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You Don't Have To Be Mad To Work Here...

Posted by archifCLICarchive from National - Published on 16/02/2011 at 10:21
5 comments » - Tagged as Health, People

  • Happy & Sad

Yn Gymraeg

Cancer patients. Diabetics. And those horrible asthmatics. They make me sick. All of them should be locked up away from the rest of us normal members of society.

If I wrote the rest of my piece in the same vein, I would be inundated with attacks — how could I be so unfair and harsh about people who’ve been unlucky to fall ill? I would be punished and asked to apologise, and rightly so.

So why is it OK for people to have these beliefs about mental illness? The usual description of someone sectioned under the Mental Health Act is that the person is violent, dangerous and prone to cruelty.

Like every other stereotype, it is damaging to the subject and the people around them, in this case, subjects of the stereotype may be unwilling to seek help from their friends, family and even their own GP because they are afraid of being stigmatised and/or ridiculed.

Even strangers will judge and ridicule a sectioned member of society. I am currently employed as a support worker in a low secure psychiatric hospital, and one of my duties is to take people into the community (known as section 17 leave). Whilst taking our clients out on leave, my colleagues and I make ourselves look as unlike ‘staff’ as possible to spare the client the embarrassment that comes with being identified as a ‘nutter’ by strangers.

One incident that angered me was while out on a section 17 leave to a local supermarket. The client I was with had numerous scars on both her arms from episodes of self harm. Admittedly, there are a lot of scars and they aren’t small, but this does not excuse the behaviour of a lady who, upon sighting the scars, gave our client a look of deep disgust and loathing, and promptly moved her young daughter away from us as quickly as was possible.

The client I was escorting was very upset at this reaction and asked if we could return to the unit. If I told this incident with a cancer sufferer with no hair due to chemotherapy instead of a psychiatric patient with self harm scars more people would be outraged. This is not fair.

The point of this rant is that I’m amazed at the reactions of some of the people who I know who are horrified at the idea of me working in a secure setting. When I told my parents about my job when I first started, their reaction was that I would constantly be under attack from clients — because of course all psychiatric patients are violent, didn’t you know?

Yes I have been assaulted, but I’d like to see the people who victimise the mentally ill cope with the frustration of being locked up, away from your family because you fell ill, or to fight the constant and terrible voices that some patients experience, demanding that they hurt themselves and others. I have one client that said she harms herself because she doesn’t want to hurt the staff. How awful is it that that is in her life?

We don’t hold harmful prejudices about asthmatics or diabetics when they become ill, but we think that those with borderline personality disorder are violent. We don’t move away from the cancer patient on the bus, but we would if the schizophrenic who lived down your street sat down.

All of the clients that I have met and worked with are just like you and me. Yes some of them have characteristics that aren’t favourable, but that is true of the whole population. Next time you hear someone abusing those who are mentally ill, imagine how you’d react if they were abusing someone who was physically ill, and if your reaction would differ and why.

Info >> Health >> Emotional and Mental Health

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IMAGE: Happy & Sad by Swamibu

5 CommentsPost a comment



Commented 63 months ago - 16th February 2011 - 15:46pm

Thank you so much for writing this hair_chops. I and some members of my family have had problems with the same sort of thing. My cousin was diagnosed with schizophrenia and admitted into psychiatric care many years ago and consequently members of my own family as well as total strangers would react to him in fear and suspicion.

One of my good friends back in high school had self harm scars on her arms and would try to cover them up by wearing long jumpers in the Winter, but when Summer rolled around it became difficult. She would receive abuse from people and odd looks from teachers. Luckily I was going through psychiatric therapy at the same time and was able to recommend her help, but not all victims of mental health issues have some one there to understand them, only people who judge.

I was diagnosed with clinical anhedonic depression when I was 15. Unlike unipolar (clinical) depression; which means you are constantly in an extreme low; or bipolar (manic) depression which means you fluctuate between extreme lows and extreme highs; clinical anhedonic depression means that you have no feelings towards anything. You would react to a birthday surprise the same way you would react to the death of a loved one. This is due to a lack of the seratonin hormone.

It is a sickness. I had a great upbringing and loving family, there were no external reasons for my problem. Yet, as soon as people heard I had depression they would think I was 'ungrateful', 'selfish', 'attention seeking' or in the worst cases they would suspect I had been abused or had a horrible family life. I hated that this disease reflected badly on my family, who have always been nothing but supportive.

There are so many stigmas attached to mental health issues because they are not taught enough about; apart from in A Level psychology or later to degree level. The only way people tend to become informed about it is by direct contact or if they already have an interest.

I wish families, schools and children had more of an insight into these issues so they would learn about them from the start. Anyone's mother/father/brother/child can have a mental illness and it won't be given away by a blemish or a lump. You need to dig deeper. And without the tools to dig it could be a very hard road.



Commented 63 months ago - 16th February 2011 - 19:39pm

One incident really angered me when i was working with mentally ill young offenders- a police custody guy (civilian not copper) was really really vile to a young girl who had scars all over her arms- really going on at her about it- so much so that i had to stop it and make a complaint as her advocate.

Also another police sergeant at the same nick started quoting the bible at a young lad i was advocating for (he had early onset psychosis) and kept saying that he would be ok if he had read the bible more- i was compelled to point out to him in detail the number of violent, bloody, misogynistic and child abuse incident in the bible- and also made a complaint about him.

These are just two of the many incidents of prejudice and misunderstanding that I have encountered over the decades I have workled with young people with mental health issues



Commented 63 months ago - 16th February 2011 - 23:09pm

I love this article... The area that I live in has a very high percentage of people with mental illness and, as a result, almost everybody I know has had some kind of problem when it comes to prejudice towards them or trusting people to help them.
I would very much like to be a psychiatric nurse one day, I think it would be great field to make a difference in.


Commented 63 months ago - 16th February 2011 - 23:14pm

It kills me to think that so many people have had to put up with abuse because of an illness over which they have so little control.

Culpepper - I applaud you for the deceny and decorum that you demonstrated in those situations, I wish more people acted like yourself, you are a credit to the people of Wales.

Acatris - I totally agree with your point that we aren't taught about mental illness until our later education, and even then only if we choose to study psychology and/or health and social care. Why is it that in high school students are taught about physical health and hygeine, social relationships and the ethics of racism and other prejudices, but why aren't they taught of mental health?
I do hope that you and your cousin are getting the help and support you really need, my job really demonstrates how much a person with mental health issues can blossom with the correct support.



Commented 63 months ago - 17th February 2011 - 14:51pm

I understand that schools are under a lot of pressure to teach everything nowadays and sometimes things can be missed. But even a simple mention of mental illness, say, in biology class or even general studies would get children asking questions. The media seem to be catching on thanks to woderful stars such as Stephen Fry who are not ashamed to bring their own issues to light, but there should be more educational support against prejudice and misconceptions.

Culpepper, it is so sad that people can act in such ways, especially when they are in a position of authority. You demonstrated great willpower and strength to stand up to them, I am with hair_chops, you are a credit to the people of Wales.

Easily_distracted, it's a truly honorable profession to be a part of and I hope you get there one day. I don't know what I would have done without the help of healthcare professionals when I was younger.

Thank you hair_chops. I was declared in remission when I was 18 years old and have been coping without medication or therapy since.

I am very much a believer in honesty and openness when it comes to mental problems. Luckily mine seems to be a more 'socially accepted' issue over say schizophrenia, MPD, OCD etc... but they are all the same in that they are diseases nobody asked for. I am so glad that there are people like you and the other commenters here who are ready to have intelligent discourse about these issues.

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