at I'm Not Disordered.
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