Mental Illness – The World Can Be Changed One Conversation at a Time

flowersIt’s a privilege to welcome mental health nurse and charity CEO Kate Majid to the blog today on World Mental Health Day.

After 32 years working as a mental health nurse in the NHS, Kate Majid became the only registered mental health nurse CEO of a mental health charity in England: The Shaw Mind Foundation. Kate’s incredible clinical background in the fast changing landscape that is the NHS means that she is uniquely placed to influence transformation from within the mental health charity sector.

Kate has a simple goal – to change the world for people with mental health problems and their carers, and everything she has done to date has taken her one step closer to that goal. As CEO of The Shaw Mind Foundation, she can embed preventative strategies from an early age to really make a difference.

Kate believes that the world can be changed – one connection, one conversation at a time.

Over to Kate.

32 years ago, I stepped into the world of psychiatry to train as a mental health nurse. This career choice was in part driven by my parents who insisted that I, ‘did something’ and was also in part thanks to a national newspaper who were running a recruitment campaign at the time calling for psychiatric nurses. Their campaign focused on a series of art produced by individuals experiencing psychosis. One image in particular, however, has stuck with me throughout my career – an image drawn by a young man of how he imagined his brain to work whilst experiencing a relapse of his psychosis. It was that image of chaos and distress which ignited a curiosity in me, and a dream to change the world.

I realise as I type this that the need to ‘change the world’ could be viewed as rather egocentric and somewhat naïve as I was 18 at the time – and you’d be right, it was – but as I rapidly approach my 50th birthday, it’s an ambition which is as strong today as it was 32 years ago, and one that continues to get me out of bed each morning. It motivates me to keep fighting the stigma that people so often experience as a consequence of their mental ill health.

You might think that the fight is drawing to a close, that the battle is nearly over and we have won – after all, people are talking more about mental health issues than ever before but we’re not there yet. It is brilliant to see the many different influential advocates out there: the young royals, athletes, and various celebrities and some might even say that speaking about mental health is fashionable at the moment, and perhaps they’re right… However, with trend comes risk – what happens when the fashion of speaking about ones own mental health difficulties falls out of favour? What happens if a different worthy cause is more popular to follow? What happens to those individuals left behind?

Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way demeaning or criticising the time, effort and focus that people are putting into this area – I welcome and celebrate it – but I am worried about ‘what next?’. Mental illness has been around for centuries and it is likely to remain around for years to come, whether it is in or out of fashion, so while we speak up, we must also safeguard against this becoming a fad. It’s certainly not a fad for those in the midst of mental illness, or their loved ones.

I’m using the term `mental illness` on purpose. I’m aware it’s fallen out of vogue recently, the media prefer to say ‘well being difficulties’ or ‘mental health’ to describe low mood, feeling anxious or stressed – but mental illness or mental ill health is different, and needs just as much of a spotlight.

Let’s start a conversation about psychosis, about hearing a voice continually shouting derogatory commentary and personal critical remarks all day and yet still managing to hold a conversation or cook a meal. What about agitated depression – a feeling of red hot ants crawling on and in your skin, a feeling so bad that you, ‘just want it to stop’ and will do anything to make it so. Clinical depression, a ‘black dog’ so large that you cannot lift your head from the pillow let alone think about cleaning your teeth. Obsessive compulsive disorder, so severe that the only way you can see to end the torment is to end your life. These are mental illnesses (and there are more – equally un-glamorous) and the people who suffer them, need an advocate shouting for them, just as much as any other form of mental health problem.

Psychiatry has certainly seen many positive changes over the last 70 years spanning new treatment methods (pharmaceutical and therapeutic), better hospitals and well trained, compassionate staff. In fact, transformation in mental health has in many ways, grown faster than other areas of medicine – but then again it did start at a significant disadvantage whereby there was little evidence-based treatment available, and people with a mental illness were often locked away for most – if not all – of their lives inside one of the many Victorian asylums. So, we have come a long way, but still have so far to go.

That is why while I applaud the work that is underway supporting people to come forward and speak out for mental health difficulties, my plea is that we take this opportunity to address stigma across all forms of mental illness – even those that are difficult to address and are perhaps less `in vogue`.

The world is still in need of changing, and I still believe that we can make it happen regardless of fashion or trends – one conversation and one connection at a time.


#LiftingTheLid on Mental Health Stigma:

Mental Illness

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