Category Archives: Battling Stigma

Murder Not Mental Illness

I wouldn’t normally comment on things that happen in America as it is not my country. But this is an issue that comes up again and again with regards to mass shootings in America. The common rhetoric is to claim the perpetrator is mentally ill. Now it is possible that they do have a mental illness but for the number of mass shootings that happen each year in America, that is a lot of mentally ill people with access to guns.

The truth is that these mass shootings are murder. Even terrorism. Often racism is at the core. This isn’t mental illness. Racism isn’t a mental illness. It’s a societal issue. Also America is not the only place where people are mentally ill, yet the number of mass shootings that occur there is disproportionately high. Surely this points to a deeper issue (*coughs* gun laws).

Here is the reality. People with a mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. I only have access to British statistics but this paragraph from Time to Change’s website shows the rate of murder caused by someone acting as part of their mental illness:

“According to the British Crime Survey, almost half (47 per cent) of the victims of violent crimes believed that their offender was under the influence of alcohol and about 17 per cent believed that the offender was under the influence of drugs. Another survey suggested that about 30 per cent of victims believed that the offender attacked them because they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In contrast, only 1 per cent of victims believed that the violent incident happened because the offender had a mental illness.” Time to Change (Accessed August 2019).

It shows that while mental illness can cause someone to become violent, the chances are you’re more likely to be killed by someone drinking or on drugs. Yet this is never given as a possible explanation to those carrying out mass shootings. They also forget to mention that those with a mental illness are more of a risk to themselves than others.

It’s too easy to blame mental illness. To take something that people already fear and stigmatise against and use it to “explain” something so scary. People don’t want to think that someone who is a neurotypical person can be capable of causing so much death and destruction. But that is the case. Their brain may have been warped but it is not by mental illness, it is by racist ideologies (most of the time).

I know there will be many who won’t accept that mental illness is not to blame in the majority of cases. The thing is, even if a person is mentally ill, there are many other things that contribute to these situations. You need to look at your treatment of those with mental illnesses. You need to look at the ease of access to guns. It is not simply “this person was mentally ill and so there was nothing we could do”. Even when a person with a mental illness is violent, there are things that can be done to reduce this risk as there are often signs that this may happen.

So there we have it. Think before you say that a perpetrator is/was mentally ill. You are adding to the stigma. Maybe think what could be changed to prevent this ever happening again. What could of prevented it. What was the real motive. It is more than likely much deeper than “they were mentally ill”. Think. Yes, I’m looking at you Mr. President.

If you have any thoughts feel free to share in the comments or on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

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Please Stop Hating A BPD Diagnosis

I have seen a lot of tweets absolutely rubbishing the BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) diagnosis. I’ve seen tweets saying the diagnosis isnt valid or that it is a misdiagnosis of another mental illness. This has upset me a lot as someone with a BPD diagnosis.

As someone with BPD, I recognise that it is not always an appropriate diagnosis. I know that some people are misdiagnosed. I know that it carries a lot of stigma. But it has value.

When your world is in turmoil and you find yourself dipping repeatedly into crisis and your relationships are unstable, when you don’t know who you are or what you really like because you pick up on other people’s mannerisms and likes, it feels awful. You feel like you are made wrong. You feel like you are weak. You hate yourself so much for not being “normal”. You are scared. Now imagine someone tells you there is a reason you feel this way and it’s not your fault. There is some feeling of relief and enlightenment. Maybe your life isn’t over just yet. Maybe your life can be worth living. That’s what it can be like getting a BPD diagnosis. I imagine it feels like that for any mental health diagnosis.

The problem with the BPD diagnosis is not the people with the diagnosis but the stigma that surrounds the name. It’s the interpretation that some people attribute to it that doesn’t help. Whatever you call it, it is the same illness with the same symptoms. It is a valid illness and those who deal with it everyday will still have to deal with it whether you take away that diagnosis or not. What you do though, if you take away the diagnosis, is isolate people who are suffering with these confusing symptoms. You take away the hope that they can get treatment and stop them accessing the peer support available in the BPD community. As with any mental illness, other people who are dealing with the same thing are a lifeline and show more understanding than anyone else. To take away the diagnosis, removes this opportunity for us.

So before you say our diagnosis is invalid or just a misdiagnosis, please take into account those of us who see it as an explanation for what we are pdealing with and as an opportunity to get treatment and support. (I know that there are some people who are misdiagnosed and for them yes it is appropriate to question the diagnosis but I am responding to a general statement about people with BPD just being misdiagnosed.)

A side note

I know some people will say a BPD diagnosis is unhelpful. I have written another post where I discuss why a BPD diagnosis is useful which you can find here.

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An Open Letter To Instagram

Dear Instagram

I have recently been made aware that you are hiding the recent posts with mental health hashtags. I feel this is totally unacceptable on many levels.

I understand that you have done this in the name of safety, but in actual fact you are making things a lot less safe for those with these conditions. Social media by its nature is made to connect people and by eliminating these hashtags you are removing people’s ability to connect with others who have the same condition or who are going through the same thing. This creates a feeling that people are alone in their struggles and can’t see how other people deal with the condition. This could lead to more feelings of suicide and self harm as they try to cope alone.

