World Mental Health Day: why just talking about stigma isn’t enough

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[CW: mental healthcare crisis, disability allowance cuts…]

I know I’ve talked about this before, but you know what? When 4 people per day die after being declared fit for work by the DWP (1) and benefit sanctions against people with mental health conditions are up 600% it needs to be shouted from the roof tops.

TALKING ABOUT STIGMA ALONE DOES FUCK ALL when people are dying from having their life support lines removed. I talked about it before here, and reblogged an article about it here. Since then things have just gotten worse.

That’s why it’s massively disconcerting to see charities reeling out the same old tosh about ‘talk to someone’, ‘seek help’, ‘you can speak up’. Yeah, breaking stigma is one element of helping to make life easier for those with MH conditions, but alone it’s an empty gesture. I mentioned in a previous post I went to the doctors two weeks ago and was literally told to go help myself (by being referred to self-help books.) I had to laugh, or I would have cried.

Anti-stigma campaigns won’t help people afford food, help them cope day to day or do anything to oppose the ruthless cuts to NHS mental healthcare and disability benefits. I’m disillusioned that big charities keep harping on about this rather than focusing on less socially acceptable ‘protest’ campaigns against cuts that really affect us.

Grassroots organisations like Mental Health Resistance Network and Disabled People Against The Cuts (DPAC) are doing this type of protest work. However they obviously don’t have the media coverage or budgets of the bigger charities (I’m thinking about MIND, Re-think etc – who do some amazing work, but are ultimately subject to campaigns concocted by well-meaning well-paid office staff who are ultimately out of touch with the everyday struggles of a tonne of mental health service users.)

Another element to consider is bigger charities funding streams and them not wanting to be seen to be ‘too political’. So they focus on employability and stigma instead of not upsetting donors.

However, in my book, if you focus on the fluffier, personal and individual side of things and totally gloss over the political and economic factors, then criticism in inevitable and justified.

What am I going to do about it apart from moaning? I’ve contacted Mental Health Resistance Network offering to start up a local branch, but they’re snowed under and quite small so I’ve not heard back. So the plan is when I’m feeling mentally stronger and have less voluntary stuff on my plate I’m going to look into starting a grassroots mental health / wider disability campaign group that tackles political and economic factors.

Because fuck playing nice. We’ve tried that. Time to be a thorn in their side.

 

  • This was quoted at the recent Psych Benefits event Friday 7th of October, a conference where those who work in psychiatry and psychology were openly criticising benefits cuts. Agenda can be viewed here.

**UPDATE** A few days after I posted this, MIND have announced they’re working with the DWP. Proves my point about charities cosying up to government to win contracts. Disaster for those they claim to support: http://www.mind.org.uk/news-campaigns/statement121016/

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Why simply talking about mental health isn’t enough

Today has made me so angry. Don’t get me wrong, I totally bought in this at first. I changed my profile picture, header banner and even Tweeted a bit. But some of the stuff appearing under #timetotalk put all of the onus on the individual being responsible for mental health stigma – and this focus on stigma is problematic in itself. Let me explain.

I felt such anger when I read a Guardian article from a public sector worker saying that we need to ensure our families and workplaces give us the support we need. That makes a massive presumption we’ll let our employers know (by TALKING, obvs.) and then they’ll just do a 360 on their policies and support us. I’ve just been through hell on this, and I know others who’ve heard all the faux concern when they’ve first raised these issues, then FA changes have been made afterwards.

So, when you’ve fought to change the culture somewhere and it’s failed – and you’re being continually and systematically failed by societal structure and institutions that follow that norm, how do you do magically click your fingers and achieve change by talking about stigma? Did it not occur to this person that instead of blaming themselves by saying stuff like ‘I thought my workload would get easier’ his employer should have looked after the mental health of their employees? (I’m just venting here, I know it’s not that simple and there’s a hell of a lot of internalised oppression going on here.)

The sad truth is your employer isn’t going to change the rules just for you, it’s not in their financial interests to. The problem is again the way the world is viewed through profit and organisational lenses, instead of the people within its overall well being.

Socially acceptable – ‘let’s talk about this’ campaigns don’t tackle cuts, government policy, how people with mental health problems could become homeless and die on the streets, the amount of people that’s already happened to. They deal with the comfortable individualistic view that if we stick a post it note to our foreheads & take a selfie and ask the Tories to make some half-arsed verbal promises to improve things it’ll all be OK. They come from a place of presuming all we need to do is talk about it more – rather than tackling a structure and system that is fundamentally letting us down.

I do think these campaigns have their place. If our healthcare system, benefits system and employment laws were actually supporting those with mental health conditions properly, and the only thing we had to do was remove a bit of stigma and talk about it more, then they’d be relevant. But let’s face it, we’re really not in that place. And it’s getting worse.

(Disclaimer – I do know that Re-Think helped lobby against more cuts to the disability ESA payments WRAG group last week in parliament, which affects the payments of many people off work with severe mental health problems. However I personally think it won’t be long until this decision is overturned – and more needs to be done to actually reinstate a live-able income for those signed off because of disability.)

Not to leave this post on a completely negative note, the personal is political. We need to use employment law to the best of our ability, and challenge being treated unfairly. But also challenge the very structures that make that happen. I’ve come to the conclusion that mental health campaigns need radicalisation. If anyone’s up for a conversation about how we can actually make employers, government and other institutions actually make change happen, drop me a line.