March 19, 2014

I first heard about Time to Change when, as a fan of cricket, I read about England player Michael Yardy’s battle with depression which effectively ended his international career. This struck a chord with me because of my own problems with depression and anxiety, and I know how frustrating and debilitating it can be.

I decided to use my love of cricket as a way to share my experiences and therefore support the Time to Change ethos, that if enough people talk openly about mental health it will help challenge stigma and misconceptions. And importantly, it will spread the message that mental illness is nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about.

I decided to design and sell a cricket-themed typography screen print and include Time to Change leaflets with every print I send out. I also talk about the campaign on my website.

90% of people who experience a mental health problem suffer from discrimination

I wasn’t surprised to learn that 90% of people who experience a mental health problem suffer stigma and discrimination as a result. I’ve found that that this manifests itself in lots of ways, which aren’t always obvious. To me, ‘mental health discrimination’ is not just about being judged and treated differently. It’s also a lack of understanding and acceptance, resulting in many feeling uncomfortable talking about mental health. This leads to people feeling frightened and alone, and not asking for help.

For example, the last time my depression started to get unmanageable I didn’t tell anyone, and DREADED going to the doctor. I put it off for as long as I could.  I felt I couldn’t cope, which came with a dreadful sense of shame; that other people experience terrible hardships and stressful life events and manage so much better. Things like going to the supermarket and doing some washing felt like insurmountable tasks that I really struggled with, which in turn made me feel useless and pathetic.

Another thing that put me off seeking help was that I didn’t want to go back on the medication that for years had made me feel ‘dumbed down’, apathetic, unmotivated, flat. I felt trapped.

This is in complete contrast to the times I’ve had tonsillitis, and I’m at the doctor’s surgery like a shot the second the pain and swelling starts. I didn’t think there was any shame in contracting an infection in your throat, and taking antibiotics to treat it. And I had no reservations about complaining to anyone who would listen, even when talking about the pain made it hurt more!

Once I started talking, it made things so much better

Once I did start talking to people about how I was feeling though, it made things so much better. It turned out there was a huge support network I didn’t realise I had, and there were plenty of people I knew that had had similar experiences to me. Part of keeping things to myself was not wanted to burden anyone, but I soon realised that if someone I cared about was suffering from a mental health problem I would want to be there for them. Soon I also had the confidence to change to a new GP, and found there were alternatives to the medication I didn’t get on with. 

This is one of the reasons I think Time to Change is so important. It’s about changing attitudes and perceptions of mental health, so it becomes something that’s ‘normal’ to discuss openly.

There is still work to be done

Someone I met at a Time to Change project I volunteer with told me that when they were a child, a relative had been institutionalised with a mental illness, but her family told her to keep it a secret and not to tell anyone. Shocking stories like this show that things HAVE come a long way.  But with so many people still experiencing stigma and discrimination, there is still a lot of work to be done. Changing the views and attitudes of our entire society as a whole is a mammoth task, and it isn’t going to happen over-night. But every person who starts a conversation about mental health is a step in the right direction. We can all help bring about change, one conversation at a time!

Nicola volunteers on the Dispelling Mental Health Myths via the Workplace project run by Mind in Brighton and Hove

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Too many people are made to feel ashamed. By sharing your story, you can help spread knowledge and perspective about mental illness that could change the way people think about it.