Depression is not about ‘gloominess’ – it’s about conflict

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The other day I was reading some interesting NHS guides about mental health when I came across a description of what causes depression which made me cross:

Some people may be more likely to “look on the gloomy side” of life in general, and this may make them more likely to develop a depression.

If there’s anything which really bugs me about what people believe about depression, it’s this idea that depression is a refuge of the chronically miserable, that it only happens to those who can’t ‘look on the bright side’. It doesn’t make any sense to me for various reasons and I don’t think it’s a positive way to help people to get better.

The way I see it, depression happens when two ideas conflict with each other. We all have certain beliefs about ourselves and our lives which are very deeply ingrained. When something happens to challenge those beliefs, we get scared because we’ve discovered that things are not as we thought they were. In the face of challenges to the very centre of who we are, we can feel that we’re falling apart. In order to combat this very frightening prospect, we (unconsciously) tell ourselves stories which remove the conflict from the situation. This bad thing happened because I am a bad person. But of course you have to have some faith in yourself to keep on eating, breathing, walking around and talking to other people, whether you realise it or not. So the good faith is battling with the bad thoughts and this is what leads to depression. Without the conflict between these two states, depression cannot exist. If you were truly resigned to believing you are a bad person, you’d either have no instinct to keep yourself alive (the breathing, eating and walking around) or you’d be in a state where you didn’t mind being seen as ‘bad’. Plenty of people are self-confessed ‘bastards’ and are actually having a pretty good time of it.

Depression doesn’t happen because of pessimism or gloominess. It happens when we’re struggling with ideas that don’t appear to make any sense. Much of this struggle happens away from our everyday thoughts so it’s difficult to get much of a grip on it, but it’s a struggle all the same. 

There are plenty of people who enjoy complaining about things. It doesn’t cause them any distress or upset, they do it because they quite like it. It can help us to feel in control when we’re able to put the world to rights over a pint or have a bit of a moan at a bus stop. People who like to complain a lot might appear to be frustrated or haggard or grumpy but they’re not depressed. It’s entirely possible to be pessimistic often and never suffer depression. Have a read of a comment thread sometime. It’s unlikely that everyone expressing misanthropic or gloomy views is also living with depression.

It can be quite damaging to keep equating pessimism with depression. When you’re depressed, your world view is skewed. You have a feeling that something isn’t right but you can’t quite place it. You feel desperately unhappy and unable to do anything about it. At that time, the last thing you need is people forming opinions about your character rather than what’s happening to you. Depression is not an intrinsic personality trait. It’s grossly unfair to tell someone that they’re depressed because they’re just that sort of person. Be it brain chemistry, upbringing or just bad luck, no one’s 100% clear on what causes the many different experiences of depression. It makes no more sense to say that depression only happens to those who are just prone to misery than it does to believe in astrology. This can happen to anyone.

And maybe that’s what people are afraid of. When people palm off depression as an affliction of those who suffer a perpetual, cartoonish, Eeyore-style gloom, what they’re really saying is, ‘This will never happen to me. Or, if it does, I’ll deal with it much better than those moaning bastards.’ It’s creating a gap to minimise the impact of what other people deal with. If we can kid ourselves that bad things will never happen to us because we’re just not that sort of person, then the world becomes a much safer place. It’s not only depression which inspires people to behave this way. ‘If only they’d been more careful’ is a popular way to deal with stories of everything from car accidents to sexual assault. We don’t like to imagine bad things happening to us, so we pretend they couldn’t. The trouble is we then miss the crucial facts which can help us to create a better state of affairs for those who are affected.

This attitude can also mean that people who have been branded with statements about who they are (‘You are X sort of person’) have little to no motivation to try and be different. What’s the point when you’re essentially battling with your own personality? Might as well get used to it, things will never change and even if they do, they’ll change straight back again. I wish someone had told me sooner that I didn’t have ‘depression’ stamped through my DNA like a word through a stick of rock. It could have saved me a lot of time.

What I’ve learned from being affiliated with various mental health charities over the past few years is that people who live with depression are as diverse in terms of personality as healthy people. It isn’t fair to pigeonhole us as pessimistic or resigned to a lifetime of mope.

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Advice for 14-year-old me, living with depression

I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.