Another issue I have with you removing these hashtags is that you are eliminating the chance of people sharing positivity among the mental health community. Many people who use these hashtags share uplifting quotes, ways they cope and general support and awareness. By stopping this you are leaving people with the negativity of the illnesses they endure.

Furthermore on researching this I found that it was still possible to use hashtags for physical illnesses. This shows blatant stigma towards those of us with a mental illness. Yes, mental illness sees people who have a symptom of suicidal ideation, but this can also be caused by people experiencing a physical illness. Mental health is important and equal to physical health.

If you want a truly safe community then your aim should be to moderate posts better rather than a blanket bam on mental health hashtags. Yes there may be individual posts that are damaging to those in a vulnerable state but your aim should be to target these posts and leave the useful and positive posts attached to the hashtag. This could help those who are unwell.

I hope you take this on board. You can contact me via the comments or on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

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Unhelpful Things That Have Been Said To Me

This is a personal piece. Please be aware that some content may be triggering.

I’m currently in a state of crisis. I’ve been struggling with self harm and suicidal thoughts. I’ve been quite open about this on social media and had lots of supportive messages but there have also been some extremely unhelpful comments too. Here are a few.

“Everyone feels like this some days, it will be better tomorrow” – A well meaning comment I know but for those who have a chronic mental illness it feels like you are downplaying what we are feeling and going through. Often tomorrow won’t be a better day. In fact it could be ten times worse. This makes us feel like we are doing something wrong to still be in this pit of despair. Also not everyone goes through what we are going through. A lot of people will experience similar things but what each person feels is unique to them. While there may be some comfort in knowing we are not alone, pretending everyone has experienced it just makes us feel like we are not coping as well as others do.

“I’ve heard camomile tea is calming” – This was said to me by someone with a mental illness and again I know they meant well. The problem is camomile tea is not going to solve suicidal thoughts. My mental illness is much more complicated than that. If it was as simple as that I wouldn’t repeatedly fall into crisis.

“Have faith in God” – I have nothing against anyone who believes in God or follows a religion. That is great for you and if it helps you to feel better than I am pleased for you. However please don’t try to make me believe in God or have a faith. There may be a number of reasons someone doesn’t have a faith and even if they do it can not always help them when dealing with a mental illness. It is not a crisis of faith that causes mental illness.

“There’s plenty to do that could take your mind off things” – I know that keeping busy can be useful to distract from the distressing thoughts but I had been doing hours of distraction and keeping busy when this was said to me. I felt like I couldn’t do anymore and even when I was busy the thoughts were still there. Also sometimes it is not possible to just keep going. Having a mental illness can be so exhausting in itself that doing something else is just impossible. Distraction also only works for so long. Eventually your thoughts will catch up with you if you don’t deal with them.

Those are just what have been said to me this time round in crisis. There have been many more that I have experienced over the course of having had a mental illness.

If you have had some unhelpful things said to you and feel you would like to share, feel free to use the comments or Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

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Why I don’t blame social media

There has been a lot in the news about how social media has a negative effect on mental health and it has even been blamed for the suicide of a 14 year old girl (check out the story here). However I personally don’t feel that social media is being given a fair trial and is not to blame, at least not solely.

There are many other things that have helped cause the increase in mental illnesses among young people. These are things that seem to have been overlooked in place of blaming social media outright. Social media feels like a lazy excuse for the ever-growing problem of mental illness among young people.

One major reason for the increase in suicide rates among teenagers (for statistics look here) is that they are unable to access the mental health care they desperately need. Waiting times have increased for therapy, if teenagers even get as far as being referred for it in the first place. There seems to have been a shift in what children will be accepted for treatment by CAMHs (Child and Adolescent Mental Health services) meaning that many slip through the net. Why is this the case? Put simply it is a lack of funding for mental health services as a whole.

Having a lack of CAMHs services also means that children and young people are having to get worse before they are considered for care. This means they’re in a worst place to start with when early intervention could stop them reaching crisis point. This could shorten the length of time they need support or lower the intensity of the support they require as well as preventing serious self harm and suicide.

Another reason for the rise in the number of suicides among young people, in my opinion, is the school system and the constant criticism that it brings. Everyone says that things are easier for young people these days and that the education system is too easy. For someone going through the system and hearing this makes you feel like a failure especially if you are struggling. This isn’t helped by the pressure from teachers. This isn’t the fault of the teachers. They themselves are under huge pressure to get results and meet targets, so obviously the pressure gets passed on to the students.

I’m not saying here that social media has no part in the rising tide of suicides among young people. Obviously with cyber bullying there is not the escape from bullies that you would get in previous generations. It is constant. But blaming the images of self harm and suicide quotes on Instagram I feel is taking the blame too far. There must be something wrong before they see the images to make them go looking for these images. Also these images are available on the Internet via a Google search not just social media.

Social media also has some positive effects on mental health. There is a very supportive community on the different social media platforms. There is also advice and information about different mental illnesses available via social media. Also it can help those struggling feel less alone and can encourage them to talk and get help.

I know my views may be controversial but I felt I needed to share them and I would love to hear your thoughts either in the comments or on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

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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.

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.

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