July 7, 2015

I wanted to write this blog for a few reasons: to try to inspire others to challenge mental health stigma; to give a message of hope, and to show that it's worth continuing to campaign because in my experience things are starting to change. Yes, stigma still exists and continued work is needed but my story regarding employment issues has a positive ending.

I have faced stigma and negative attitudes

I have always struggled with my mental health and, sadly, following a crisis when I was admitted as an impatient to a mental health acute ward some years ago, I truly was faced with stigma from my employers. After 26 years working in children's services I was made unemployed as a direct result of my mental health being deemed as 'too risky to work with children'. At that time the only risk I posed was to myself.

As I progressed through my recovery journey I knew I wanted to return to employment and decided I would like to do what I was talked out of doing at 17 years old: this was to be a mental health nurse. I felt that to add to this my recent life experiences would make me more empathetic as a mental health nurse. Wow, the stigma and negative attitudes about this decision shocked me to my core. I was constantly told this was unachievable and that I would be considered a danger to others. ‘What part of being extremely depressed and anxious made me dangerous?’ is the question I constantly asked.

However hard people made it for me, I kept moving forward with my dream

However hard people made it for me, I kept moving forward with my dream. This included getting as far as the occupational health assessment for my place to study mental health nursing at University and being told my 'admission' of my history was admirable but because there was a case years ago of someone with a psychological condition that caused them to harm children, I was not suitable. I acknowledged the tragic consequences of her actions but then set out to explain that not all psychological conditions and/or mental illnesses are the same – it was wrong for them to think that my depression diagnosis would cause me to harm people.  It's like comparing a broken leg to a cold i.e. no comparison what so ever. Having successfully won my appeal against this decision I commenced my training and, despite many times facing stigma and continuing to be told I would not achieve it, I qualified with a first class honours degree. Also I was named as The Nursing Standard Student Nurse of the year 2014 as alongside my studies I campaigned for improved support for student's mental wellbeing. As a direct result I was invited to no 10 Downing Street and met with the Prime Minister.

I want to use my experience to inspire others to reach their goals, no matter how big or small

I am now a practicing mental health nurse in a profession I am very proud of and still, sadly, get advised to not share my mental health issues. This is where my message of hope that things are starting to change comes in. I recently saw my dream job of facilitating wellbeing and recovery groups within a community mental health team advertised and I was thrilled to get an interview.

Following me telling the interview panel all about my experience, charity work and mental health campaigning, including being a Time to Change Champion, they said they were impressed by my motivation but asked how I would motivate others in their recovery journey. This is where all the memories of previous stigma and negativity came flooding back. Now, I could have taken what would have been seen as the 'easy route' and talked about text book methods, but I decided in that instant not to purely do this. After all I already had a job and wanted them to want the whole of me based upon my honesty and integrity. So a deep breath was taken and I described my own recovery story saying how I would use it to inspire others to reach their goals no matter how big or small they were. Result?: I start in two weeks’ time in my dream job. So all this campaigning is starting to work and there is good reason for it to continue.

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