Category Archives: Battling Stigma

My BPD Story

I originally wrote this post for the Break The Stigma campaign that is run by Ben who works for my local Mental Health Trust, East London Foundation Trust. You can find the campaign on Facebook or Twitter. For the original post click here.

“Hello, my name is Jo and I have Borderline Personality Disorder.” These are the words that I wish it was easy to say out loud. But it’s not. The reason I don’t feel able to share my diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) easily is the huge amount of stigma that the condition carries. This is something I desperately want to change.

When I was diagnosed with BPD, about six years ago, I struggled to deal with my diagnosis. I found out I had this diagnosis by reading it on my copy of the letters sent to my GP. At the time I didn’t know what BPD was and so I worked up the courage to ask my psychiatrist what this diagnosis was and how she had come to this conclusion. She was very good and went through the criteria with me. I was shocked. She then suggested I read a book written by a psychiatrist about the condition. I agreed. This was a mistake.

The book I was given went into detail about why people with BPD were difficult patients and how they were all trying to manipulate those around them. It listed a number of bad things about people with BPD. I was horrified and immediately went into denial. Even though the psychiatrist had shown how I met the criteria, I did not want to believe I had this illness. I was definitely not going to tell many people I had it either. I did not want them to think I was these bad things.

My denial went on for quite a while. I told very few people my diagnosis. Even my parents didn’t know. Then I met and talked to some other people with the same diagnosis and I realised they were none of the bad things I had heard about BPD. These people were lovely, they just struggled with certain things like I did. This led me to being more open about my diagnosis and even telling my parents.

There is still a lot of stigma out there surrounding BPD and personality disorders in general. People still think we are manipulative and all the same but we are people with an illness, just like if we had cancer or diabetes. I’ve experienced stigma even from a psychiatrist who told me I couldn’t be treated. This is untrue. Therapy is the main treatment for BPD and medication can help manage some symptoms.

It is important to challenge the stigma surrounding BPD, and all mental illnesses, so that people can access the help that they need and deserve. At the moment 10% of those diagnosed with BPD will die as a result of suicide. This number is far too high. With help hopefully this can be reduced. Even one life lost is too many, and stigma feeds into these statistics. Reducing stigma will save lives and help those with mental illness to lead a better life.

Having BPD doesn’t make people scary or manipulative. They just have an illness like everyone else.”

To find out more information on Borderline Personality Disorder click here or follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

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Language Matters

The language we use surrounding mental health and mental illness matters a lot. It can fuel stigma if used incorrectly. It can make people think differently about the subject being talked about. It can minimise the seriousness of this topic. So below I thought I’d discuss some of the common terms that get misused or that create stigma.

1. “Committed suicide”

The term “committed suicide” comes from when suicide was against the law. This is no longer the case and hasn’t been for several decades. Using this term can make it sound like someone is criminal for taking their own life, instead it is better to use the term “died by suicide”.

2. “You’re so OCD” and other OCD misuses.

This is so wrong. It minimises the suffering of people who have to deal with this complex illness. Using OCD as a way to discuss how neat and tidy you are is undermining the seriousness of the intrusive thoughts that people who suffer with OCD get if they don’t carry out their compulsions. So before using OCD as an adjective remember how serious it really is.

3. “Psycho”

The term “psycho” brings up all sorts of awful thoughts and images, but using it to describe someone who has a mental illness doesn’t help with the stigma surrounding mental illness. It makes people wary of people with a mental illness and makes them think they are going to be attacked or hurt by us. The truth is that people with mental illness are more likely to be a victim of violence than the perpetrator.

4. “Doing this would be an act of self harm”

This is a phrase I have heard used by many MPs and I dislike it intently. It feels like they are dismissing the distress someone has to be in for them to hurt themselves. It is used as a cheap point scoring exercise. The seriousness of self harm is being overlooked.

So that is just a few of the terms that I feel people need to think mre carefully about using. If you can think of anymore feel free to share using the comments, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

Picture from Pinterest

World Mental Health Day 2018

Today, 10th October, is World Mental Health Day and this year the theme is young people and mental health in a changing world. Therefore I thought I would write about mental health education and why I believe it is so important in today’s world. 

Currently in the UK there is no legal requirement to teach about mental health in schools. This seems ridiculous when we are encountering a record number of children experiencing difficulties with their mental health. Mental health is such an important topic and something people tend to any away from. We seem to forget that we all have mental health, be it good or ill, much like we all have physical health. There are of course ways we can help our mental health, such as self care, but how are we meant to know this if noone teaches us. This is why mental health education in schools is vital. Prevention is key.

