Monday, 27 October 2014

BBC Free Speech – Can you love your mental illness?

Trigger warning: this post does discuss the topic of self-harm. 

Last Tuesday (21st October) saw BBC Three bring the topic of mental health and young people into the spotlight once again in their programme Free Speech. You may remember last summer BBC Three had a whole bunch of documentaries discussing different topic surrounding youth mental health for their It’s a Mad World season and the response sparked lots of conversation and debate, highlighting both the positives and negatives of the of mental health care for young people. Free Speech did not cease to have exactly the same effect, with their perhaps most controversial question being “can you ever like your mental illness?”

If you’ve not seen Free Speech before, it’s a lively debating show which features a panel of high-profile figures with personal, political or professional interest. This week’s guest panel consisted of Alistair Campbell, Dr. Sarah Wollaston, Zoe Hardman and Jon Watson. The show was aired lived from a mental health hospital in London with the audience being made up of those with personal experiences of a mental health issue, deemed to be the first time this has ever happened on British television. The show regularly uses social media throughout its duration to gather opinions from the general public. It’ s a great tool to encourage debate amongst young people and give them the platform to share their views.

They featured a personal story of one girl’s experience with the stigma surrounding self-harm, which whilst I found difficult to watch, it was done in a thoughtful way without stereotypical images and what I would personally consider ‘unnecessary’ information. Instead, they focused on how much of an issue self-harm amongst young people currently is and the reactions some people have towards it – a much more delicate and thoughtful way of raising self-harm as an issue in my opinion, without discrediting it yet still reinforcing how very real this issue is.  

The question that really got the cogs in my brain turning was “can you ever like my mental illness?” Apparently the reasoning behind asking this question is further to a number of celebrities speaking out about their own mental illnesses and declaring how they like certain aspects of their condition. I must hold my hands up and admit – when they first asked the question on the show, my first response was to laugh. Were they joking? Who loves their mental illness? They’ve just discussed the stigma surrounding mental illness and the astounding flaws in mental health care for it to then follow on to that question? Immediately, the pain and suffering that I have not only experienced on a personal level but have also witnessed in others sprung to my mind. I couldn’t count the number of times I have sat and imagined a life without my diagnosis, how different it would be and how much more I could do.

By the end of the show though, and after listening to how some people in the audience had recognised some positives from their diagnosis, I reflected and saw that my illnesses have perhaps given me some traits I’m happy to have. When I’m having a good day, I can recognise it and celebrate it for starters. I’m grateful for those days perhaps more than someone without the diagnosis I have and I try and make the most of them because I appreciate what it’s like to feel as though all hope as gone. Plus, what some people may class as being ‘overly emotional’ or sensitive is actually what makes me a good listener. I love hearing what other people have to say and will do anything and everything I can to help them with a dilemma. The people I love and care about know my door is always welcome with tea and cake waiting should they need it. I’m also slowly starting to learn how to say no because I know that it’s better for my health sometimes, whereas before, I’d perhaps have pushed myself to beyond what I should have done. Don’t get me wrong, I like to challenge myself and my illnesses, but I can recognise when I need to slow down and nest for a bit and I’m starting to realise that’s a good thing rather than something to feel guilty about!

So all in all, would I change my illnesses? Yes. Do I like them? Certainly not and I don’t have a shred of doubt about that! But they’ve taught me things and given me experiences not everyone else would necessarily have and that for me is a positive. I’ve gone places that I never thought I’d come back from and yet here I am. That counts for something, right?

If you missed last week’s Free Speech, you can watch it by visiting this link - http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b04m9twr/free-speech-series-3-episode-8.

I’d also love to hear what you think – do YOU like your mental illness?