I was inspired to write this blog when I saw this link and pledged to talk more about mental health. Mental health awareness is very important and not promoted enough. Of course I am a mental health nurse so I would say this, but if you read my blog regularly I need to ramble on such things, this is me trying to get my thoughts on mental health issues straight in my own head and hopefully encourage you to promote mental health awareness.
Of course in my chosen profession I think mental health awareness is extremely important. I see first-hand how stigmatising mental health problems can be, and sometimes from surprising places. I find than even other medical professionals who do not work in mental health have preconceived ideas about people with mental health problems, assuming they will be disruptive or need an escort for a procedure or test. This is not always the case, to me it should be our judgement as staff who know the *patient/client/service user (*choose your preferred term, I will use patient from now on) to decide if they need such support or of there is any risk. They do not ask every person who comes from home to have a nurse escort for an x-ray or some other test, do they? And to be honest a lot of the general public are much more scary than a person with mental health problems.
People ask me what it is like to work on a mental health ward, and in all honesty it can be very busy and stressful, but the reason why I and many other people choose it as a profession is that we get to meet some really nice people. Yes, they are unwell but to see improvement in them is our reward. And regardless of mental health problems, the patients still have a personality, they are people with feelings and opinions, yes they can be a bit muddled up in the case of psychosis but such people are still likeable/admirable/intelligent/nice people even in an acute episode. In the same vein, yes there are people I don’t particularly get on with too, but I am not expected to like everyone, so long as I fulfil my duty of care and treat them all with the respect I expect, it is fine.
The thing that annoys me most about other people’s perceptions of people with mental health problems is, well there are several...
- - They are not deaf or stupid, there is no need to talk really slowly or patronise them. They may have difficulty concentrating if really unwell (as they often are when admitted to acute wards), but this means you should keep it clear and simple in such cases and not always expect a coherent answer (I mean this when patients are really unwell not when recovered). Be patient and considerate, give them some time if it is obvious they are struggling. But most of all if they are an adult, speak to them as if they are one, they or their carer will tell you if further explanation is needed. Have some respect. You don’t know their level of functioning, don’t just assume it is very poor.
- - People get better and have full lives to varying degrees. Some mental health problems mean people need to relearn skills such as caring for themselves or social interaction. Some people need support for a long time or even their whole lives, but others recover more quickly and should not be “labelled” or assumed to be “crazy” or unable to function as well as you or I. I have seen people from many professions and for the want of a better word “classes” have issues with mental health problems. It can affect anyone at any time in their lives. Yes some social groups may be more likely to suffer such illnesses due to poverty, stressors, environment, social upbringing, nutrition, alcohol or illicit substance misuse. But none of us are immune. Many people have a serious mental health problem and either recover or learn to manage the symptoms and live happy and full lives. If you hear someone has had mental health problems, don’t make assumptions.
- - Getting back to work can be a big step. If people have not worked for months or years due to a serious mental health problem, it can be daunting. Such issues are made worse by the fact that employers can harbour such negative perceptions of mental health problems. When in reality, if they were unable to function at a level to do a job most patients would not even be applying. Judgements should not be made from a mental health problem being listed on an application form, meet the person and decide for yourself, ask questions. Everyone is different. Some people will only ever have one episode of mental health problems, others may have repeated episodes, but ask about coping strategies and relapse signatures (if they are comfortable talking to you about it and it is appropriate, again don’t assume they want to talk).
- I know I work at one extreme of the spectrum of mental health problems, but I do know from my work with outpatients and personal experiences that there is a stigma which can be very damaging for more than the above reasons. Even people who are managed by their GP face such problems. Mental health is not discussed enough fairly in the media. Even this week I saw a “celebrity” on the news talking about her mental health problems and sensationalising them. This does not help. Over exaggerated or dramatic stories or statements do not give the perception of most people’s experience. Celebrities need to think about the influence they have on the general public, use research and facts. Yes, by all means tell their story (as dramatically as they like, if they must), but remember it is not how everyone will experience such problems, they should promote using GPs, psychiatrists and the treatments available, seeking help is often the hardest step. They should not fall into the trap of reinforcing the negative perceptions of mental health.
In all I am saying, don’t make assumptions about people with mental health problems, talk to people about mental health issues, encourage others to do the same. We need to foster a society where it is possible to be open about such issues and have open discussion.
Thanks for reading, comments, tweets or emails of your thoughts would be lovely if you don’t mind and have the time.