Living with depression is awful for anyone but when it starts at a young age, you can start feeling like there’s no escape. You feel like you’re not actually unwell, you’re just intrinsically a miserable person (which oddly enough does not actually help you to feel better). In the spirit of breaking the cycle, here are some things I wish someone could have told me when I was a teenager. Maybe there’s still time for them to help someone else.

There are people who would be mortified at the thought of accepting how they are affected by things on an emotional level. They swear blind that they are in total control of their thoughts and feelings at all times and that anyone who isn’t is weak or foolish. These are the people who run the world. They believe that everyone falls into either the ‘sick’ or ‘well’ category and they’re quite skilled at getting people in the ‘sick’ category to believe that this is the way things will always be. If you want to challenge this, be prepared for a fight. But go ahead. They’re not right.

Get some therapy and don’t listen to anyone’s opinion about it. I’m serious – only you will know whether the person you are seeing can help you or whether they’re a quack. Maybe the people around you will understand and maybe they won’t (they probably won’t) but you can decide what’s best for you. There are plenty of therapists who have the skills and training to be able to give you what you need.

There are layers to everything – layers upon layers upon layers. Maybe you’re lucky and you don’t find life too hard or maybe you’re unlucky and you find everything very, very hard. Everything you think and say and do is made up of about a billion different factors and if you’re depressed, it can take some serious unpicking before you know what’s going on. Don’t rush to find answers – sometimes they will come to you out of nowhere. If you push too hard to ‘figure everything out’ too quickly, you’ll make mistakes and feel worse. It’s OK to be confused – the mentally well (much like the physically well) are lucky, not somehow ‘better’ than you.

Help other people by all means but don’t make it your mission to unburden them of their suffering. Everyone’s individual suffering belongs to them and you can’t take it away. At any rate, if you actually could somehow consume and experience someone else’s suffering on their behalf, you’re taking away a valuable opportunity for them to learn to look after themselves. Be there for the people you care about but don’t throw yourself under the bus because it’ll get in the way of your health (incidentally, you will be drawn to all the wrong people due to your need to take bullets on their behalf – it’s best to stamp this out as soon as you can).

Pretty much everyone you come across as a depressed teenager will form some opinion about who or what you are. There are plenty of people who don’t really believe that mental health problems are a thing and even more people who don’t believe teenagers can suffer from them. So, just for your reference, you are not any of the following things – a depressive, a depressed person, clinically depressed, genetically predisposed to depression (I don’t actually know this one for sure but it’s no help to you even if it is true so bin it), determined to stay unhappy, naturally shy, anxious or sensitive, hormonal, gloomy, melodramatic or pessimistic. I’m serious – it doesn’t matter how many times you hear those words, do not listen. Due to a complex combination of inherited traits and circumstances, you became depressed. You will not always be depressed and it is not hard-wired into your DNA.

You will meet many, many people who will tell you they are good listeners, that they can help you, that they want you to tell them all your problems because they will know what to do. Only a fraction of these people will be able to help you on a meaningful level. The vast majority of them will just be trying to deal with their own shit by passing themselves off as amateur therapists. Some of them like thinking you are doing worse than them and they will work hard to keep things that way. Some of them will have the best of intentions but still won’t know shit. Others will be really nasty to you if you don’t immediately accept their advice. Don’t keep these people around and, if you encounter them, remember that they are just pretending to talk to you – they’re only actually talking to themselves and you happen to be there.

(That’s not to say that you can’t choose to be around good people who may not always be able to come to the rescue. I have a friend who doesn’t know much about giving advice on emotional stuff but he’s still fantastic to have around in a crisis because he’s always calm. Just because someone doesn’t always know what to say to you doesn’t mean they can’t help you in another way. You’ll get to know who your go-to people are for various situations.)

Getting better from depression does not mean never being depressed again. You will have periods of time when you will feel awful. You will wonder how you ever thought you were getting better. It will feel like all the time you spent improving was for nothing. That is the nature of depression – it will make you feel like everything is hopeless when it isn’t. It’s not your default setting – you will come out of it again and much more easily than you did before.

Don’t ever, ever, EVER worry about how you are living your life. You’re not missing the boat or the bus or any other kind of form of transport. You’re not ‘wasting time’ being depressed. These are not the best years of your life. Let go of any idea of how things are supposed to be and any year can be the best of your life. There is no right and wrong, there is only a series of moments. Enjoy yourself when you can and be nice to yourself when you can’t.

Do employers know what mental illness stigma actually is?

