It’s taken me a long time to compose this post, and it’s going to take you a while to read it! But I make no apologies for length, not on a subject this important to me.
I just ReTweeted the link to MIND’s Stamp Out Stigma campaign, which aims to tackle the stigma attached to learning disabilities and mental health problems. It asks people to think about the language they use, and to recognise that mental health problems are no different to physical ones. They’re aiming for 100,000 pledges, and want to reach 50% of the UK population with their message.
You probably know someone with depression. In fact, if you’re reading this, you’ve met someone with depression.
Hi. My name is Laura, and I have depression.
That’s not an easy thing to write in a public blog. I have to think what would happen if a potential employer comes here and reads that. What are they going to think of me if I say that I’ve had mental health issues? Will I find it harder to get another job in the future? Also, what about the people who are reading this but I’ve never met? I’ll be seeing some of you in July at the New Professionals Conference, and perhaps before that at the BIALL conference in June if anyone’s going. Will you look at me differently if you know? And let’s not even start on my colleagues who read this. Will they treat me differently?
Because the answer to all of the above is “possibly”, I feel it’s even more important to get the message of this campaign spread as far as possible. The statistics on mental health are often trotted out – one in four people will experience some kind of mental health problem this year. Every year UK businesses lose £26 billion and 70 million working days to stress. (MIND website: I particularly recommend their video) For many people, it’s a temporary thing, brought on by particular circumstances, and with the right support, they come out the other side.
For others, there is no other side. Learning disabilities (2% of the population, incidentally), long term depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, OCD etc. don’t just go away by themselves. It’s not a case of having a few weeks off to rest up then it’ll all be better. It’s hard work managing these things, both for employers and employees, but it can be done. And when it can’t, people still need support. They don’t need to be called crazy or – worse – lazy.
I’m extremely lucky that my depression is mild and improving – although I still have very bad no good days where just getting out of bed exhausts me – and that my work has been and continues to be incredibly supportive. My NHS trust offers free counselling, as does my workplace, and I have a supportive and loving family. Most of the time, I function just fine, and if I have days where I don’t, then it’s okay, because I know I’ve got support. Think of all the people who can’t. Who can’t tell anyone about their schizophrenia, because they know they’ll be treated with suspicion. Who can’t talk about their chronic, severe depression because they think others will think they’re just not trying hard enough. Who get called names because they’re different.
Incidentally, having mental illness is not the same as having a bad day or a bad mood. There’s much more information at the MIND website, but it’s easy to think that depression is just like being sad all the time, or that if people just tried harder, things would improve for them. If only it worked like that. We also tend to lump together all kinds of mental illness, which we would never do for physical illness. If someone has a chronic back problem, we don’t treat them with cold relief tablets. People with different mental health problems need different kinds of support.
Like I said, I’m lucky. I have support, I have family, I have friends and I’m getting better all the time (at least, when I’m not having a set-back). I don’t need people to feel sorry for me, and I don’t need treating differently because of my depression. What everyone, with all kinds of mental illnesses need, is understanding. Understanding that there are some days when they just can’t handle talking about that one particular thing, so maybe it can be left until tomorrow when they’ve had a chance to compose themselves. Or maybe they need a little more notice of what’s going to be happening in that meeting later in the week so they can be ready for it. Or maybe they need to be able to listen to music while they work so that they can keep their minds on track and undistracted. Do they sound like small, simple things? They are! They’re the kind of allowances you’d make automatically for someone with a physical illness. But trust me when I say they make all the difference in the world.
Please head over to the Stamp Out Stigma website and pledge your support. Or have a look at the MIND work website to see how your work can help. You’re free to link to this post if you want, or better yet, write your own to help spread the word.