If I break my arm, you offer to write your name on the plaster.
If I tell you have cancer you are concerned for me but put your arm around me.
If I tell you I have had a psychotic episode you become fearful and avoid me.
Why does mental health attract such stigma? This was the focus of two events at Norwich Cathedral this weekend. We heard of the stigmatising attitude that can occur from those in other fields of medicine, of the wariness of employers, the misunderstanding of friends, alienation in the community and the self-stigma that we can turn upon ourselves.
When the world is dark and days are difficult, stigma makes the journey harder and can make the struggle seem impossible. When I have a physical illness you still see me not just the illness. When I am experiencing mental distress, to others my “I” becomes lost behind the illness. I am still here but seemingly this diagnosis makes the real “me” invisible.
Why are we so afeared of mental health issues? Is it because of our lack of understanding, the limit of our knowledge? Is it because we struggle when we experience something which is outside of our limited understanding of what is “normal”? Is it because it leaves us feeling powerless and we find that uncomfortable? Is it because in some way it challenges the sense of our own well-being?
This stigma has to stop; it is an unnecessary additional burden to place upon others but there is also deep frustration as it seems this is a conversation I have been having for 30 plus years and the stigma does not stop.
But this weekend I heard Consultant Psychiatrists determined to make a difference and change the culture, I heard a well-known woman speak honestly and openly about her depression and a retired bishop speak honest of the mistakes the Church has made but also how it can be different. And above all I saw the Chairs of two Foundation Trusts really listening and wanting to see lasting change. Just words perhaps but at least spoken with passion.
The road ahead is long and complicated and nothing may change overnight, but this weekend alongside the frustration I felt hope. At least in one cathedral they are talking about it and they know this issue is not going away.