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In some job interviews, when I’ve chosen to be honest about having depression, I’ve been peppered with questions about how well I cope under pressure. Am I likely to crack in a difficult situation? How well do I deal with confrontation? I must understand, of course, that it’s not that they have a problem with me having depression, it’s that there’s work to be done and they can’t have some babbling loony needing to be looked after while everyone else picks up the slack. We saw a campaign by Mind about stigma in the workplace – very cute! – but this is the real world so it’s time to buck up or get lost.

Again and again, employers show that they still believe that if you have a mental health problem you must be a certain type of person. Either you’re weak or unreliable or oversensitive or perhaps you just give off a vibe. Maybe you might be contagious and infect other staff members – if we have one staff member wanting “special treatment”, they’ll all want it! Or maybe your condition is too complicated to understand and it’d just plain be easier not to bother hiring you.

It doesn’t matter how many articles they’ve read or campaigns they’ve seen trying to explain the problem of stigma. They still think they’re being totally fair and reasonable when they reject a person with depression or anxiety or Bipolar over another candidate who has never suffered with mental health problems. We’re a small company, we don’t have the time or resources to put any support in place, things move very quickly here, we need people who can keep up. They tell themselves fairy stories about how much better off a person with mental health problems will be in a different workplace, one which is more understanding and inclusive, not realising that these places are few and far between and it just isn’t fair to expect people to have to work extra hard to seek them out.

The only difference between a workplace which can accommodate people with mental health problems and one which can’t is the beliefs of the people in charge. If employers believe it’s a waste of time or that people with mental health issues haven’t got anything to offer or that it’ll be too complicated, then they’ll ensure that nothing changes. The really infuriating thing about this is that it really doesn’t take much to make a more inclusive workplace and employers actually don’t have to sacrifice much at all (save for some outdated beliefs).

It does make me angry how many work situations I’ve been in which wouldn’t have been half as difficult if I’d received a little kindness and understanding. It doesn’t take a lot to show a bit of compassion – sometimes it’s literally the time it takes to boil a kettle – but even that is apparently too much for people to handle.

It could be that it’s a problem with workplaces in general. In Mind’s document on HR policies for people with mental health problems, one ‘reasonable adjustment’ suggested for a person with anxiety is that their boss says thank you to them after they complete tasks and ‘Good morning’ to them in the morning! I know from experience how unpleasant it is to be repeatedly ignored or left without acknowledgement for the work I’ve completed. If this is the standard set by the majority of workplaces, it’s no wonder that people with mental health problems are struggling to cope. A healthy person may well find themselves struggling too.

Thanks to the work of charities such as Mind, there are plenty of resources available to workplaces looking to change things for the better. The problem as I see it is getting the work done on the ground because too many people are assuming that it’s not necessary – if they can just avoid taking on anyone with those kind of problems, they won’t have to think about it. This is unacceptable and – particularly in this current competitive job market – more needs to be done.

6 things to say when someone is having a panic attack

It’s hard living with irritating mental health issues which can disrupt what is otherwise a fun occasion. It’s also hard having to be witness to these issues when you really don’t have much of a clue what to say or do. Here are my top six things to say to someone who is suffering a panic attack.

“Are you panicking?”

I once took a First Aid course where I was told that the first thing to establish when you think someone might be choking is to ask, “Are you choking?” It might seem a bit of a daft question, given that if the answer is in the affirmative, they won’t be able to answer you. However, it’s good to ascertain what’s going on before you try and do anything – someone could be panicking or they could just be having a wobbly few seconds. Likewise, someone could be choking or they could just be laughing at a joke. It’s best to find out before you start punching them in the spine.

“Come and sit down.”

When someone is panicking, they won’t have much of a clue what’s going on around them. If they look pale or start looking like they’re going to faint, get them to a chair as soon as you can. If possible, make it somewhere quiet where there aren’t many people around but the main aim is to stop them from face-planting into the carpet.

“Sod off.”

This is for the people around the person who is panicking, rather than the person themselves. When someone has a panic attack, chances are around 80% of the people around them will do nothing but stare. This is the same for when someone faints, vomits or generally disrupts the conversation with weird health-related behaviour. I’m not really sure what causes people to stand and gawp at a stranger in the street when they’re clearly in need of assistance but nonetheless this will happen a lot. Unfortunately, it can go a long way to making the person in distress feel worse so it’s good if you can find a way to limit spectators as much as possible.

