Stigma, judgement and discrimination are major reasons why people don’t speak out about their mental health.
Being open and honest about your diagnosis, especially in the workplace, is extremely hard. Statistics have shown that a high percentage of people will record a physical illness on their sick certificate rather than a mental illness.
This needs to change.
There appears to be a huge fear factor with regards to psychosis and a serious lack of education in knowing how to help someone. Having the ability to spot signs and symptoms, for instance through Mental Health First Aid training, in order to then signpost people for help and support, builds confidence about knowing the right thing to say and how to approach the situation. It can also save someone’s life. I know this first hand. This is my story.
I was diagnosed with Bipolar in 2003 and it became necessary for me to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act which, in fact, saved my life. At that time, I had a particularly traumatic psychotic episode where I was deluded and thought I had superpowers, could change the world, and do virtually anything.
Thankfully my manager at work spotted the signs and symptoms and called my parents who took me straight to the GP then onto the local hospital. I was in a state of euphoria and had no idea what was going on – I thought I was on the set of Grease! I was so wrong and ended up being sectioned for a month, queuing up daily for medication and my mood changed dramatically. This resulted in a clinical depression for 10 months.
I was in denial for many years and was sectioned for a further four years. Using drinking as a coping mechanism, I was on a downward spiral. I experienced stigma, judgment, discrimination, and lost friends, jobs and family.
I was grateful that my closest family were supportive. They became aware of the signs when I was going into mania – for example not listening, talking faster, agitation, increased confidence, restlessness and lack of concentration.
I didn’t have a great deal of insight during the early stages and just carried on like a hamster on a wheel, in and out of hospital as if it was my second home.
I seemed to come to my senses during one episode when sectioned in solitary confinement. This was my worst episode and I tried to take my life. I spent three days in Section 136, which is a room with four walls, a toilet and a shower. I felt like an animal locked in a cage. It was horrendous. However, it made me realise that I didn’t want to keep being restrained, detained or sectioned anymore.
My workplace at the time was extremely supportive and put in place what is called a ‘Wellness Recovery Action Plan’. This is a support plan agreed by you and your manager, which helps them identify my triggers, spots signs and early intervention. They were fantastic and it was amazing when you feel supported in challenging times.
I went back to studying and am now a Psychotherapist, National Trainer and running my own mental health and wellbeing charity to help and support others.
There is fear of psychosis and extreme lack of education. I now complete talks to help people understand what it is like. I do think that with a different country/culture, I would be seen as a healer with a special gift. However, in our Western culture we are somewhat closed minded.
What can go wrong
Not being open and honest about a diagnosis means that potentially, if you do have an episode, the employer is not aware of the signs and therefore ill equipped to be able to support.
During the early signs of psychosis, someone who is trained in Mental Health First Aid is able to support and understand. This in turn may prevent an acute episode developing further. I admit in the early stages I was not honest about my diagnosis due to judgement and this had a detrimental effect. I desperately wanted a job as I needed the money and was not open and honest about the diagnosis. Due to the high levels of stress in the job I ended up having a major psychotic episode at work. The staff were totally shocked and had no idea how to help. They had never witnessed anything like this before. It was chaos and the police ended up being called and detained me.
For anybody reading this. We need to start being open and honest about our mental health challenges, how are we ever going to change this world if it remains a taboo subject. I feel 100% myself and have found my voice at last. It is empowering and uplifting when someone accepts you for who you are without hiding behind a mask.