March 6, 2012

We asked three bloggers to tell us about the different attitudes to mental health they've experienced where they live.

Lol – North

'When it comes to mental health I firmly believe cultural influences perpetuate the stigmatising process. I think there is a north/south divide. In my native north east there is a deeply ingrained 'macho' culture surrounding mental health. This I feel is a consequence of the industrial history of the region. This is a region of small coal mining communities and shipbuilding docks, a predominately male domain.
The north east has the second highest suicide rate amongst young men in the country and this is no coincidence. There is a reluctance among young men about going to see their GPs for stress and other mental health related issues because of the stigma they feel. Statistically men experience the same mental health conditions as women but women are twice more likely to visit their GPs for help.
The tragedy of this is that the perceived shame leads to men burying their heads in the sand when they become depressed or have any other mental health condition. Often this results in fatal consequences such as suicide. Stigma plays an insidious role in this ignorance and avoidance of reality. In my work, I speak to men daily about their mental health, I hear their views and opinions and can see how their upbringing has influenced their thinking.'
There is a 'Big boys don't cry' attitude here in the NE which is so damaging. Men see mental illness as a sign of weakness but I really think that this outdated view is slowly changing, thankfully.

Moira - Midlands

Starting University I have recently moved to London from Birmingham and found the transition relatively easy due to the fact they are both cosmopolitan, multicultural cities. 
In Birmingham, my experience with mental health professionals was generally positive.  I saw GP’s in my local practice. It was big enough for me to have seen about three doctors before being referred to a psychiatrist but being a busy surgery it was extremely hard for them to chase up individual cases.  However, reaching an outpatients psychiatric unit, there was a far more time intensive, one-to-one basis for treating patients.  Perhaps this is the same everywhere but the training doctors who talked through and diagnosed my depression brought reassurance and consistency.  
A growing issue in Birmingham is the difficulty with which health professionals can reach out and treat issues in patients from specific backgrounds and districts concentrated with ethnic or religious traditions.  For example, often the stigma and discrimination around mental health issues is at its highest in communities which do not talk about emotional issues and problems and simply aim to cover up problems and continue in their family environment. 

With so many communities of different cultures, religions and ethnicities in cities such as Birmingham and London, you can imagine how hard it is for health services to adapt fast enough to meet the changing demand on them.  However, with so many health services and charities such as Time to change and Rethink concentrated in London, arguably the capital has the greatest resources available to provide support and assistance to the people who need it.
Although better access to health is available in cities, (i.e. through distance, knowledge of health centres etc.)  it is still necessary for mental health awareness to reach into communities everywhere in order for people to access the extensive range of services they offer.  Once this first step is made, it won’t matter where you live; your experience will begin to get better everywhere. 

Laura – South

As a Southern girl who went to university in the North, I have to say I still feel there is a real north/south divide when it comes to facing mental health problems. While at university, even though quite unwell, it just wasn't acceptable among my friends or within the local community to face these problems head on. I felt a deep sense of shame which, since moving back to Essex, has all but disappeared. Working in London, I feel I am within a diverse, progressive city that has slowly but surely begun to face the stigma surrounding mental illness. Of course stigma still exists, but I feel in the South of England the NHS and other statutory or charitable bodies are beginning to speak up. I am yet to hear this from my alumni peers who have remained in the North, and still seem unable to ask for help.

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