It has long been a contention of mine that sufferers of mental illness are viewed much more negatively than are sufferers of physical illnesses. It as though those suffering physical ill-health are the innocent victims worthy of sympathy, empathy, understanding and treatment whereas many mental ill-health sufferers are seen, somehow, as the architects of their own illness and with the keys of recovery firmly within their heads.
Last week I read an interesting article in The Guardian (G2 magazine) which showed that the boundaries were blurred. Some physical illness sufferers, for example, ME are, or were seen, as being responsible in some way for their symptoms. The author, Keith Kahn-Harris, found that he was considered differently from people ill through other causes.
Kahn-Harris says, " ..... many people assume ME is an illness to be combated like any other. Long tagged with the disparaging "yuppie flu" label, there is enormous ignorance of what it is and what patients go through. Although an estimated 240,000 people in the UK suffer from ME, its effects are chronic and invisible. Symptoms include extreme fatigue, muscle pain, sleep difficulties and memory problems. About 25% of sufferers are housebound or bed-bound. ME is often accompanied by isolation and prejudice. The prognosis for ME sufferers is varied; some recover fully, but many do not. Even in its milder forms, ME can devastate lives and destroy careers.
For many years, psychiatrists dominated the research and treatment of ME. The treatment of first choice remains various forms of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which, applied crudely, can end up suggesting to patients that their illness is "all in the mind". The ME community is full of stories of patients being forced into exercise programmes that make their health worse, of benefits and insurance claimants accused of lying, of parents of children with ME accused of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. Sophie Mirza, who became the first person to be classified as having died of ME in the UK in 2005, was even forcibly sectioned" !!!!
Although the WHO now lists ME as a neurological condition, Kahn-Harris asserts, "Crude applications of the psychiatric model of ME may have caused a lot of damage, but they are in line with common perceptions of ill-health. ME is still often treated as a battle to be won. To be cautious, to listen to the needs of one's own body, is to "give in"."
"The message I get from the media, friends and colleagues is that one should treat illness as alien, as an invader to be evicted as soon as possible. But to have any kind of quality of life with ME, you have to accept the unwell part of yourself. This consideration of one's own needs might seem like selfishness, but in reality it is necessary to develop a proper balance between self and other and to prioritise what is really important in life."
Our own exmples (Mrs Carr's and mine) show that within mental ill-health the boundaries are also blurred. I have written often about the appalling ways in which Mrs Carr was treated as though she was responsible in some way for her condition but, having read the Kahn-Harris article, I saw that my depression, and therefore I, was viewed much more positively than Mrs Carr. When I described my symptoms and suggested that I might be depressed, I was believed!! There was no questioning of my symptoms: there was acceptance. I was seen as an innocent victim! Because I had taken on virtually all the responsibilities for family and house in addition to being a carer to Mrs Carr it was unsurprising that I should feel and be depressed. I was a victim of circumstance. The cause of my problems was clear and anyone in in a similar position would struggle.
Whatever problems I had were tiny compared to those suffered by Mrs Carr. I was living with mine and I was seeing and living with the consequences of Mrs Carr's but yet I was getting sympathy; I was being referred to a CPN. Medical staff would not accept that I suffered much less than Mrs Carr. I was innocent and worthy, Mrs Carr was not!!
I've heard and read that what we experienced is not uncommon ...... but it should be .... and must become so.
I'm using my campaign - Mental Health 4 All - to help Mrs Carr get the care she needs but I hope that the publicity we get is such that other issues can be raised too. I'm not denigrating any of the current mental health organisations nor trying to usurp their roles - not at all, that would be utter folly - but in the unlikely event of MH4A getting a burst of publicity then I need to exploit that for the benefit of Mrs Carr and others.
With your support we can help Mrs Carr.
With a big dose of luck - and hard work - we can help others too.
Pleae continue to support Mental Mealth 4 All but much more importantly please continue to support Mrs Carr.