Of course prevention is not always possible. Sometimes we will get mentally ill despite our best efforts but mental health education is key here too. If as a young person we know the signs that something is wrong we may feel able to access help sooner. It is known that early intervention can be key in treating mental illness and can lead to a higher recovery rate so it seems only logical to educate young people on the signs. I know that as a young person I was confused by what was happening to me and felt alone so didn’t confide my problems for a long time. This made everything much harder.

Another reason education surrounding mental health and mental illness is key to help reduce stigma. A lot of stigma comes from lack of understanding and fear. By educating young people we create a generation that is not afraid to talk about mental illness nor scared to seek help in the face of it. We empower our young people to fight stigma and stand up for those facing problems with their mental health.

Of course there are barriers in the way to mental health education. As a former teacher I know how rammed the school curriculum already is but I believe mental health education can be worked in. We make time for physical health so why can we not make time for mental health. Obviously mental health education alone will not solve the entire problem of the rise in young people with mental health problems but it is a start. We of course need more funding for children and adolescent mental health services too, to keep up with the young people that are asking for help. Hopefully we can make a difference if we keep calling for change.

To share your thoughts fee free to use the comments or TwitterFacebook or Instagram.

Dealing With A BPD Diagnosis

One of my diagnoses is Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (EUPD), or Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) as it is also known. Any new diagnosis is difficult to deal with, but for me a diagnosis of BPD was the hardest. Therefore I thought I would discuss how I felt and how I dealt with getting my BPD diagnosis.

My diagnosis of BPD came 5 or 6 years ago when I was 23/24. I don’t know precisely when it occurred as I was never officially told “this is your diagnosis”. Instead the term EUPD suddenly started appearing on my paperwork. Also that time is quite blurred for me as I had a lot of stress going on in my life that has caused me to blank out large chunks of what happened.

With the help of a friend as an advovate, I confronted my psychiatrist at the time to ask what this diagnosis was and how she had come to the conclusion I had this illness. I had never heard the term EUPD then and had no idea about its other name, BPD. I was very unhappy about having an illness that included the term “personality disorder”. I didn’t like the idea that someone was saying there was something wrong with my personality (this is a view I still hold but will explain in more detail later). 

My psychiatrist was very good in her response to my queries and say and went through the criteria with me and showed me how I met it. She offered to answer any questions but I was stunned. She then recommended a book for me to read on the illness written by a psychiatrist. This was a mistake.

I read the book and it was awful. It was full of negative comments about patients with BPD and how they are manipulative (a complete myth). I hated that I had this diagnosis and went into denial as I could not see myself in the words of this book. I decided I was not going to tell anyone my diagnosis for fear they would think I was these bad things.

This denial went on for a couple of years. I told very few people my diagnosis. Even my parents didn’t know. I was ashamed. Then I met some others with the same diagnosis. I learnt they were truly lovely people with similar issues to me. They were not manipulative or horrible at all. This have me the confidence to be more open with some people and I started to learn more about the illness from different sources including the Mind website. This changed my viewpoint and the self stigma I was inflicting upon myself lifted somewhat.

Now I am much more open about my illness and can see myself in the criteria a lot more than I ever could. I have learnt strategies to cope which has helped, and opened up more to those closest to me including my parents. I still dislike the term “personality disorder” as I don’t believe it is my personality that is wrong or that anyone’s personality can be wrong. 

My advice if you have just been diagnosed with BPD or are struggling to deal with a BPD diagnosis is to read about the illness from the perspective of others with the illness. Also check out the Mind website for great information. There are also some great support groups on Facebook for those with BPD like this one here. If you have any advice for dealing with diagnosis or want to share your story, feel free to in the comments or on Facebook or Twitter

#TimetoTalk Day 2018

Today, 1st February 2018, is Time to Change’s Time to Talk day. The aim is to get more people talking about mental health and to help break down the stigma surrounding it. This is important as it helps people who are struggling with their mental health see that it is OK to talk about it and ask for help when they need it. Therefore I thought for this years Time to Talk day I would share some ways to use the internet and/or social media to start a conversation about mental health.

1. Share a post on Twitter or Facebook – This is quite a small act but can have a big impact. If you feel comfortable then why not share some information about mental health (this can be found on Time to Change’s Facebook or Twitter) to help break down the myths surrounding mental health and mental illness. Or, if you feel able to, share a personal story using #TimetoTalk. Last year I shared a small part of my personal struggles on my private Facebook profile and was surprised at the positive responses I received. Of course only do this if you feel comfortable sharing and remember you don’t have to share anything you don’t want to.

