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 PTSD, borderline 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.