#ExploreMH is a series of articles and YouTube videos aimed at breaking down the stigma that surrounds Mental Health. You can watch the accompanying video by clicking here.
At school everyone liked the same bands or the same football team. If you liked something different or didn't fit the trend, you weren't cool. As you get older, people learnt to be braver and groups form who like alternative bands or don't even care for football. That feeling of 'having to conform' and the fear of not confirming, even more the fear of things that are different, is what I call stigma.
In the 20th Century we've gone from big Victorian jails to care in the community. It was only 20-30 years ago that exorcisms were being carried out as mental health conditions were being misinterpreted as demons. Its only a few years ago that Thorpe Park, one of the biggest theme parks in the UK, has a terrifying maze at hallowe'en based on a mental health asylum. Can you imagine it? Being led through rooms, made to look this old Victorian building. They were called hospitals but looked more like prisons. Actors screaming, their faces contort with fake blood dripping as they leap out at you.
Of course, mental asylums weren't quite like that. The point is, when that horror maze and films or media in general create that terrifying perception of mental health, its not surprising people want to bury their symptoms rather than ask for help. Statistics showthat people with mental health issues are more likely to be the victim ofviolence, rather than be violent themselves. I've even said in the past that the only person I'm violent to, is myself.
People scared to ask for help because of the image mental health has and therefore how other people will treat you. Its very easy to say "I don't care what other people think of me" but stigma is more than that. Even though it is illegal to treat people differently because of their mental health, it happens far more than it should. In the workplace, people who suffer with stress or depression can sometimes be treated like damaged goods. 1 in 4 of us will have a mental health issue this year. If your male in the UK aged 35 or less, then you are more likely to kill yourself than die by cancer or a car accidents, or even murder. The best way to combat stigma is to talk about mental health remembering the vast majority of those with mental health issues, are functioning members of public and with the right support with therapy or medication, will continue to be. We must all be brave to stand up to stigma and anything that feeds its.
In 2013 both Asda and Tesco, major UK supermarkets, sold hallowe'en costumes which amplified the stigma of violence, fear and horror around mental health. Tesco offered a bright orange jump suit called 'Psycho Ward' whilst Asda went for the Hammer Horror 'mad professor' look. At the time Alastair Campbell, a British political aide to Tony Blair who has suffered from Depression said "Something like this comes along and it just reminds you we are basically still in the Dark Ages"
Earlier this year amazon were selling a t shirt with suicide watch printed on it with a stick figure watching another with a noose round it's neck. Whether you are directly affected by a mental health issue or just know or support someone with one, we all have to fight this stigma and bang the drum of change.
Need help? In the UK, call The Samaritans free on 116 123. Further information plus legal support lines are available from MIND, the mental health charity, at www.mind.org.uk
Please also support the TIME TO CHANGE campaign on stigma at http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/
Matt Streuli is a blogger, actor and YouTuber who is passionate about mental health and his local community. He has made a career in customer service, entertainment and customer care. He is the Chairman and dame of the Iver Heath Drama Club in South Bucks.
In his spare time, he hosts The Matt Streuli Show on Southwaves Radio (Thursday 8pm) and lives near Pinewood Studios on the edge of London. His website is www.MattStreuli.uk
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