Time to change – but how?

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I wanted to re-visit my first blog post where I talked about the ‘Time to Change’ pledge I signed. To take you back for a second, it was initiated by the mental health organisations MIND and Rethink, with the objective of ending the stigma and discrimination associated with having mental health problems.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I could do to become more involved in this. I want to do more than show my support with a signature. I know that starting this blog is a step in the right direction but I still feel I am merely dipping my toe in the water. Although my blog is ‘out there’ in cyberspace for anyone to read, it still feels like a very ‘safe’ arena. I suspect that the type of people who will gravitate towards it will already have more than a passing interest in mental health issues. Maybe from personal experience or from knowing someone close to them who has suffered. I’ve started to share the link to the blog with selected friends and family, but to start with, it was only people who I knew were guaranteed to support me and not judge me. As I have gained confidence, I’ve started to share it with people who I don’t know very well and in a blind leap of faith, with someone I had only known for an hour ( Although I did get a very good vibe from them.) I think it is important that I don’t stay in any sort of comfort zone for too long. Although I acknowledge that building confidence is a process, I also want to feel I am pushing myself as much as I can to share the blog with people who may not have any experience of mental health issues. My ultimate goal is to feel able to share it with anyone and everyone and to feel able to deal with whatever feedback came my way. I don’t think there is any point in me being open about mental health issues if I am only open in a way that guarantees a good reaction.

When I first started this, it took me about a week to calm down from the anxiety of giving the blog link out to a new person. Now, there is about a 2 day turnaround which I am pleased with.

I’ve been amazed at how open other people are in their blogs on similar subjects but I’ve also wondered how many of us could talk like this in ‘real life’ as well as in the blogosphere? As well as writing this, I want to feel able to discuss anything I write here with people in the ‘real world’.

To stay focused, I’ve decided to see it as a project with definite steps along the way. If I was at work dealing with a project I’d be doing an action plan and making sure my goals fitted in with SMART targets ( ensuring they are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-related ) I will use the same format with this to keep me on track.

I think it is important to define WHAT exactly has got to change. The MIND/Rethink mission statement is to end discrimination towards people with mental health problems. At first glance, it seems as though it is other people who have to change their attitudes and assumptions. It is true that there is a lot of incorrect information around, but where has it come from? I think it stems from lack of understanding and education, but I’m not sure this is anyone’s ‘fault’. If I don’t challenge people though, I am reinforcing these inaccurate beliefs and discrimination.

So for one of my first goals, I will openly challenge anyone who I feel has made an inaccurate statement or judgement on the topic of mental health. At the same time I will openly admit to my own mental health problems and use my experiences as an example, even if it happens at work or somewhere I feel there are ‘risks’ involved in such disclosure.

I’m also going to answer people honestly if they ask how I am. I’m not going to weigh up the answer in terms of who I am talking to, how well I know them, where I have been asked etc. If I am depressed or anxious I will be truthful, likewise, if I am ill and frustrated with my other health problems I will say so. Sometimes I have answered honestly and then immediately followed this with some sort of back-up positive statement about how I am looking on the bright side of things or some such sh*t. I find it hard if people don’t know how to answer and I feel compelled to neutralise the awkwardness. When I think about it from other people’s perspective, it must be difficult if you have never been through anything like this yourself. I think it’s important to not only be realistic about achieving my goals, but to also be realistic about the reaction I might receive. People may understand some aspects of what you say, but not all of it. For instance they may have felt very down, but not clinically depressed. Some people may have  had mental health problems themselves and never been able to talk about it, so the fact you have brought it up may be a relief and a blessing. Some people will never understand mental health problems at all and won’t know what to say, but that’s not their fault. There are things I will never understand either, such as what it feels like to have a baby, to have cancer, or to be a man. It is not my goal to make everyone understand how I or anyone else feels completely, but to feel confident in expressing how I am in a truthful way.

So my immediate goals are to start chipping away in realistic chunks. To sum up the goals are:

  • To tell more people in my life about this blog and share the link.
  • To be prepared to discuss anything in this blog with people in my life.
  • To challenge people if I feel they have made an incorrect assumption or statement on any aspect of mental health.
  • When asked, “How are you?” to answer honestly and not quantify it with a reflex positive response.
  • Be realistic about other people’s capacity to understand.

What do you all think? If anyone has any thoughts, suggestions or feedback I would LOVE to hear it! Click on ‘leave a comment’ below.

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