What Does Stigma Feel Like?

Can you remember in primary school and you did a project on ‘people who help us’? I can. I remember cutting and sticking smiling pictures of smiling police people, happy fire crew and kind-faced nurses. I remember colouring a surgeon in green and a doctor in blue. I remember displays on the classroom wall. We were taught which people would help us with what. We were taught that there would always be someone to help us if something bad happened.

At 22, I’ve discovered that isn’t necessarily the case.

Imagine feeling scared. Imagine feeling alone. Imagine feeling completely worn out by a medical condition which is doing it’s very best to kill you. Imagine feeling guilty for visiting the doctors, but doing your best to go to all of your appointments nevertheless. Imagine being passed from one professional to another – none of them wanting to take responsibility for your care.

Imagine arriving seeing a new professional, and being treated like a person, like a real human being (much to your surprise), only for them to find out that you have a particular health condition, and abandon you.

Imagine leaving appointments, feeling even more exhausted than when you went in, and completely and utterly let down. Imagine sitting in the car on the way home and not knowing whether to feel sad, scared, disbelief, angry, or just resigned to the fact that nobody will help you.

Nobody will help you because they blame your physical health on your mental health, your mental health on your physical health, and blame you for getting ill in the first place.

Nobody will help you because grief services won’t deal with mental illness, mental health services won’t work with grief, and physical health services won’t touch either of them, so you end up back at your GP – a tired and stretched GP doing their best to try and hold everything together.

Stigma feels horrible. It’s an immense feeling of shame. You want the ground to swallow you up.

We didn’t choose to become unwell. Myself, and my friends didn’t just sit there one day and think ‘hmmm, I’d quite like to have this condition, that sounds like fun’. We don’t want to be ill. We feel guilty for the amount of NHS time we take up.

We don’t need anyone to make us feel any worse.

There are some fantastic health professionals working for our NHS, but where do you turn when nobody will help you? Where do you go when the people who are paid to help you, don’t?

Stigma is defined as ‘a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person’. Discrimination is defined as ‘treating a person or particular group of people differently, especially in a worse way’.

I’m writing to let you know that the stigma and discrimination associated with mental health conditions, is alive and well.

People with mental health conditions aren’t bad people. They aren’t second-class citizens. They’re not trying to drain NHS resources. They would much rather be meeting a friend for coffee than attending another appointment. They need kindness, compassion, and some understanding. They need treating like people, just like anyone else.

Featured on Huffington Post.

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