13/02/16 Stigma? What Stigma?

 I was at a party recently where I found myself in conversation with a number of people where the growing theme was…mental health stigma? What stigma?

I have to admit, I was caught a little by surprise since, mental health stigma is a common occurrence for many of the folk I’ve had the privilege to call friends over the years. 

At a structural level, mental health stigma and discrimination is rife, with 75% of the prison population suffering from some manner of mental malady or other;

With people with mental health problems being vastly over represented in unemployment statistics; 

With these same people being more likely to have their benefits sanctioned, arbitrarily stopped by the department of work and pensions;

With these same people having a life expectancy between 10 and 15 years shorter than the average, while the NHS has active policies to exclude people with mental health problems from life saving treatment – for example 

You can’t have a liver transplant if you have….

a serious mental health or behavioural condition, such as psychosis or bipolar disorder, which means you would be unlikely to be able to follow the medical recommendations for life after a liver transplant

And there’s a lot more besides. 
But, here I was, presented with some lovely folk, honestly asking the question, ‘What mental health stigma? 

Many of the people I know well take this information as read. 

Mental Health Stigma exists! We just need to do something about it.

I’m afraid to say, on this rare occasion, with my defences down, with my party head on, I found myself stumped. Before I knew it, I was talking to some other folk, feeling that gut wrenching dissatisfaction of wanting another go at that piece of verbal jousting. 

Something that means so much to me and yet…wasn’t quite dismissed, but was greatly muffled by that simple question, ‘Stigma? What Stigma?’

I could have dived in with, ‘You ignorant fucking twat! Take a look around you!’

But I didn’t – my head was full, and I continued to make polite conversation. 

Am I making too much of this? This thing that has filled my life for the past bazillion years? This thing that I’ve refused to define me, but has nonetheless curtailed me throughout my life. 

I could have asked them, ‘What would you do if you received a diagnosis of a mental malady?’ 

‘What would you tell your employers?’ 

I’ve spoken to many professionals who, although they would have psychological support at their fingertips, would choose and have chosen not to disclose – disclose! The very word oozes stigma and discrimination – that they are mentally unwell because of the fear of, and the actuality, of their career immediately hitting a glass ceiling. 

‘What would you do if an employee came to you with a diagnosis of..?’

‘What ‘reasonable adjustments’ would you…could you make to their work (place)?’

‘What if someone applied to work with you and they had a history of…?’ ‘Would you choose someone else with less experience? Would that decision be based on your knowledge of mental health or…?’

I could tell them that, even though anti discriminatory legislation is in place, people with mental health problems are encouraged by large organisations set up to support them, to weigh up the pros and cons of full disclosure. 

Why? 

Because we know the system can be manipulated. We know that employers could give any number of reasons not to employ someone that doesn’t involve the words 

‘COZ YOU’RE NUTS’

Why, you may ask, are you focusing on the world of work here, Chris?

Surely there are many other facets to a person that makes them a valuable member of society? 

Imagine meeting someone at a party. What’s one of the – if not THE – first question you ask someone? 

‘So, what do you DO?’

You’re not asking about their hobbies, what crimes they’ve committed, what their qualifications are…

You’re asking how do you make a PAID contribution to society. 

How many times has someone replied to you, ‘I’m on BENEFITS!’

They might leap about saying they’re taking a break, or they’re between jobs…anything that prevents them from uttering those few words…

‘I’m (please don’t judge me) on (I’m really not the lowest of the low – I’m not like those people on benefits street) BENEFITS (I hate myself for it – I feel like a failure – I feel like a scrounger – a feeling galvanised by government rhetoric – I really am valuable…I am…aren’t I?)!

Trust me – many folk would say ANYTHING…

Back at the structural level we have cuts to services…we have our leaders using discriminating words as insults, when they describe the members opposite as SWIVEL EYED LOONS! and the like….

It’s alright though, they don’t mean it. 

But what thoughts and beliefs are we embedding in our people when our society is actively prejudiced against people with mental health problems?

Stigma? What stigma? 

I’ll be ready next time

Walk a mile 

Chris

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