Stigma: Want to fight it? Then Write it! (World Mental Health Day)

This is the first year I can recall that I’ve  been in a position to give personal time to World Mental Health Day. ‘Well, that’s an appalling confession for someone who has worked in mental health services in the NHS for twenty years,’ I hear you shouting.

Really? Working in the NHS frontline mental health services can mean non-stop exhausting days where a lunch break is seen as a bonus. Don’t get me wrong. Teams of people from services and service user groups will  be out there in the public eye raising awareness and doing a fabulous job on World Mental Health Day.

Here comes the “but” …

But, having helped dozens of people and their families over the years, and done battle to advocate for the rights of patients under my care as a Registered Mental Health Nurse, I can honestly say that I have reached more people and managed to galvanise debate and conversation about mental illness, treatment and care by writing a book (a fictional story at that), than I ever did in my day job.

We love to read about mental illness. It’s fascinating. A Justifiable Madness is a snap-shot. A cleaned up, polished version of life on an acute psychiatric ward. A story. Total accuracy would have been chaotic and sensationalist. However, it makes you think about the main issues long after you’ve finished reading it. Good.

We expect to read books with flawed characters, depressed detectives, ( I’m thinking Shoestring, Wallander) and we can’t have psychological thrillers without psychopaths, now can we? This is great, when we write about mental health problems we are talking about it. Fact or fiction, it doesn’t matter. Remember though, mental illness is not the same as being eccentric, potty, a bit bonkers or daft as a brush. After all, when not desperate to fit in, we all aspire to be different. That’s life.

We can’t all be mad though, can we? Can we?

Notice how much more relaxed we are when talking about mental health as opposed to mental illness. When you have a mental illness then it’s just that; an illness, a problem, a difficulty. If it causes harm and distress then it’s a problem. People need understanding to identify the problem and to get the right help.

If you really want to know what it’s like to have a severe mental illness there are several first hand accounts. My friend Clive Travis has written Looking For Prince Charles’s Dog, his own very detailed personal story. Not an easy read , granted, but it is honest. He doesn’t shy away from talking about mental illness, treatment and care (yes, he’s still angry  …) or his recovery. He speaks to groups all over the UK and abroad, working tirelessly to inform and educate others. The proceeds of his book, published by Wymer, go to charity. Have a look, it’s on Amazon.

I wrote A Justifiable Madness …not for him, but because of him.

Mental Health. If you have it, then keep it. Look after it like you do your physical health. Go walking, eat well, sleep well, socialise, keep active and laugh.

If your mental health is not as good as it should be, ask for help just like you would if you had a physical health problem.

Must go. Writing to do. Messages to get across without preaching.




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