Challenging the stigma: People with Mental Health Conditions Want to be Heard and Understood

By Dawn M. Sanders

As austerity bites, misdiagnosis, modern life and prevailing stigmas contribute to damaging our mental health.

Speaking to several people at Sheffield Mental Health Action Group (MHAG), it was shocking how everyone said the same thing – all wanting to be heard – coming from individual, yet similar journeys.

Tony Jenkins said: “People with mental health illnesses are the same as people with other illnesses, but have specific difficulties they have to deal with.”



Current statistics from Mind (mental health charity) suggest:

Investment across the three priority areas (crisis resolution, early intervention and assertive outreach) fell, for the first time, by £29.3 million. Funding for psychological therapies increased by 6 per cent in real terms compared to 2010/11.

6% increase in spending against the amount of what cuts have been made is minuscule and barely pays lip service to any government action taken.

Marilyn Anderson, who has bi-polar, said: “At the moment it’s about money. A lot of people are losing their CPN’s (community psychiatric nurses).

Tony Jenkins agrees: “With all the cuts in services these days, people are becoming ill through lack of treatment or external issues.”

Steve Williams, a Specialist Nurse Practitioner working in a multi-faceted role, said: “At the moment we are seeing people who might have displayed some kind of mental/emotional distress, but a lot of people are desperate, anxious and even suicidal, due to the benefit cuts.”

Steve tells the story of a young man with mild learning difficulties, who had difficulties with paper work, so missed appointments at the job centre.

He was sanctioned then had his benefits stopped. Due to his benefits stopping, his neighbours were giving him food and he told them he felt suicidal.

The man contacted his MP for help, who only heard the word ‘suicidal’. His GP was contacted also focusing on ‘suicidal’ so referred him to mental health services, yet he didn’t have a mental health condition, just felt desperate and was a victim of government policy.

Can the government justify putting people into these situations?

I have heard countless stories such as this. The government and local services have volumes to answer to in making people ill, pushing people into poverty and hunger.


After having been hospitalised and misdiagnosed, Tim in 1992, collaborated with others in mental health services, launching the day centre – now a lifeline for many of its users.

He described his bi-polar in severe terms, such as elation or depression: “So bad I couldn’t get up in the morning, let alone face the world.”

As a teen he avoided sunlight and kept to walking his dog after nightfall, not wanting people to see his face.

Misdiagnosis is in itself, a debilitating factor in the life of someone with a mental health condition.

Scott Mills, born with a brain tumour, was found to be physically fine as a child, but it was twenty years before he was diagnosed with general anxiety and panic attacks.

“Originally, it stop me from doing virtually everything. I wouldn’t go out of the house or to appointments on my own. I couldn’t talk to anybody or buy a bar of chocolate. Nowadays, through medication, counselling and treatment, I’ve learned just to face your fears really and maybe challenge yourself.”

Mental health is a complex and misunderstood area, which often takes years to get it right.

Marilyn described since becoming ill, She has been in and out of every mental health facility in Sheffield and it has taken years to be put on the right medication.

Ill mental health often prevents/alters achieveing our goals.

Josie Nevill, a day centre officer who spoke passionately about her work and experiences, said the jobs she took were in response to how she could cope at different times in her life.

after doing well as an English teacher, she faced a career change, due to pressures of the job jeopardising her mental wellbeing.


Modern life

“We really underestimate the effects of modern life and how they accumulate.” Debbie Waters said.

Debbie suffered severe post-natal depression/anxiety after the birth of her second child.

She described the loneliness – being new to Sheffield and how it affected the way she coped as a new mum.

“I had huge anxiety/panic attacks just about really simple tasks like: trying to find a shop to buy shoe laces. I remember crying one day for about an hour, because I didn’t know how to get to new places.”.

Statistics suggest roughly 30% of those with a long term physical condition also have mental health difficulties.

No doubt the latter could easily be attributed to societal attitudes to visible challenges, such as being a wheelchair user or having a visual impairment.

Societal attitudes are themselves crippling and constantly demeaning.

Visually impaired people are routinely assumed ‘not to be able’ to do everyday things such as sign documents, press buttons on a lift, board a bus and endless other examples.

I once had a conversation with someone who was temporarily in a wheelchair, who said, people’s attitudes/reactions put her off going out.

People with additional needs are often socially/sexually isolated – which can be emotionally damaging.

As the noose of modernity tightens, the atmosphere we live in is increasingly tense and edgy, as weakened resilience manifests in reactionism.

Current statistics are alarming concerning children/young people.

There is no comparable national investment survey for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

67% of councils had reduced CAMHS funding between 2010 and 2013. Regional cuts in spending were as high as 12 or 13% depending on locality.

Child Line UK reported a 116% increase in suicidal children between 2010 and 2014, with a 70% increase in teenagers with depression/anxiety in the last 25 years – the culprit of these figures, being the scurges of modern life or peer pressures.

Another bi-product of modern woes, is substance abuse, but let’s not forget it’s often a means of coping, escape, hopelessness, loneliness and lack of control.

Broadly speaking, if someone is a minority or just ‘different’ stigmas can often take their toll, leading to excessive drinking or drug use – the domino affect resulting in ill mental health. Sexual/domestic abuse, traumatised childhood or other life nocks are more likely to affect our mental health.


Since mental health conditions are unseen, what chance does someone have if they let on to an employer, they have particular needs due to their mental wellbeing?

Marilyn said: “Who is going to employ me now, when they look at my CV and realise I’ve been in and out of psychiatric since the age of 28 and that frustrates me.”

With previous negative experiences and lack of understanding, it took a crisis before Josie fully revealed her mental health history – challenging her to manage and open up about her condition.

Several interviewees described a lack of coming forward within their families, because of societal stigma.

However, discovering commonalities brought them closer – creating empathy and support.

In a Radio Times interview, rapper Professor Green broke stereo types in talking of his father’s suicide.

He raised the gender/cultural aspect: “We’re British, aren’t we? The idea of the stiff upper lip is still quite prevalent in our society, for men more than women.” Citing the fact the leading cause of death in men under forty-five in the UK, is suicide.

Mental illness is hugely complex and takes many faces.

Despite the devastating affects described here, like anything, there’s a lighter side to it all.

Professor Green said: “We don’t talk about it often but if it’s 3am and you’re drunk, it comes out.”

It took Debbie Waters crashing her car into her surgery to get her diagnosis.

Tony, contributor to MHAG said: “People with mental health illnesses are   the same as people with other illnesses, but have specific difficulties they have to deal with.”

Too right. And it’s important to remember, if one fails to fly over the cuckoo’s nest of life alive, the rest of us are empowered to do so in their honour…

© 2016

Leave a Reply