Don’t actually say “sod off”, of course, just politely ask if people wouldn’t mind backing away or going somewhere else. Unless they reply with “I’m this person’s family member/best friend/partner”, “I’m a doctor” or “Hey, this is my house!”, they should hopefully understand.

A good way of getting rid of people who are flapping around and generally being a bit of a nuisance is to tell them to go and fetch something. Tissues, water, a paper bag, anything. These things might all be useful for the person who is panicking, but the main point is to get other people to go away. It’s humiliating enough suffering a panic attack in public without everyone around you hovering awkwardly.

“Everything’s going to be fine.”

When someone has a panic attack, they can genuinely believe they’re going to die so some gentle reassurance can really help them. While it might be totally obvious to you that the sky is, in fact, still intact, it might not be so obvious to them. Speak quietly and let them know that everything’s all right.

“Breathe slowly.”

The irritating thing about having a panic attack is that your body decides to team up with your mind and goes, “Ha HA, now you’re going to feel even worse!” Hyperventilating limits the amount of oxygen getting to the brain and makes you panic more so if you can try and stop the person from doing this too much, it’ll definitely help. When they look as though they might be able to listen to you, ask them to take one breath in as slowly as they can and then release it in the same way. This is where the paper bag genuinely comes in handy, if you’ve got one. Once they’ve taken a few deep breaths in, they’ll start to feel better even if they don’t look better.

“How’re you doing?”

When they look a bit calmer, ask them how they are feeling. Hopefully, they’ll be able to give you a straight answer but if not, they might need a few minutes more. When someone starts panicking, it’s tempting to want to ask lots of questions but I’d say this would be the most important thing to ask. If you ask them what they want or what you should do to help, they’ll feel bad for not being able to respond properly and it might take them longer to calm down.

One question which comes up a lot is “Do you want me to leave you alone?” If someone is panicking and they don’t want you there, they’ll likely leave the area or tell you straight out to leave them alone. If they don’t do either of these things, there’s no need to worry that your company is making them worse. Being polite is not usually high on the agenda when you can’t breathe, so you can trust the person to be honest (if a bit abrupt).

This is mostly based on my personal experience so over to you – anything you’d suggest for people who are panicking? Has anyone come to your rescue when you’ve been totally out of it? Let me know in the comments.

Caught in a “Positive Spin”: Lying About Your Mental Health

I don’t know what it is about mental illness in particular that means that, not only do you have to live with the damn thing, but you also have to spend about half of your time lying about it. Oh, sorry. Not lying, just putting a “positive spin” on it. You know, so that no one will think you’re actually crazy, or anything…

 

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told by someone not to divulge too much about my health, in case it stops me from being accepted. It’s usually when I’m entering a new professional setting, such as a job or a volunteer placement. Ironically, it’s in these environments that it’s very, very important to me to know that I’m going to be accepted and supported, illness or no illness, otherwise it’s going to be very difficult for me to stay in that environment anyway. Not telling someone about a health condition doesn’t make that health condition go away. Neither does putting a positive spin on something which is not a positive thing in the slightest. Even if you do manage to convince a potential employer that “it’s OK, I’m not that bad, really”, how are they going to react if a bad day should come along? They’re only going to be confused and irritated because you said you were basically fine.

 

The worst thing about depression is all that hair-clutching you have to do

 

I’m sick to the back teeth of having to come up with all these fairy stories about my health in order to fit in and not cause too much of a problem for other people. If I had a health condition like asthma or diabetes, I’d never dream of lying about it to a potential employer. For one thing, it’d be irresponsible (if something were to happen to me, the people around me would definitely need to know what was going on), and for another I simply wouldn’t have to. There just isn’t the stigma involved. There wouldn’t be any pen-fiddling, or awkward looks or “I’m not sure we can support you here…” type comments. It’d just be accepted as something I have to live with.

 

The fact is, in an environment where people are understanding and supportive, my depression affects me about as much as the flu or stomach bugs might affect the rest of the staff (ie the occasional day here or there where you might have to call in sick or you won’t be at your best in the workplace). But that’s in a truly supportive environment. In a place where people really don’t understand, I might have to put up with whispering, back-biting, people giving me a wide berth (because they don’t want to catch the crazy), people ignoring me, or not making an effort to talk to me as much as the other members of staff. All of those things have an enormous effect on my health, which means that there might be an increase of times where I feel awful, can’t make it in, or simply can’t do my job properly while I’m at work. Then, of course, management make the judgment that I really am incompetent, rather than just dealing with a difficult environment which is having a detrimental effect on my health. And after that, it’s not long before I’m shown the door.

