by Sandra Webster
By the Scottish Government’s own statistics, one in three people will be affected by mental ill-health over the course of their lifetime. Of course, not everyone will be severely affected – it is a spectrum disorder like many other conditions – but such a large number means that everyone knows someone who has been affected.
You would believe this would lead to more understanding, but more than most disabilities it is something that is not talked about. I am one of the one in three who has experienced mental ill-health, but why do I feel more at ease telling people about my physical long term conditions, because I worry others will have less understanding. This is why I have written this article today as a voice from the shadows.
People thankfully are beginning to understand more of the barriers people with physical disabilities experience, although there is still a long way to go. However people living with mental ill health report that despite highly visible campaigns, the stigma of having a mental illness is on the rise. They are more likely to be the victims of hate crime, language such as “loonies” or “schizo” are tolerated and some may argue have become ingrained in our cultural psyche. Cruel or unthinking use of language is an oppressive tool and it is our responsibility, individually and collectively, to challenge all forms when it affects stigmatized groups.
With the promise of continuing austerity looming on the near horizon, diagnosis and treatment is going to become more difficult. There is already cuts in the number of psychiatric beds available. A friend from Glasgow who was sectioned had to be sent to a hospital in Aberdeen as there were no closer available beds. Cuts are being made to services which offer daily support. Care in the community too frequently means a prescription and an occasional visit to a psychiatrist. Waiting times for appointments are long and growing. With further cuts coming, this will likely continue.
The social security cuts mean that individuals are often subjected to Work Capability Assessments which are demeaning and do not take mental ill-health into account. There is a growing “They are all at it. They are not really ill” mentality, which comes from the top down from the politicians who are cutting people’s benefits. We have all heard of the stories of those who have taken their own lives and, of course, no-one is accountable. I believe personal responsibility begins with us and supporting those who can’t speak up for themselves. Our voices and actions together are a powerful force to show this isn’t right is not enough any more we need to offer support and practical help.
We all know someone with mental ill health but see beyond the stereotypes. Celebrate their uniqueness. See the person not the disability. On Mental Health Awareness Day I want it to be a warning of what lies ahead but also a celebration of humanity and how brilliant we can be. Being different is not a negative. I am thinking today of all those I know and love who live with mental ill-health. You are all amazing; you need a hand up, not ignored or put into a box. As a party, I hope we will continue to do all we can to support you and listen and learn. Most important of all we must ensure your voices are heard. It is time to come out from the shadows and know we will be there to support you and do whatever you need us to.
It will be led by you.
Sandra Webster is the national co-spokesperson of the Scottish Socialist Party