My name is Melissa, I am 26 years old and have experienced symptoms of psychosis for as long as I can remember. If I mentioned my symptoms to anyone it was put down to “imagination” or some sort of supernatural phenomena, like ghosts; no one ever thought that it could be something to do with my mental health.
I might I only began to seek help with this once I hit rock bottom at 18 years old. I had difficulty separating what was real from what was “all in my head”. I would regularly hear voices and see people that were not really there. High school was the place I experienced stigma most, bullying is pretty much inevitable for a teenage girl who thinks she can see ghosts and talks to herself, not to mention my bright ginger hair and freckles.
Staff were not much help, I eventually ended up in a school for children with behavioural problems, which had the effect of amplifying my condition. I was always afraid to talk about my symptoms, I imagined men in white coats carting me off, never to return again. Once I finally did get some help, both therapeutic and medication, my condition stabilised, my local mental health team were excellent. I eventually went on to get married and have two amazing children.
I still have symptoms but I am much better at coping with them, I am also now able to identify any potential delusions before they get out of control. I have returned to education studying social science, I decided that this time I am not going to hide my condition. I have openly discussed it with both students and tutors, I happily allow myself to be used as an insight/example when studying mental health issues.
For the first time my experience of psychosis is having a positive impact on my life, by being more confident and open about psychosis I have turned my “dirty little secret” into a useful part of my identity. I have received a positive and supportive reaction from staff and students, and having more people know about my illness means my support network is expanding.
The term psychosis can be frightening for people at first, the stigma that surrounds it is usually that of violence and danger. But many people suffer from psychotic episodes during their life, we don’t have to hide it, the brain is complex, and it is unlikely to be perfectly rational at all times. Worrying what people will think is often the reason people don’t seek help, this clearly needs to change. The more we talk about the most misunderstood mental health problems, like psychosis, the easier it will be for people to seek help and lead more normal lives.
I am now a champion for Time to Change and hope I can help others like myself to feel accepted and valued. We don’t need to hide away from mental illness: being open to it will help to tackle the stigma surrounding it. Being part of Time to Change makes me feel like I am doing something positive about my condition rather than just “suffering” from it. Hopefully in time we can beat the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness.