Wednesday 22 March 2017

Time to end mental health stigma

Following on from Rosie Flett's tragic death I pledged to blog here as regularly as I can to continue to raise awareness of eating disorders and mental health. To reinforce this pledge I 'made it public', if you like, on the Department of Health, Lottery and Comic Relief funded Time To Change website which is building a wall of pledges from people committed to ending mental health stigma. (If you haven't done so already, can I suggest that you make a pledge of some sort too?)

At the moment it's not easy for me to blog here. My PTSD is still bothering me a lot and my sleep is still interrupted by vivid nightmares. (Like the nightmare I had last night where I was desperately trying to stop my son from killing himself but he wasn't listening...)

But my problems pale into insignificance when compared to what Rosie's family are going through right now. And also the myriad of other families that are facing a young person's suicide, as highlighted by Jennifer Saunders for Comic Relief on BBC's Countryfile on Sunday evening.

On the subject of mental health stigma... I was googling all the various statesmen and other famous individuals who have struggled with mental health problems in the past. People like Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Florence Nightingale, Charles Darwin and Marie Curie. And many, many more.

Back then there wasn't the same stigma surrounding mental health as there is today. Indeed some people question whether any of the above would have been permitted to be politicians or scientists in today's stigma-driven world.

Yet people also argue that it was because of their mental illnesses that these individuals were able to do great things.

On this website it describes how in the 'book Black Dog, Kafka’s Mice, and Other Phenomena of the Human Mind, psychiatrist and historian Anthony Storr wrote: “Had [Churchill] been a stable and equable man, he could never have inspired the nation. In 1940, when all the odds were against Britain, a leader of sober judgement might well have concluded that we were finished.”'

Today various high profile individuals and celebrities are helping to reduce the stigma that surrounds mental health. People like Ruby Wax and Stephen Fry. And, with 1 in 4 people experiencing a mental health problem in any given year, it's a very real issue - an issue that affects pretty much every family out there.

But I imagine there are still some individuals who believe that people who commit suicide as a result of losing their battle with their own internal 'demons' are 'selfish' or in some way to blame for their act.

As any of us who have lived with serious mental illness - whether as a sufferer or as a family member - will be all too aware, mental illnesses can be deadly and once an illness like an eating disorder has its victim in its grip, it's punishingly difficult to break free, even with medication and therapy.

And the 'demons' (as many people like to refer to them) are very, very real and set on destruction. Especially in the case of eating disorders, the most deadly of all mental illnesses.

It's funny that, as I talk more and more about eating disorders, people put up their hands and say: "Me too!" Someone's friend or close relative has an eating disorder or other mental health problem such as OCD.

And yet there is still this crazy stigma surrounding mental illness.

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