Sunday, 31 May 2015

"It can happen to anyone" - A guest blog by Angela Slater


I am really pleased to be invited to write a guest blog for this website and to be part of the great awareness raising that happens here. Mental health is something that is important to me and very close to my heart. Not just because I work in mental health for the Time to Change Campaign as the North east Regional & Equalities worker as well as doing freelance work in this area but because I experienced mental health problems myself from a young age.
Of course I would not have called it that then- in fact I would have been reluctant to talk about it at all. The fear and the stigma can be huge barriers. It is improving now but when I was young the only thing I can remember anyone saying about mental health was someone describing Karen Carpenter who lived with anorexia as ‘a silly girl who took her diet too far’. Of course we know more about different conditions now and people can name many of them- but there’s a long way to go before we talk about it in the same way as physical health.
I don’t know about you but I have friends who will tell me every detail about their bad backs, gynaecological problems and proudly show off their scars from an operation or falling off a bike? In fact if it was an operation they may also thoughtfully show me what was removed!! However they will whisper confidentially (in case anyone else hears) that they started taking anti-depressants a year ago. Or that they had been feeling very anxious but did not want to tell the doctor as it would be on their medical records. And I can completely understand this- after all there are so many misconceptions around mental health.
Some of the most damaging misconceptions are that if you have a mental health problem you are dangerous or unpredictable, that you could get better if you only put more effort into it (though nobody who has experienced it would choose to feel like that), that people with mental illness can’t work, that it is a weakness of character and it can only happen to certain people or of course it is just people looking to claim benefits. These are damaging lies that stop people getting the help they need in order to get well.
The reality of mental health is that it can happen to ANYONE regardless of age, education, disability, gender, sexuality or class. A person who experiences is more likely to be a victim than a perpetrator of a violent crime. At any one time mental illness will impact approximately 1 in 4 people. In the workplace around 1 in 6 British people are experiencing stress, anxiety or depression. 1 in 10 young people will be experiencing a mental health problem. This means that if it does not affect you directly it will affect somebody you know- whether you are aware of it or not. Of course some experiences and circumstances can make it more likely that a person may develop a mental health problem- but even the most privileged person with the most amazing life can develop a mental health problem. Nobody is exempt.
And this is why we need to talk about it. So people do not feel alone and isolated. So that people are able to get the help and support that they need and so that if it happens to you then you will not be alone. The research done for Time to Change showed for many people that the stigma and discrimination that they experienced around mental health had made them want to give up on their hopes and ambitions for the future and of those interviewed 27 per cent it had made them want to give up on life! This needs to be different before more lives are lost.
The things that I hope people take away from this blog are that mental health problems are something that can happen to anyone. That we need to talk about it in the same way as we talk about physical health, and that just because we see something in the media it does not make it true. We need to talk about mental health so that we see the realities rather than the damaging myths. So if nothing else, remember:

'It is Time to Talk, it is Time to Change!' 
http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/