My article for Self Harm UK- ‘I don’t want to hide anymore (about stigma)’

selfharmuk

I am delighted to announce a blog collaboration with the amazing charity Self Harm UK (a part of Youthscape).

I have written a blog for them on my experience of mental health stigma as an ill teenager and what made me speak out further. In the past, I have had self harming thoughts and I myself like reaching out to teens and young people who are suffering out there- so they know they are not alone. I am so pleased to collaborate with Self Harm UK on this and my article can be found here:

Click here to read my article:

https://www.selfharm.co.uk/articles/i-dont-want-to-hide-anymore

Who are Self Harm UK?

From their website selfharm.co.uk:

‘ SelfharmUK (formally selfharm.co.uk) started out of the work of Youthscape, a local charity based in Luton, Bedfordshire, UK. Since it’s beginnings in 1993, the charity has developed a strong and professional reputation for delivering caring, child-centred work, which focuses on the emotional and social needs of all young people. Youthscape works alongside all young people, regardless of race, background, or faith.

By 2004, Youthscapes’s work increasingly involved young people engaging in self-harm. It wasn’t long before a plan began to form to try and reach them them, starting with the provision of informal support groups in local schools. With the help of funding from BBC Children in Need and other grant-making Trusts, the project was able to appoint a specialist staff team in 2005 and develop a more coherent provision that included art projects and therapeutic group programmes. Training and advice for parents and professionals soon followed, in conjunction with the Local Authority and local schools.

In 2008, Youthscape responded to the growing number of enquiries for support and advice coming from outside Luton by beginning to plan for a national project that could support young people from all over the UK. Further planning and fund raising led to the establishment of SelfharmUK later that year and the appointment of a Project Manager

The development of a website was a key part of our initial vision… to have a safe online space available to inform and support young people who self-harm, as well as cater for the needs of their siblings, parents and friends. We also wanted to provide information and training for professionals like youth workers, teachers and social workers.

We wanted to create a safe, pro-recovery site for people to use to communicate with others and express their experiences through the use of blogs, stories, poetry and art. Our next goal was to develop an online group programme – Alumina – which has enabled young people from all over the UK to engage with our staff in real time in order to explore the deeper issues surrounding self-harm. For some it had been the catalyst needed to reduce or stop their harming behaviour, while for others it has proven empowering, enabling them to seek further support in their local area.

We already have a multimedia training programme available to professionals in the UK. Our ongoing vision is to see this rolled out more comprehensively; to serve every part of the UK in supporting and nurturing young people who may be experiencing difficulties with self-harm.

There remains much to be done but we remain committed to improving the lives of anyone impacted by self-harm. Providing effective support for parents and siblings will be a major goal in the near future.

For now, the project remains part of Youthscape as a separate element of this registered charity.’

 

Fighting mental health stigma: a personal journey

I have had bipolar disorder for almost 13 years, along side depression, anxiety, psychosis, hypomania and manic symptoms- which ebb and flow and fluctuate. Now that I am on the right medication these bipolar symptoms are kept under control. For most of these 13 years, I didn’t feel I could speak out about my conditions.

My family and close friends have always been very supportive but I felt ashamed. Ashamed of where my brain could go to when unleashed and its chemistry got confused. Ashamed of why I was either suicidally depressed or hyper and manic to a point of having to be sectioned to a psychiatric ward. Ashamed of my illness, confusing my identity with the illness, which made me worried about others judgement of me.

I was diagnosed at a very vulnerable age- 16 years old and as we know teenagers can be cruel. Although I experienced a lot of kindness and empathy, after a hypomanic episode abroad where I was disinhibited, I experienced a lot of cruel rumours from other teens I knew. Rumours that were stupid but that called me many names and compared me to evil things that I do not want to repeat. What was at the most basic of these insults? In my opinion, fear.

People fear what they cannot see and cannot understand.

People in their teen years do not want to be different- and I was the embodiment of difference.

If people can’t comprehend something and it is threatening- they judge or use name calling to feel better.

At 16, I represented a world of chaos at which many could not understand. Perhaps now they will.

I have spent a long time coming to terms with my illness and what it means, finding the right treatment and medication and the right support networks around me. I have incredibly supportive friends and family.

So what does the above treatment boil down to?

Stigma.

Stigma is according to an online dictionary- ‘ A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance , quality or person’

For so long, I felt this ‘mark of disgrace’ and until I was 25, although close friends and family knew about my illness, I didn’t write blogs the way I do now. This was because I wanted to hide this illness that lodged in my brain chemistry.

I don’t want to hide any more and neither should I.

In 2014, I was hospitalised and sectioned for a severe manic episode encompassing psychosis, delusions and hyperness/ disinhibition.

It was shortly after going through the most traumatic experience of my life that I realised. Life is short. I need to help others. If I can break down the stigma and help others through my writing and other work then I will.

Mental Illness must no longer be a ‘mark of disgrace’ but must be seen as a partly physical illness in the brain, deserving and worthy of good treatment and empathy from others.

This post is dedicated to those friends who asked me to write on this and all my friends for their love and support