Mental illness to me is on par with physical illness with regards to how many variants there are. It can also range from very mild to very severe, and each case is individual. Which is why, when my girlfriend was telling me about a conference she had, the subject matter totally pissed me off.
As someone who lives with a person with mental health issues, my girlfriend not only has a good understanding, but is keen to learn more. So when a mental health training conference came up in her line of work, she was keen to go in order to learn more about mental health and mental illness, to allow her to work with more confidence.
However, when she came home, she explained how disappointed she was. The subject was in fact ‘mental illness’, however their focus was only towards mental health patients, who were on a psychiatric ward needing specialist help.
Now, I know this is a key part of mental health and it’s extremely important that people in this situation are helped adequately. What annoys me is that this was the ONLY mental health sector they focused on. My girlfriend went into this looking to learn more about the whole spectrum of mental health, and it bothers me that their main focus on mental health was the most severe cases.
They were warned against violence, panic buttons, a ‘get out quick’ option, not safe to be left alone with the patient, what happens when the ward goes on lock down, and while I know it’s extremely important that people have this information, this is only 1% of what mental health actually is!
Not every person dealing with mental health issues will prevent you from being safe, not every person with a mental illness is looking to cause you any pain. I find it so frustrating that in a world where stigma reigns over the ability to be completely open about our illness, that even training courses embed stigma into the recipients of the information.
My girlfriend, someone who has been with me through 100% of my struggles, was sat saying ‘but what about the rest?’. How can she support someone with severe social anxiety while working with them? How does she show correct compassion with someone suffering with Bipolar? How can she understand PTSD and what it means to the individual?
Instead, she knows that for people with severe mental health issues, they are to be approached with caution. What about the people at the training day who don’t have ANY experience of working with mental health patients? Will mental health to them now mean it’s some person strapped to a hospital bed going crazy?
My girlfriend actually said that from the training, feedback was ‘the mental health sector isn’t for me’. Why?!? Because some ‘professional’ stood at the front of the room and told you that someone wth severe mental health problems might attack you?
We’re not all like that! Some of us are compassionate people, most of us are looking to you for help and not to hurt others, and all of us are in a struggle not only with ourselves but with society, who consistently focus all their attention on the negatives of mental health and not on what mental health actually is.
I just hope one day attitudes change. Until then, I’ll sit here with my cup of tea being pissed off.