by Emma Wyeth and Alicia Hooper
Two King’s students give us their take on how Britain deals with mental health.
In the past few years I have noticed a communal step towards educating the UK about mental health problems. That is not to say the stigma is completely stamped out. I think that certain parts of our culture breed misunderstanding towards the issue. As Londoners, our resistance to engage with anyone on the tube who isn’t reading the paper or avoiding eye contact is testimony to this.
We, as a society, are still not able to admit that mental health issues are terrifying for sufferers. It’s confusing and paralysing to recognise that your thoughts are your enemy. Acceptance in society is necessary before sufferers can find the agency to seek help and ultimately accept themselves.
I hate to admit that I’m utterly unsurprised by The Sun’s emotive and inaccurate headline on 7 October. It was a shock tactic only used to sell papers and engender ignorance. The writers harnessed ill-fitting statistics to peddle a fragile point.
To also unapologetically label sufferers as “broken people” is unacceptable. The most disturbing thing is that it will deter undiagnosed victims from asking for help because of their fear of judgement.
A few years ago I volunteered with young adults who had a range of different mental illnesses. I had no experience working with people who had these handicaps but thought it would be explained to me by those who were regular carers at the youth hostel. However, I was given no direction about the different problems people at the centre had and how to deal with them. Instead I was thrown in the deep end and had to do guesswork.
As I had no clue about the different characteristics certain mental illnesses had, I began to believe that one of the members was getting too friendly with me; he would very rarely leave me with any other people and always wanted to hold my hand. I didn’t want this to come across as inappropriate and when I asked the carers about this, they simply said that it was fine as long as I wasn’t alone with him and failed to tell me about his problems.
His behaviour seemed strange to me and I decided to leave the volunteering, as I was unable to interact with the other members without him being with me and trying to get my attention. A few weeks ago while in a psycholinguistics lecture our lecturer was describing a problem called Williams Syndrome, in which adults have a very low IQ but also have a high vocabulary and come across overly friendly and chatty. This is believed to be the illness the man had, and if only this had been explained to me, I would have continued the volunteering and understood the illness a little bit more.