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Halloween – My Annual Reminder

October 29, 2019 7 comments

The calendar moves inexorably towards another Halloween. Last year, as I have done on several occasions, I wrote about the commercialisation of this date and, in particular, one aspect of this: the stigmatisation of mental health in some of the costumes on offer. Things have undeniably improved since 2013, when two big retailers – Asda and Tesco – were forced to remove some costumes from sale after the understandable furore they generated. My 2018 piece is repeated below, and contains a link to what I said in 2013 about those companies.

Out of curiosity I revisited the two websites I named and shamed last year. On escapade.co.uk I found one costume directly labelled as ‘insane,’ which is listed as ‘new!’:

Likewise, partybritain.com only had one obvious costume:

As these were amongst 756 and 490 costumes on offer respectively, I guess you can call that an improvement. But even one such costume is one too many – when will these people realise that making money out of mocking others’ misfortune is just plain wrong? Sadly, similar costumes can also be found on the giant online sites like ebay.

I really wish there wasn’t a need for this reminder, but I’ll keep doing it until it doesn’t have to be said. Enjoy your Halloween celebrations, but not at the expense of others, please.

And this is last year’s post, which gives more detail:

HALLOWEEN – AGAIN

I’ve written several times over the years about how stigmatisation of mental illness can be very damaging, and in particular have focused on it at this time of year, as Halloween approaches.

When I was a kid Halloween wasn’t an event we marked in any way. Here in the UK we were busy making our guys for the forthcoming Guy Fawkes/Bonfire Night celebrations on 5th November, and hadn’t yet imported the commercialisation of Halloween from the US. So I’m sorry to say, American friends, that your celebration for this rather passes me by! That doesn’t mean that I don’t recognise its importance to you, but it does seem to me to be a little artificial for it to be ‘celebrated’ here. This is, perhaps, a little ironic as the origins of Halloween can be traced back to this side of the Atlantic, in a pagan festival mostly known (in Ireland and Scotland, anyway) as Samhain, though there are different names for similar festivals in other Celtic regions. The name ‘Halloween’ has been in existence since around the mid-18th century, and is a derivation of All Hallows’ Eve, i.e. the day before All Hallows’ Day, on which remembrance of the dead takes place. In the past, celebrations have included mummers and costumes, which I guess has been handed down to us through the generations in the way that people dress up: witches are an obvious outfit, but there are many others available, most of which leave me wondering what relevance they have!

But, as I said earlier, this was a tradition that hadn’t travelled to the part of England in which I spent my childhood. Not until modern day marketing and commercialism took over, that is. At some point over the past 25 years or so this has become a bigger event in this country, probably as a result of the way in which American popular culture has been transferred over here by TV programmes. Never one to miss an opportunity to make money, retailers have been falling over themselves to profit from Halloween. But in their doing so, the boundaries of taste have often been forgotten. I wrote five years ago about Asda – and to a lesser extent, Tesco – selling costumes that mocked mental illness. The message that these were giving children, that it was somehow acceptable to make fun of people with mental health problems, was appalling, and the retailers had to give in to the outcry and withdraw the products from sale. But even after that outcry you can still find such costumes for sale this year among the specialist online fancy dress retailers. Here are a couple of examples I found without too much effort. Firstly, from partybritain.com:

And secondly, from escapade.co.uk:

No doubt there are others deserving to be named and shamed but I was too disheartened to look any further. How can anyone believe this to be acceptable? This is a shameful way to make money, but I guess that as these companies are much smaller than the likes of Asda and Tesco they have managed to slip under the radar. That doesn’t make them any less guilty in my eyes, though.

Another depiction of mental health issues which I find objectionable is to be found in horror movies. To be honest, I have a very low gore threshold and don’t watch a great many horror movies, and don’t really understand the fascination they hold for so many. Each to their own, of course, but where I really draw the line is where someone who is mentally ill is the main character in a movie and their illness is used in a stigmatising way. You’ll know which movies I mean, I’m sure: how anyone can see these as entertainment is beyond me, though I do like Jamie Lee Curtis!

I have no problem with anyone wanting to celebrate Halloween, though I imagine most, either in the US or elsewhere, would be hard pressed to explain exactly what it is they are celebrating. But as these little posters from the admirable Time To Change organisation remind us, these celebrations should have absolutely nothing to do with mocking mental illness. These were actually created a couple of years ago but their message is still very valid and, sadly, remains relevant. There is nothing remotely funny about costumes and behaviour that mock those with mental health issues as ‘nutters,’ ‘mad’ or just ‘mental,’ when the word is used pejoratively.

 

Remember, Halloween is supposed to be the modern day version of an old pagan custom, which had nothing to do with mental illness. It is also significant in a religious sense – the day before All Hallows’ Day, which has been a Catholic day of note for centuries – and that also isn’t about mental ill health! The Time To Change website has eight helpful tips on how to enjoy Halloween without perpetuating the stigmatisation of mental health. They even include a little bit of historical knowledge in there so that you can impress your friends by knowing the meaning of the Halloween tradition. If you’re interested these tips can be found here and are well worth a look.

So please, by all means enjoy any celebrations you may be having, but don’t mock those who are unable to defend themselves against unfair stigmatisation.

Happy Halloween!

