A guest post for World Mental Health Day by Amanda Hart of Life Insight Therapy.
Thankfully, mental health issues are becoming better understood, and suffering from mental health problems no longer attracts quite the stigma and discrimination that it once did. However, there is still quite a way to go, as the recent debacle which saw major UK supermarkets selling ‘mental health patient’ and ‘psycho ward’ fancy dress outfits demonstrated (read more about this story here). Thankfully, there was a very quick public response to this, during which real ‘mental health patients’ posted photos of themselves on social media sites saying ‘this is what a mental health patient looks like’. The supermarkets quickly withdrew the offending articles and at least one made a large donation to a mental health charity. But this just shows that there remains a lack of awareness and even a fear of what having a mental health problem really means.
Every year, one in four people will suffer from a mental health problem (source Mind) and almost half of that number will be diagnosed with a mental health disorder. Mental health problems can affect not only the sufferer, but can also impact on families, loved ones, friends, colleagues and carers. When I began my career as a counsellor and started working for a mental health charity, I had a very steep learning curve to climb as, despite my training, my awareness of mental health disorders and problems was pretty limited. So it’s no surprise that general levels of public awareness are poor. There are, however, some great resources for learning about different mental health problems. I can highly recommend the Mind and Time to Change websites for general information and for more detailed information NICE publishes patient information leaflets about different mental health disorders, which are available to download online.
On World Mental Health Day I will be seeing clients, some of whom are coping with severe mental illness. I never fail to be impressed and inspired by their determination and capacity to overcome their problems, to live a ‘normal’ life. But when I first started working with people suffering from mental health problems I had very little idea what to expect, I admit that I was nervous about meeting people diagnosed with illnesses that had complicated and scary names. Although I had experience of people (mainly friends and colleagues) who’d suffered from anxiety or depression, I’d had very little contact with people with serious mental health illnesses – or so I thought. I remember reading the notes for the first client I had with several serious mental health diagnoses before I met her; I felt overwhelmed and was quite anxious about what she would be like. But as soon as I met her, I forgot the notes, I even forgot her diagnoses, and realised that she was simply a human being, like anyone, trying to deal with what life had thrown at her. Most of the clients I work with do not wish to be defined by their diagnoses which they see as ‘labels’. They are people who want help to deal with a health problem that they want to overcome. I work with them as I would work with anyone – helping them to get back in touch with their strengths and find their own ways to solve their problems, or to cope. Having information about mental health disorders is helpful, as awareness helps to dispel misunderstanding and discrimination usually stems from a lack of understanding; however in my work with mental health sufferers, it can be just as helpful for me to be ‘unknowing’ about my client’s problems – and to let them tell me what it means to them, how it affects them. Talking, it’s good.
The mental health charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness have jointly launched the Time to Change campaign. The campaign urges us to talk about mental health – to start conversations, to share our experiences, to raise awareness and to put an end to ignorance and discrimination. None of us know if we will become one of the ‘one in four’. Many of us have been one of the ‘one in four’. It’s time to talk about it.
To find out more about Amanda and her work visit www.lifeinsighttherapy.co.uk