“Time to Change” is a mental health initiative run by the charities “Mind” and “Rethink mental Illness” to fight the stigma attached to mental illness. I am a Time to Change Champion and Rethink activist and whenever possible I volunteer to help this worthy cause.
As someone who has suffered with depression for more than 30 years, and actively committed to changing people’s attitudes towards mental illness, you can probably imagine my shock, disgust and outrage at the news this week that ASDA and Tesco were selling Halloween “mental patient” outfits.
Thankfully, the uproar was so great that both supermarkets have been forced to remove their products from sale and have pledged large sums of money as donations to both Mind and Rethink in recompense.
Whilst I applause this turnaround, I despair that two huge corporate giants actually thought it acceptable in the first place to sell these outfits. Who sanctioned this? Did they think? What is their perception of mental illness and why? Did they really feel that people would dress up as a mental patient for Halloween and why? Personally I find this difficult to comprehend but at the risk of being over-sensitive, I would like to understand more about the root of this train of thought before I make my final judgement. It’s all very well to make a hefty monetary donation but I would like to see our mental health charities following up on this to find out why it was deemed acceptable in the first place. It is simply disgusting and needs to be stopped now.
This week is the KPMG Diversity week, 5 days celebrating diversity in the workplace. We have a number of diverse groups within the firm ranging from the religous, Jewish, Islamic and Christian societies, our LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender society called “Breathe”, KNOW, the “women’s” group which focuses on issues particularly facing women in the workplace and sponsored by a senior male Partner along with groups providing specific support for parents, disabled staff, working dads and those promoting a healthy work-life balance.
Today I hijacked the lunchtime session as, being Mental Health Awareness Week here in the UK, I felt that it should be the focus of our day today.
We had a lovely time talking to several people about mental health and hopefully encouraged a few more to talk openly and honestly about mental health issues.
Richard is our Workability facilitator in Birmingham and he is on a mission to promote diversity and disability awareness in our office.
Over the past few weeks I have done a couple of interviews about my experiences of depression for the Sunday Telegraph Stella Magazine and the Daily Mail, neither of which has yet been published as there are clearly far more interesting and worthy news stories around.
The latest scheduled date for Stella is Sunday 21 October, but I’m not holding my breath. The Daily Mail is clearly holding us all in suspense but it will be worth waiting for 🙂
One of the benefits of the Daily Mail adventure was having a make-up artist and photographer come to my house and do a photo shoot. Normally I hate my photo being taken but they both made me feel very relaxed, to the extent that the make-up guy (can’t remember his name 😦 ) drank the bottle of wine that I’d bought to calm ME down and I didn’t notice until he fell out of my front door on his way to his car!
After my make-up was complete and I looked more like Elvira Munster than I cared to, I had a couple of arguments with the guy about what I should wear for the photos;
“No black”- “But my whole wardrobe is black!”
“Nothing jazzy”-” You are telling me that my M&S Per Una cardigans are too jazzy?”
“No low-cut tops showing vast amounts of cleavage”- “I don’t do low-cut tops showing vast amounts of cleavage”
Me; “That dress is too tight”
Him; “Caroline it only has to look good from the front!”
and so it went on until we agreed to disagree and I bowed to his greater experience in these matters.
Many of those who read my blog regularly will know that I talk very openly and honestly about my experiences with depression and how it affects me day to day. I’ve recently been through a very dark and lonely few months but thankfully those horrible black clouds have started to lift and I can get back to living my life. It won’t be a fast recovery. I’ve learnt not to rush things but instead to take my time (the wisdom that comes with age!) and I still need plenty of rest so I can recharge my batteries which have been running on fresh air.
During the last few months I have continued to tell people about my depression in the hope that I can help others come to terms with their illness and seek proper help and I know from emails that I have had some success and have made a difference to quite a few people. This is fantastic news and is crucial in the fight against the stigma of mental health but still too many are afraid to talk about depression in case they are stigmatised. This only helps to perpetuate the illness and means that it can last longer than if help is sought early.
At the outset, my mission for 2011 was and still remains to help eradicate the stigma attached to mental illness and depression. I believe in this very personal campaign because everyone deserves a chance, and because depression can strike anybody at any time often leaving a trail of devastation in its wake. We all need to be prepared and armed to cope with the onset should it strike.
Four months into the year I would like to think that I have done quite a lot to raise the awareness of depression, its symptoms, the help available and convince people that if you talk about it openly, the support is there. I have been lucky. I have received a lot of support and wonderful comments from friends, family and colleagues and it does make a difference.
There is plenty more work to do, and I have lots of exciting projects to look forward to but we have made a start.
Most people who know me have heard that I am on a mission this year. My mission is to fight against the stigma of depression and I have formalised my campaign by joining the Aspire Heroine’s Quest which starts in March.
Here I am [Caroline] in this quarter’s A Single Step magazine published by the Depression Alliance in a short article about stigma.
2010 was the year in which I overcame the fear of prejudice, stigma and of being labelled and finally admitted to friends, family and colleagues that I have depression. There were many reasons why I felt this was my moment and whilst it hasn’t all been plain sailing, I don’t regret it for one minute.
It sounds dramatic, but since my admission last May, my life has changed completely both at work and at home. I am now involved in lots of depression-related activities with my prime target to eradicate the stigma associated with mental illness and depression and to help others come to terms with this illness. All I have achieved towards this end in the last year is dedicated to everyone suffering with depression and mental illness, and to encourage them to hang in there, keep calm and keep going.
It will get better but you have to believe.
Undoubtedly the best thing about my admission however is that I have at long last found my tribe. I now belong to a large group of like-suffering wonderful people who I now count as some of my best friends because of our mutual association and understanding of depression. There is nothing like peer support to help deal with this illness as it can be a very lonely place and friends who genuinely understand the illness and it’s varied unpredictable symptoms are precious indeed.
Thank goodness for that moment of courage and thank you to all my new friends. I can finally be me.