Your attitude to mental illness can hurt people

Blogger Natalie Quote

Judging others because of their illnesses, and without knowing, or caring, about their stories, will cause pain. I know from experience that poor attitudes can cause untold damage.

To give you my background, I am the victim of abuse and rape, and when I use the word victim I mean in the legal sense. I have always been vulnerable and even as an adult I was taken advantage of by a predatory man who saw my vulnerability, groomed me, and raped me. I currently have the following diagnoses: complex PTSDborderline personality disorder and a history of depression and anxiety, including self-harm

Discrimination has seriously affected me in different ways. Firstly, my abusive family conditioned me to believe that I was ‘mental’ because I was diagnosed with depression and that the mental health services would hurt me – that was their threat that left me in fear since I was a teenager. I am now in my mid-twenties, and it has taken me the past two years to build up the courage to ask for help when I realised what was happening to me. However, this did not happen easily, rather through extreme cries for help.

I was diagnosed with the PTSD and BPD only recently because of my reluctance to open up to the mental health services – since I was so afraid of them and did not want to be labelled. I have been put on medication which I did not like because I believed it would label me as ‘weak’ and ‘mental’, which of course is not true, but is what I believed for so many years that it was difficult to shift my own attitude and undo the damage of abusive people's attitudes. 

I was up against the abusive family’s attitudes and behaviour towards mental health, and now that I’m away from them, I’ve come up against more appalling situations. Not just by anyone, but people who are supposed to be trained and have knowledge of mental health disorders, and in caring contexts like in hospitals and communities.

Since my BPD diagnosis, I have asked for help more help to access to services and understanding my condition. I started using helplines to test my confidence with people when I am talking about such dark things, which was usually OK apart from one incident... I had called a helpline to say that I felt impulsive and wanted to harm myself (but instead tried to help myself by having someone to reassure me that things would be OK). The adviser questioned me saying ‘how can you be impulsive if you haven’t done anything yet?’ I tried to explain to him it was how my BPD affects me, but he said in a very nasty way that ‘you can’t keep using your BPD as an excuse to behave this way, you need to take responsibility’.

Of course, I had called because I felt low and impulsive and was met with judgement, confrontation, and lack of compassion. I had reached out for help. But I was met with yet more disappointment, which only lowered my trust in services even further. In the end, I put in a complaint about this and it was dealt with in a very professional manner, which reassured me that I could call again.

I’ve also had a few bad experiences with Community Psychiatric Nurses. I was in self-destruct mode one night and had a little to drink to try and cope with my overwhelming feelings of despair. I called the CPN helpline, but as soon as I mentioned it they told me ‘there is nothing we can do to help you, don’t drink and maybe things won’t be so difficult’ and abruptly hung up the phone. I am not a drinker – it was an unhealthy coping strategy during this time and as you can see I wasn’t even given the opportunity to speak. I was utterly shocked and in more despair. She dismissed me without any knowledge of my situation, without any understanding or empathy. 

These are just a few of the awful experiences I have gone through, but there is hope. Some lovely professionals out there have made me feel like I am a person, and not someone characterised and defined by mental illness. I have been treated with respect and dignity, after telling them how one little word can trigger a whole lot of things which can lead to self-destruction. I have come to learn that when you know what your own needs are and can express these clearly to those who are there to help, you most likely will get that help.

But many people really need to change their attitudes towards mental health. These negative attitudes prevent people from asking for help because they think they are most likely going to be judged, dismissed, told to ‘get on with it’. We need more understanding of the hidden issues so that people provide better services, promote confidence in those with illness to approach services, to avoid misunderstandings when it comes to peoples’ behaviour (that they have a mental illness which is not in their control) so they do not end up in the criminal justice system or otherwise unsupported. It should not be acceptable to treat anyone in such uncaring ways – it should not be the norm.

I have realised that some people just do not understand what they haven’t been through. I don’t take it so personally anymore, so I am not as defensive. Those who make it difficult and make you feel belittled, and minimise your condition/illness, do it because they do not understand and become frustrated. I think it is all about educating those people so that there are less misunderstandings and more help available without barriers. Most importantly, people need to know that a little understanding goes a long way. 

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Comments

Thank you so much for your sharing

I am starting to learn how stigma and fear is stopping people accessing help - I still haven't got round to it yet(partly because of cynicism and lack of trust in professionals)! I think I am in fact holding a lot of attitudes that are not helping myself seek the right support. It is interesting what you say about coming up against attitudes/ responses from "people who are supposed to be trained and have knowledge of mental health disorders". Perhaps it is that text-book knowledge (which is limited)and fear of not having the experience to understand the situation of the person that inhibits those individuals with approaching situations with a basic humanity and trust. I find with listening to friends/ peers situations, using language that emphasises that all they're feeling stems from a wide range of human responses which are all acceptable/ normal is the most helpful. The more people "without" mental health difficulties listen to people going though a hard time, the more we can enlighten them about the "untold" damage. ... Like you say "a little understanding goes a long way".

Seeking professional help

I had/have a fear of seeking help from professionals for some reason. I think it came from hearing so many of my friends stories about been let down by the system (a lot of my friends suffer from all different mental health problems). But to be honest my gp grounded it for me. Last time I went to my doctor she told me that because it's becoming so common now (mental health illnesses) that they treat it like a common cold. This was after I explained the reason I felt uncomfortable about asking for help. That was completely inconsiderate of her and made me feel like what's the point. Common cold? That would explain why I've only ever had 5 minutes in my doctors office and why I had to seek private help and help from charities. I've also been messed about recently by iapt and the crisis team. Iapt put me through to the crisis team after me telling them I wasn't in a crisis. I got upset on the phone because they told me they couldn't do anything for me because I was too stable for them to help at the moment. And then the crisis team told me to go online and do the questionnaire, which I did... I answered it like I was having an episode because they told me I was to stable and they tell me now that I'm too unstable. Mind blown. Stigma wise, when I told a few friends and family, they said all they knew was that a lot of murders have bpd! Or some sort of personality disorder! Sorry for the rant, I'm newly diagnosed and it's not very often I feel like I can talk to people around me about things like this because they don't get the frustration and anger that comes with it all.

Discrimination

I know the system is inadequate I spent so much time with my daughter trying to get the help she needs but the so called experts seemed to have no idea how we could support just the dark side. I have learned so much and hope you can find the tools to manage your symptoms when they take a hold. My own mum thinks people with mental illness should be locked up so I know how bad people can get it wrong. Don't apologise you need to vent believe me I had to let off steam some times. My daughter self harmed attempted suicide but she is still here working a double independent though I keep close contact always there no matter what. Her experience and how she battled I admire so much. You are not alone.

Thank you

I just wanted to leave a comment to say thank you for sharing your own story and personal experience with prejudice and stigma. To me, someone who is still currently terrified or opening up and being honest it just seems very brave. I have experienced so much confusion, ridicule, disbelief and irritation it can be more overwhelming than my disorder at times. Especially by mental health professionals or police officers or teachers or people who really should know better. Its a great relief to know that other people know what it's like to be judged and dismissed by people who are supposed to help. How it feels to be so ashamed and distrustful. I've been called a prescription pill junkie, mocked and been told that everyone has anxiety but you need to just get on with it, I've been told how convenient my depression is because I can cope sometimes and not others and also literally laughed at by professionals. I think you are absolutely right and we need to try to listen to each other and never make assumptions. People hear what I say and reach their own conclusions without trying to understand or listen. Its nice to know other people know what it's like and I am not the only one. Thanks.

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