October 10, 2011

Time to Change blogger LauraThe Time to change campaign is so so important as many people suffering from mental health problems feel the stigma and discrimination attached to having a mental illness is harder to cope with than the illness itself.

As with most types of prejudice, the discrimination surrounding mental health is largely born out of ignorance. There is a huge lack of education for adults, young people and children around the subject, regardless of the fact that one in four people will or have experienced a mental health problem in their lifetime. Even though illnesses such as depression and anxiety disorders are becoming a little more accepted, severe mental health problems are still very much taboo.

The awareness that the Time to change campaign is bringing to people is so very valuable, not only to  those directly affected by mental health but to society as a whole. I was a carer to a person with severe mental health problems when I was a teenager, for my ex boyfriend. He suffered from schizophrenia and I was his main source of support. He experienced stigma and discrimination because of his illness from the very beginning. Most of his friends deserted him as soon as they found out he had been sectioned. I guess those young boys had no education or experience of mental health and perhaps out of fear of the unknown wanted nothing more to do with him even though he had known some of them for years. Luckily one friend did stick by him and I will always be grateful for that.

The reason why I was my ex boyfriend’s main carer (with the help of my parents) is because his own family showed him little support. He had already been thrown out by his mother at 17 and it was only a year or so after this that he became ill. He had never had a relationship with his father and his mother supported him at the absoloute minimum. After the first time he was sectioned for 48 hours and then sent home, my dad suggested to his mother he should go and stay with her for a couple of nights. She out right refused to let him stay even for a night, giving the reason for this, ‘as it would be dangerous for her other children’. His mother was happy for us to take full responsibility for his care until we broke up, then she started to support him ever so slightly but would never let him stay at her house. The news soon spread around the town, and soon enough most people he knew wouldn’t even say hello if they passed him in the street.

I even experienced some stigma myself as I felt few of my peers could relate to what I was going through. Like most teenagers their life consisted of studying and partying, not caring for someone who was severely mentally ill and visiting secure psychiatric wards. I felt very uncomfortable sharing what I was going through with people and I also felt some negativity from people in the area, which began to give me the idea that perhaps people thought it was my fault my ex boyfriend was ill, as if I’d driven him to it. I felt so isolated and hardly saw my friends for over a year and when I did see them I couldn’t enjoy myself much as I was constantly worrying about my boyfriend.

However through all this, I was lucky enough to have extremely supportive parents, and as my dad is a mental health professional, he told me so much about the mental health system and gave me great reassurance that just because my ex boyfriend was so unwell, this by no means meant that he would become dangerous and if he by any chance did, the person who he would most likely be a danger to was himself.

It scares me to wonder what might have happened to my ex boyfriend and myself if we hadn’t have had the support and education from my parents and Time to Change about mental health. If I hadn’t had that support, I wouldn’t have been able to support him and then he really would have been left alone with both the stigma and the illness.

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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.