 

Stigma – A Reminder

September 28, 2019 6 comments

This one came up in my Timehop this morning, and as it was from three years ago – when most of you weren’t following my blog – I thought it worth sharing again. There are several reasons for doing so. Firstly, and most importantly, mental health issues are why I started to blog in the first place, although more recent followers could be forgiven for not noticing that – I do tend to wander off piste a lot! Secondly, this post was about the stigma that many attach to mental health problems: that was true then and, despite a growing awareness of the issues, I think that stigmatisation is still there and will take a long time before – or even if – it is eradicated. Thirdly, the timing of the post. As I said back then, I was running a series of posts on mental health in the lead up to World Mental Health Day. This happens on 10 October and I’m intending to post for it nearer the time: this is kind of a trailer for that. And fourthly, there is a link in the original piece to the previous day’s post, Mental Health Matters, which has become my most ‘liked’ post ever, and is a very important one for me.

Two personal updates to round off this commentary. Firstly, I’m happy to say that my friend and I have reconnected – although the others who deserted me in her wake haven’t. That’s life, I guess! If she sees this, I hope she can forgive me for using our story – as I said in the original, I was doing that to illustrate the point about stigmatisation of mental illness, not out of any wish for some kind of petty revenge. I didn’t want that at the time, and certainly don’t now! Secondly, the family member for whom the occasion I attended was arranged is, sadly, no longer with us. I’m reposting, in part, as a mark of respect.

Take It Easy

Continuing my theme for this week of posts on mental health, I’m turning my attention to the stigma that society attaches to mental illnesses and those who suffer from them. To illustrate this point, I suffered this in a relatively modest way last year and am sharing this story with you.

I lost a friend. Nothing major in the great scheme of life, it happens all the time. But not as a result of someone’s ignorance. Briefly, I had been due to attend this friend’s annual house party weekend, but a family event was arranged for the same weekend and, given the distances involved, it wasn’t possible to do both. I decided, as I think most of us would do, to put family first and gave my apologies. Things were strained for a month or two until the weekend of the event itself, when I was treated to the worst…

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#TimeToTalk Day 2019

February 6, 2019 29 comments

Tomorrow, 7 February, is #TimeToTalk Day. The day is run by the Time To Change organisation, and is all about opening a conversation: this may be with someone who may need support; it could be to help raise general awareness of mental health issues; or it may be to help people be more sensitive and caring towards each other. I hope you join in – no special skills or resources are required, just be yourself and talk to someone. You may be pleasantly surprised at what happens.

Time To Change is led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. If you’d like to find out more their website is here, and there are loads of resources available for you. I was particularly taken with this one:

So much, in fact, that I have made it my header for my personal Facebook page, so that my friends can see my support for this day. Many of them know my story, but probably not in any detail. Last year I wrote a piece for Time To Change, but they didn’t use it – probably because I didn’t submit it in the way they prefer! But it gives a potted version of my story, and why I believe this to be so important, and is worth sharing again, I think. This is what I wrote:

I was diagnosed with depression in late 2011. After months of treatment, both with medication and counselling, I finally returned to work more than nine months later. Perhaps ironically, I worked for a large NHS Trust which provided mental health services – though I didn’t live in the Trust’s catchment area – and whilst I had had a fair amount of involvement with service users in my twenty years there, most of the people I worked with hadn’t.

When I first returned, initial reactions were mostly of the ‘I haven’t seen you for a while’ variety. It was clear to me that only a few people knew why I had been off work, and I decided early on that the best way to tackle this was to be open and honest with anyone who asked about it. Not that I shouted it from the rooftops, but I wanted people to know and understand why I had been away, what it meant for me, and what it might mean for them. Some seemed apprehensive – I think they feared I might ‘have a turn’ or do something strange! The difficulty with any mental health problem is that other people can’t see it, in the same way they can see a broken leg, for example. This adds some kind of aura, a mystique, and can instil in some a fear of the unknown and unseen. I didn’t want to start some kind of crusade, but I believed it important to share my experience with anyone who asked. After all, to all intents I was the same person they had known for years, so why should they now treat me differently? Some might have had an expectation that I had changed in some way, and I wanted to reassure them that whilst the illness was a part of me I was still that same ‘me.’ People who have suffered a mental illness deserve to be respected as themselves: the illness isn’t a badge they must wear or, worse, a stigma to be borne as some sign of weakness.

I retired a little over a year later, and having already started my own blog I was aware how important it is for fellow sufferers to know that they are not alone, that others have shared something similar. But that isn’t the same for those who have been lucky enough not to suffer. I probably had around fifty conversations with co-workers in that last year at work, and made a point of telling them a few key things:

1. There is no shame in having been diagnosed with any kind of mental illness.
2. It can happen to anyone, at any time.
3. It is far more prevalent than people imagine, and it was quite likely that other people we worked with had similar problems.
4. Whilst some may not, many will welcome an initial approach of the ‘is everything ok?’ type. It does help to talk, and an informal chat can often be all that is needed to help someone.
5. Don’t be judgemental – people need to be heard, not given well-meaning ‘diagnoses’ by friends who aren’t qualified to judge.
6. Having been diagnosed doesn’t change who you are, and shouldn’t change how others see you.

I’d like to think that, in my own little way, I did something to help understanding and awareness. The important part of this was that it was on a one to one basis: I’m a great believer in the need for efforts to be made to widen the general population’s knowledge on mental health, and this low key approach is a good way to do that. Just imagine how many could be enlightened if we all had just one chat!

So, will you talk to someone tomorrow? Please? Pass it on!

 

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