 

The door I can't even make it through because I'm too depressed, apparently

 

Some people might say, “Well, if you just don’t tell them, then the whispering and back-biting wouldn’t start in the first place.” Not true. Even in situations where I haven’t said a word about my health, all it takes is one lousy day for people to start cottoning on to the fact that I might have a health condition. Or they might just assume I’m useless, or lazy, or just doing it for attention, because I haven’t been honest. All of which contributes to a toxic environment, without me having to say a word about my health. Plus if things ever got really bad (as they have occasionally), my manager may then turn around and say, “Well, why weren’t you honest in the first place? We might have been able to help you.” It’s a situation where you feel damned if you do, damned if you don’t. But what really annoys me is when people who are supposed to be on my side (friends, family, even health professionals) start giving me little pep talks about what I should and shouldn’t say before I’ve even set foot in a new workplace.

 

Some people advise me not to use the word “depression”. Some people say I shouldn’t mention any days off I’ve had because of it. Some people tell me I shouldn’t say anything at all (possibly because they’ve assumed that as I can obtain a job interview at all, I haven’t got anything to complain about anyway). I was once advised by an employment agency who work specifically with people with disabilities that I should only say my depression is “mild” when talking about it, I guess because that conjures up nice images of “just feeling a bit blue” rather than being a total debilitated wreck who can’t string a sentence together (as occasionally I am). These were people who I thought would want to challenge stigma surrounding disabled people in the workplace, but everything once again had to be watered down and sanitized for the wider world. They worked on the principle of “we understand, but no one else will, so hush up.”

"To other people, you will only ever look like this."

 

I know that when I receive these pep talks, these people aren’t being malicious, they’re simply trying to protect me. They know, as well as I do, that people can be very judgmental and uncomprehending when it comes to mental health problems and by being honest I may be inadvertently creating a negative impression of myself before I’ve had a chance to show what I can do. But I disagree that I should have to hush up in order to make things better for myself. Living with depression isn’t something to be ashamed of, it’s just an irritating factor that unfortunately I need to take into consideration. It doesn’t make me any less capable overall, it just means sometimes I may not be at my best and I need the people around me to understand that. Because then the times where I will be at my best will radically increase.

 

I believe that by keeping quiet or putting a “positive spin” on things, I’m simply adding to the problem. This doesn’t encourage anyone to understand mental illness, it just means I’ll have played along with someone else’s rules for my own gain (which will probably blow up in my face anyway). I’ll still be ill, and I’ll still be working for someone who not only doesn’t understand, but now doesn’t have the inclination to try and understand either because I’ve essentially shoved myself into a box for their benefit. It means I’ll be exhausted from trying to put a brave face on everything, as well as adding to the common misconception that having depression means you’re weak or incapable. Feeling like I can “own” my experience, by being honest about the extent to which it affects me (no more, no less), is an important part of getting better. I hope that this will mean I end up working with better people as a result.

“Going crazy over this costume”: Halloween and Mental Health

Halloween will soon be here again, and while I was doing a bit of reading online I came across this story. In 2010, the National Alliance on Mental Illness in America made a complaint against a theme park in Ohio for running a haunted house called “Dr D. Mented’s Asylum for the Criminally Insane” and a music show called “The Edge of Madness: Still Crazy”. The Alliance stated that they believed the attractions promoted negative stereotypes and misinformation about mental health. Originally, the park defended their attractions and refused to change the names, saying that the rides “do not depict real life” and that “no one else has complained”. However, this year the park apparently had a change of heart, renaming the rides and stating that as “a few people were offended, we’re changing them”. They “certainly weren’t trying to disrespect.”

