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26 July 2012 @ 01:03 am
This week Channel 4 has been doing several programmes regarding mental health issues and stigma. It's been really interesting so far.
First there was Ruby Wax's Mad Confessions where she had 3 people with mental health problems 'come out' to their work colleagues. It was interesting, but i couldn't help that think that the conditions that the volunteers were 'coming out' with (depression, OCD, a small mental breakdown) were the most stigmatised conditions - in my opinion the most stigmatized conditions where peoples attitudes really need to change are schizophrenia, personality disorders, self-harm and bulimia. But maybe that's just me? I found it weird to see the volunteers struggling so much with their fear of judgement over their conditions - i guess it's because with my experience i was forced to be open about my problems from the very beginning because they came on so quickly and with such severity that there was no chance of me keeping them secret. Of course at times i have come across stigma, mostly along the lines of "what have you got to be depressed about?! Pull yourself together!" with regards depression, but most of the time my 'coming out' has been a fairly positive experience, usually because whoever i'm talking to is interested and often opens up about their own struggles (that actually happened today at work). Ironically the most stigma i've come across is within the NHS and particularly within mental health treatment - frightening really.

Then there was Jon Richardson: A Little Bit OCD. I was really looking forward to this one because Jon Richardson is one of my favourite comedians and i find him incredibly likeable. What i found interesting about the programme was that i learnt things i didn't even know about OCD, which is kinda ironic because i think i was diagnosed with OCD in the past! Mainly i never realised how severe it could get - to the point of hospitalization, with some people so incapacitated by OCD that they can no longer eat, drink or go to the toilet. The programme was really good at identifying the difference between full-blown OCD and a tendency towards it. And i found it fascinating at a personal level because everyone in my family has OCD traits.

And then tonight it was The World's Maddest Job Interview where 8 volunteers, half who have a history of severe mental health issues, are assessed by 3 potential employers (who don't know who has the MH history) to see if they're employable. At the same time a psychiatrist and psychologist observe the participants and try to guess who has the MH problems.
The employers picked their top 3 who happened to all have MH histories, and the psychs were only right in half of cases when guessing who had MH issues.
I found this really interesting, particularly the guesswork of the psychs. I sometimes wonder if if someone were to observe me, would they guess? If i tell someone that i have a MH history they're often not too surprised, but often people are shocked nowadays if they learn of its severity. If i tell someone medical about my MH history and its severity they're not phased at all, like they see it every day - which i guess medics often do because a MH history can't be hidden from a medic as easily as it is from the general public. I guess it's different a bit for me compared with the participants on the programme because my history is written onto me in the form of my scars - the entirity of my inner right forearm has hundreds of scars - and i don't know how much people notice them because no-one ever says anything.

One thing about the programmes this week that has bothered me is that in The World's Maddest Job Interview and Ruby Wax's Mad Confessions there's been a running theme of telling the audience that mental health problems don't inhibit a persons ability to do their job - trying to reduce the stigma of MH conditions in the workplace. However that assumption then goes against another bit o stigma i've come across, where people literally don't believe how inhibited being severely mentally ill can make you, and therefore how your mental health can make work impossible. Like, when i first got depression (and i know this is complicated by the onset of ME/CFS and sleep disorder being at almost exactly the same time) i stopped being able to function. My concentration was so poor, my energy was gone, i slept a huge amount, i had bad headaches, and my brain seemed to have turned to mush. I couldn't read anymore, all my creativity was zapped, in my lectures the words were coming in through my ears but i couldn't make sense of them, i could barely write a sentence, i struggled to walk far. At college my grades dropped suddenly from Bs and Fs, and i was missing more than half my days at work and when i was there i was making countless mistakes and bursting into tears repeatedly.
Even if i hadn't got ME/CFS, most of the symptoms of ME/CFS that i have are also symptoms of depression, so it's very possible that a person with simply depression could be as incapacitated as i was, and is therefore unable to work, therefore discounting the constant assurance of the stigma-reducing concept that people with MH problems can work as normal.
Another aspect to all this is that work can make your MH problems worse, depending upon the job. Though i haven't been employed i'd been studying (or trying to) during my time mentally ill, and it occurred to me after quite some time that my studying was actually contributing to my illness - by way of the stress and pressure i was putting myself under (which you need to do when studying or in many jobs in order to just get by) - and it was essential that i leave those pressures in order to regain my health (and, looking at me now, that theory was right).

I guess when it comes to reducing stigma, my opinion is that it's important that people understand more than anything that people are individuals. People are affected by experiences and mental health conditions in different ways, and therefore people should be judged individually, as opposed to on the basis of labels.
For example, if someone has depression, that condition can either make you very successful in the workplace, or it can incapacitate a person completely due to the wide range of possible symptoms and responses to treatment, so a persons abilities can only be judged without the consideration of the label.
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the smoke is briars: carnivalhighfantastical on July 26th, 2012 03:22 am (UTC)
I think this is a really insightful analysis of the issues surrounding this kind of programme! I am seriously thinking of watching one or more of them so I can consider it in the light of your comments. *hugs you*
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digidramadigidrama on July 26th, 2012 12:33 pm (UTC)
Amen, Josie!
I agree completely. I'm heading over to watch the shows you listed now- I'm excited I can watch them.

When I had my last job interview, she stressed that the job included a lot of hard work and labor- and my insides squirmed. If I weren't sick I'd most likely be able to handle it, but due to my vulnerability- and my pain searing if I even bend over most times, it's difficult. It sucks too because I NEED to work- or I need to be able to work! I'm so poor it hurts