Lydia, one of the Steering Group members, tells us a bit about her experiences and what she wants more people to know about mental health:
Firstly, it’s important to note that not everyone who experiences mental health issues would class themselves as disabled. It is entirely up to the individual to decide to reclaim that label for themselves and we will be posting something soon about who gets to call themselves disabled and when.
Each and everyone one of us has mental health, in the same way that each and every one of us has physical health. One in four people will experience mental ill health in their lifetime.
There is a difference between mental health and wellbeing: there are things we can all do to maintain our wellbeing, but for one in four of us, there will be an underlying mental health condition, or diagnosable mental health condition. It is important to remember this distinction when talking about mental health.
It is also worth noting that there are many approaches to treating, managing and coping with mental health conditions. The medical model says that people need to be “fixed” in order to be whole, that mental ill health is something to be overcome, in order for that person to fit into society. The social model on the other hand says people are dis-abled by society, that society needs to change, not individuals. This model recognises, barriers, discrimination, stigma and ableism.
Mental ill health can affect any of us irrespective of age, personality or background. It includes a wide range of experiences and can affect the way people think, feel or behave.
Examples of diagnosis include:
- Eating disorders
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
- Bipolar disorder
- Personality disorders
My own experience of mental ill health (anxiety and depression) is that it can be quite fluid and changing, and particularly so during the last year where we have experienced the pandemic. Depression can leave me feeling quite low, unmotivated, and at its worst, hopeless, and purposeless. Adding anxiety into that mix is like all of those things but with the extra aspect of questioning every thought and decision and overthinking. Combined this can lead to a feeling of being paralysed by indecision. However, there are good days too, and even on the bad days I can still experience joy, happiness and creativity.
My diagnosis of depression and anxiety has been part of my life for 14 years, and is something that has been ever present. Being able to smile and laugh from time to time doesn’t invalidate the other feelings I have, because my mental health conditions are just one part of who I am.
In terms of stigma, it would be really helpful if wider society could understand that using words like “mental”, “crazy”, “mad” to describe something that’s odd, strange and weird is not ok. Similarly, please can we move away from using the words “mental”, “mad”, “crazy”, “insane”, “bonkers” and such like for things that aren’t really those things? These are everyday ableist words and phrases. None of these words are worthy of a mental health, ableist slur.
If the supermarket is busy, crowded, with lots of people around, say that.
If the weather is unusual, unpredictable, unexpected, unforecast, then say that.
If a person has behaved badly, or in a criminal way, then say that.
Attributing mental health conditions when they are undiagnosed is harmful. Not just to the person that you are labelling, but to the countless people who have mental health conditions who will read what you have written and hear what you have said. There is enough stigma around mental health without negative baggage also being added to the mix!
A few more tips about what to say:
- instead of saying someone is psychotic or schizophrenic, say ‘a person who has experienced psychosis’ or ‘a person who has schizophrenia’
- ‘schizophrenic’ or ‘bipolar’ should not be used to mean ‘two minds’ or a ‘split personality’
- somebody who is angry is not ‘psychotic’
- a person who is down or unhappy is not the same as someone experiencing clinical depression
- describe someone as ‘having a diagnosis of…’, or is ‘currently experiencing…’ or ‘is being treated for…’, rather than suffering with
- ‘a person with a mental health problem’ – rather than crazy, mad, etc
- ‘mental health patients’ or ‘people with mental health problems’
- ‘patients’, ‘service users’ or ‘clients’
- ‘discharged’ rather than released, like from prison. Mental health wards are not prisons.
- ‘antidepressants’, ‘medication’ or ‘prescription drugs’, rather than “happy pills”
Expand your vocabulary. This is important. Mental ill health affects 1 in 4 people. Please be aware of language that can hurt and cause isolation. Ultimately, you should use the language that the person with the mental health illness wants you to use.
There are loads of organisations around in York which help with mental health, here are just a few suggestions:
- Samaritans: free phone 116 123 (UK) or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Talk to your GP about NHS support such as counselling or medication that might help
- Disability Support Groups such as us are a great way of connecting with the wider disability community. Whether you consider yourself disabled or not, going through mental illness has a lot in common with the disability experience.
- York Mind
- Rethink – York
- York Carers Centre offer support for people caring for someone with mental ill health