The rides at the theme park in Ohio depicted blood-spattered ‘patients’ in hospital gowns, dummies with Hannibal Lector-style masks, and signs warning patrons to ‘beware of patients posing as physicians or medical staff’ (click here for pictures, scroll down). A realistic depiction it ain’t, but it’s still enough to make me feel a bit sick. Depicting what is essentially a psychiatric facility (albeit an overblown, movie-style representation) as being a frightening and possibly dangerous place to be doesn’t seem like such a great idea to me. Psychiatric units do exist in real life, people do go to them as patients to receive treatment and turning them into sensationalised places of horror is a pretty tasteless thing to do in light of that. There was the predictable backlash against the protest, with people claiming that the protestors were being too sensitive, that the rides weren’t supposed to be realistic and that “if you don’t like it, don’t go” , as if the only concern of NAMI was their own reaction and not the impact on the general public’s reaction to mental health issues.

I could sort of see where the backlash was coming from. Theme parks are pretty much as far from real life as you can get; that’s why people go to them in the first place. I wouldn’t dispute that. However, while witches, goblins, vampires and zombies are most definitely not real (don’t flame me in the comments – I do keep a crowbar handy in case the apocalypse comes), inmates of mental health facilities most certainly are. That, I think, was NAMI’s point: it’s not the depiction of the ‘asylum’ that’s in question, it’s the depiction of mental health at all. They stated in their letter to the park that a cancer ward-themed ride wouldn’t be appropriate, so why doesn’t the same rule apply with the ‘asylum’? I think it’s a good point.

Unfortunately, this story is not unique. Last year, another amusement park in North Carolina had an attraction called ‘The Asylum’, and in Philadelphia, ‘The Pennhurst Asylum’ was a halloween attraction that sparked controversy as it was built on the grounds of an actual hospital that had closed years before. The original plans for the attraction included actors portraying people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, a fact that former employee of the hospital, J. Gregory Pirmann called “offensive beyond belief”. When reading the story, I couldn’t help but be reminded of people in the 17th century who were able to pay a fee to look at the inmates of the local asylum for entertainment. The whole thing left me feeling angry, unsettled and confused. Have we really not come far enough to realise that mental health issues shouldn’t be sensationalised like this?

I haven’t come across any similar stories in England (which I was pretty thankful for), but there are some things I’ve noticed that have made me uneasy. The sale of ‘mental patient’ Halloween costumes for one thing, where you can buy a fake strait-jacket or orange jumpsuit for a fancy dress party and go along foaming at the mouth or something… On the surface, you might look at something like that and laugh but it’s likely that if someone turned up to a party as a cancer patient or someone suffering from Parkinson’s, you’d think they were a moronic arsehole. These outfits are still sold in stores and online, although I think there’s possibly less of them now than there has been before. Protesters have put their foot down on several occasions, including the case of the ‘Anna Rexic’ girl’s Halloween costume, supposedly a ‘joke’ (concerning a mental illness that kills thousands every year). In reality, it’s a cataclysm of bad taste that simply beggars belief.

So what’s the damage? I’m really interested in what affects people’s feelings towards mental health issues, and I can’t help but think that, while silly and over-the-top, these Halloween themes are promoting a harmful message to people that mental illness is both something to be feared and mocked in equal measure. NAMI in America put out a message in 2006, pleading with people not to exploit mental health issues in their Halloween celebrations by sticking to ‘ghouls and goblins, trap doors and tombstones’ and leaving out ‘psychiatric wards, insane asylums and the bloodthirsty killers in straitjackets’. All in all, I think it’s a more than reasonable request.

However, simply turning our back on tasteless Halloween attractions may only be the tip of the iceberg. After all, they’re reflecting a wider media culture concerning the fear of the mentally ill. If somebody puts on a strait-jacket or a mask as a Halloween costume, they’re not directly mocking the mentally ill, but rather portraying a view they’ve seen in films or on TV. This is why Halloween attractions and costumes like this are still sold: because it’s often the only identification people have with mental health issues: that it’s OK to fear or mock them. In a recent survey undertaken by UK mental health charity, Time to Change, they found that half of the respondents indicated that they had seen violent “mentally ill” characters in TV or film. Then, when asked what characteristics define film characters with mental illnesses, two of the top answers were “violent” and “likely to kill violently”. Of course, the link between what people watch and what they believe is difficult to prove. But given the amount of stigma that still surrounds mental illness, I think we’d do well to start looking at alternative representations. Aside from a few notable exceptions, there are few films or TV programmes that portray characters with mental health difficulties without resorting to stereotypes like violence and comedy. The longer we keep these stereotypes in place, the harder it’s going to be for people to live their lives free of stigma. And that is something that genuinely frightens me.

Title quote can be found here, if you can stomach it.