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End the stigma 

A large rabbit comforting a small rabbit with the words “life is tough, my dear but so are you” beneath it


There’s not a mental health charity or campaign that doesn’t talk about stigma around mental health issues but these campaigns as important as they are don’t address stigma within the mental health community or internalised stigma.

Mental health services are generally seen as the Cinderella service of the NHS and personality disorders services especially so, people with borderline personality disorder are often seen as attention seekers, over dramatic and untreatable (the name personality disorder doesn’t help), people often find if they say they have depression or post traumatic stress disorder or bipolar they receive better treatment especially in a&e.

Trauma is a complex issue and most people agree that there is a lot of overlap in mental health issues that come as a result of trauma, complex post traumatic stress disorder is generally less stigmatised especially within the medical world, some people challenge or avoid being diagnosed with BPD because of the stigma surrounding it and barriers it presents whether it’s an appropriate diagnosis or not. There is a general attitude that everything someone with BPD does is for attention that suicide isn’t serious and they don’t really want to end their life, some people even believe that personality disorder diagnosis especially BPD should be scrapped and replace with CPTSD.

I don’t claim to be the authority on all things mental health this blog slightly more coherent than the general stream of consciousness and thoughts rattling around my head and I really try to only focus on issues I have experience of as it’s not my place to talk about a diagnosis I don’t have but so many of the problems with people’s attitude to BPD in particular are around the behaviours that come with the condition or the unpredictable moods and changes some of which do cross over with other issues but I generally seen as BPD problems. If we removed the diagnosis people would still self harm, they’d still have problems with mood changes and relationships; if we transfer those issues to another label would we not just be transferring the stigma?

Of course I can understand why people wouldn’t want a stigmatising disgnosis but when people seem horrified at the suggestion that their diagnosis being BPD not bipolar or other people suggesting someone clearly has BPD based on their actions or behaviour it really doesn’t help those of us that are diagnosed with it and doesn’t help to change the attitudes to mental health problems when even within our own community there’s so much division and stigma.

Being diagnosed with BPD was about as surprising to me as someone telling me I had blue eyes it was very much a bears shit in woods and the pope is catholic situation. In the 8 or so years since I was told I had BPD I’ve had many different feelings about it from relief and validation to anger and hatred to shame but although I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m proud of it I am open about my diagnosis and don’t hide it. I do believe that there should be more clarity around the various overlapping mental health problems and issues that stem from abuse and trauma but if there are going to be changes then we need to find ways of removing the problems faced by people with BPD and other conditions with heavy stigma rather than carrying them over to another condition.

Image credit Louise Firchau – paper panda 

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Service user involvement and mental health awareness (RB Mind AGM 2016)

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A picture of me wearing a sparkly maroon jumper and gold star necklace with a floral lanyard around my neck, I am holding a piece of paper and talking into a microphone.

I’ve been volunteering with Richmond Borough Mind for just over four years, this was a speech I gave at the 2016 Annual general meeting (AGM).

One of the things that appealed to me when deciding to become a volunteer with RB Mind was being able to use my lived experience to benefit myself and others and the importance Mind place on the voice of service users. I’d been a group member in the Peer Network for a while but had never considered or planned to get involved in mental health in any capacity other than being a service user or patient, before joining Mind I’d never seen any benefit to having a mental health problem after all my experience had just brought me trauma, disappointment and more prescriptions for psychiatric medication than I can count.

Over the past four years I’ve progressed as a volunteer across different projects and areas of the charity and have used my lived experience as a Peer Volunteer, Youth Wellbeing trainer and by becoming more active with service user involvement being able to speak on behalf of people with mental health problems in Richmond. I’ve been a part of the local crisis concordat group for a year now looking at the way crisis services are delivered and how they can be improved I’ve also attended the changing minds festival at the Southbank centre, been part or research into unmet needs in the borough and sat on a panel talking about mental health and art at the Music and art for Mind fund-raiser.

Service user involvement is often under-represented and many people don’t realise that their views and opinions are not just important but needed and aren’t aware that these opportunities to talk about their lives exist. People with experience of mental health problems and those who have used services whether NHS, charity or support groups are known as experts by experience for good reason because no one knows us or our needs better than we do something which goes for everyone not just people with a mental health problem or a certain diagnosis.

Another project I’ve been working with is the mental health awareness workshops with the volunteer coordinator, this is a training programme offered to organisations wishing to boost levels of mental health awareness in their workplace. So far I’ve told my personal story to two groups of people with English as an additional language many of whom also struggle with their own mental health difficulties and were able to discuss this after I talked about my problems.

I was recently described as “very articulate” and told I could “probably talk my way out of any situation” aside from possibly being the best description of me ever it’s what motivates me to continue to do the things I do. In January I’ll be co-delivering part of the mental health awareness training and talking about myths and misconceptions surrounding mental health and I plan to use my skills to raise awareness and do what I can to improve and influence mental health services not just for my benefit but for the benefit of all the people who aren’t able to be as involved as I am. On the days where my mental health is getting me down or I feel angry and frustrated because of my issues I try to think of all the things I’ve done over the past few years the experiences I’ve had and people I’ve met none of which would have happened if I didn’t have a mental health problem.