2. Write a blog post – Whether you have a blog already or you normally just read them, why not think about writing a blog post about either your personal experiences of mental health or just mental health in general. Adding your story and viewpoint helps people to see that it is OK to talk about mental health. You never know who you might help.

3. Film a vlog – If you’re feeling particularly brave maybe film a video blog (vlog) to share your experiences of mental health or information about mental health. This can be a really engaging way of passing on information. If you’re looking for inspiration check out Miss Anxiety or Jonny Benjamin on YouTube.

4. Send an email to a friend – If you don’t want to share with a large audience that is totally OK and there are still ways you can have a conversation about mental health. Why not check in with a friend or two to see how they are doing? This way you are still showing it is OK to talk about mental health and how you are feeling.

Hopefully somewhere there, there is something you can do to have a conversation about mental health. I understand that for so many people there are barriers to talking about mental health but Time to Talk day is about breaking down those barriers and reminding everyone that we all have mental health, good or bad. For more information check out Time to Change’s website.

World Mental Health Day 2017

Today, October 10th, marks World Mental Health Day and the theme for this year is work and mental health. As I am currently unable to work due to my mental health, I decided I would think about what things I would like from an employer to help me manage work and my mental health.

1. Time for appointments – I have been lucky in the past that my employers have made time available for me to attend appointments, be it a doctor’s appointment or weekly therapy. I know some people aren’t so lucky. Being allowed the the time to attend these appointments is vital to improving well being and keeping yourself well so that you are able to function and continue to work. Hopefully an employer will understand this and therefore be flexible with working hours to accommodate appointments.

2. Be approachable – If an employer is not approachable it is going to make the whole job of looking after your mental health more difficult. However if they are good at listening and therefore you feel you can talk to them when things are difficult it will make the task of managing your mental health easier. It also means it will be easier to ask for things, like time off for appointments, without the worry of how they are going to react.

3. Confidentiality – This is a big one and links to being approachable. It is important to know that what you discuss is not going to be shared with anyone who does not need to know about it. It is your choice, to an extent, which colleagues you wish to know about your mental health problems. Trust is important to making you feel secure. Obviously there will be some people they will need to tell in order to allow you time off. But it is important to know it won’t become part of gossip.

4. Understanding – I would love for my employer to have understanding of mental health and mental illness, and how it doesn’t mean I am incapable but that sometimes I might need extra support. I have faced stigma when attending a job interview, where I was told I was unsuitable as I wouldn’t cope due to having depression. This is wrong. I was not even given a chance to show my capabilities in the interview but was instead judged on my mental illness. This is unfair and shows a lack of understanding about mental health and mental illness.

So those are a few of thee things I would like an employer to be when dealing with me and my mental illnesses. What other things would you like from an employer? Please feel free to share in the comments.

Pillshaming 

I am tired of reading what adds up to pillshaming, related to mental health. Therefore I thought I would write in response to some of the things I have seen as, to me, pillshaming is just not OK.

Some of you may be wondering what pillshaming is. It might be a term you’ve never heard. Pillshaming is a term that has been coined to cover negative comments and articles related to taking medication, in particular psychiatric medication, which could then lead to people feeling ashasmed about having to take medication for their illness.

I have recently read something that made me feel guilty for relying on my medication. It implied that those who take medication for a mental illness, in particular depression, didn’t feel the pain as much as those who managed their illness without, and therefore didn’t learn to cope as well. This is of course rubbish. Everyone who suffers with a mental illness deals with pain, and even if the pain level is different, mental illness is not a competition.

But why did this matter so much to me if I knew it was rubbish? Because I could see the dangers. Pillshaming is dangerous because it can make people feel rubbish for taking something that is helping them. It made me feel rubbish and less of a person which is just wrong. Its wrong because if I stopped taking my medication it could lead to a deterioration in my mental health. Luckily at the time I knew this would be the case but if someone is vulnerable they may decide to stop their medication straight away. This could have terrible consequences including making the person more ill or causing them to be a danger to themselves or others.

Now please don’t get me wrong, I know medication is not the answer for everyone. I am not saying everyone should be on medication for their mental illness. What I am saying though is that those of us that do require the help of medication should not be made to feel less of a person for going down this route. Everyone is different. Everyone will react differently and find different things helpful. No one should be made to feel ashamed of the choice they masks in their own treatment.

So there you have my view on pillshaming. You may not agree with what I have said but I do hope you understand that everyone should have a choice and not feel ashamed about it.

Picture from Pinterest Make Daisy Chains