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An Open Letter to Mental Health Campaigns

Your work at reducing stigma and raising awareness is valuable. It really seems that you are making an impact on society’s views of conditions such as anxiety and depression. But, what about the rest of us? Those of us who are mentally ill in a way that might be more difficult for the public to relate to – where is our voice?

It’s not easy to get people to understand what it is like to hear voices, explaining why a person feels suicidal is difficult, talking about conditions which even Mental Health professionals are judgemental about is hard. But, it is necessary. There is only so long that you can keep avoiding tackling tricky topics.

Explaining anxiety and depression is a bit easier because most people will experience anxiety/depression at some point even if it is on a low level. However, most people will not experience hearing voices, being suicidal or rapid mood changes. That is why you need to work harder to inform the public about these issues; there is more stigma surrounding illnesses which are not understood.

My mental illness has caused irreparable damage to myself and other people. I am not going to sugar coat it so that it makes it easier for other people to swallow. My reality, and so many others, is not easy to hear about but it should not be ignored because of this.

Nobody wants to hear about the time a person heard voices telling them to punch an A&E nurse. Nobody wants to know about the medication that is making someone drool and walk around in a zombie like state. Nobody wants to know what is going on in psychiatric hospitals. Nobody wants to face up to the fact that someone they love might wake up and start hearing voices one day or seeing things that are not there. It is not a truth that is easy to swallow but you have a duty to use your platforms to represent all types of mental ill health.

A huge amount of the general public still believe that people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia are dangerous. Whenever I mention that I work with people with this diagnosis, I get a response of: “that must be scary, aren’t they really violent?” No, they’re not but your ignorance is. Mental health professionals still talk about hating working with patients who have personality disorders because we are so “difficult.”

While you talk about recovery and getting better, do you forget that this is not possible for everyone? We do not all have access to the support, we do not all have the ability to manage our symptoms. Does this mean that we are failing? I don’t think so. The very fact that we are still alive is a success. This also does not mean that you should leave people without trying every method of treatment available first. Do not give up on someone because you think they are incurable. Stop leaving people in community care while the mental health teams visit once a month and offer nothing other than medication.

Can I also ask – do you consider awareness raising and reducing stigma around mental health to be enough? If you do then you are wrong. More needs to be done. There needs to be more done to prevent mental illness, to get everyone access to appropriate treatment, to ensure that care is holistic in its approach. Your campaigns and slogans need to evolve. We cannot remain stuck in an idea that all we need to do is talk about things because it simply is not enough. Stigma and awareness are an ongoing issue and I do not deny that they are important. However, there are bigger concerns for the future.

It is time for a bigger change. It is time for you to address the less palatable elements of mental health. It is time for you to admit the limitations of reducing stigma. It is time to start using your platforms to help with more fundamental problems within mental health.

Yours sincerely,

a mentally ill woman tired of hearing about how views of mental health is changing when all she can see is a section of mental illness being completely ignored.

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