At the moment I am having an issue with stigma surrounding mental illnesses, and whether telling our personal stories is an effective way of reaching out and raising awareness.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m passionate about raising awareness of perinatal mental illnesses having suffered post-natal depression myself, but I am beginning to question whether it helps or hinders. Let me explain. I have three children and on each occasion have suffered PND. Each time the illness was as individual as the child it came with. There were a few common traits but ultimately set time I suffered was unique and the way I recovered tailored accordingly. That makes recovery sound easy, it’s not, I know, and during each of my ‘journeys’ (for want of a better word) what I needed was different. It wasn’t a ‘one size’ fits all approach, and neither should it have been. And just because it worked for me doesn’t mean it would work for someone else.
If someone suffering heard of a story that is not entirely the same as theirs, or God forbid worse, the story doesn’t do its job of raising awareness and potentially confuses the listener. They think that the story is an exact representation of how the illness manifests itself. Which isn’t ever true, as you could never capture each minute and complex aspect of a mental illness.
And often the stories the media choose to portray are those that are the extreme. The ones they can sensationalise. And I’m almost convinced this does more harm than good.
And then there’s the other side, someone who has suffered or is still ill can be catastrophically triggered by hearing such a story. Not the best outcome for anyone.
If real life stories are an important part of raising awareness and reaching out then they need to be dealt with professionally and realistically with clear guidelines that the symptoms described are not necessarily ones everyone will experience. For example, as I have said on many, many occasions before – PND does not make you want to kill your baby or yourself. Portraying this as its main symptom may lead ill people to dismiss how they are feeling, even though they may very well have PND.
Shocking people, sensationalising personal stories, not showing a broad spectrum of how the illness affects each person individually is not helpful. Raising awareness needs to be bigger than that. Telling your story may be therapeutic for you, but what is the point? Who do you want to help and how? If you can’t answer these questions then maybe you should think twice. Sick people preaching to vulnerable people cannot possibly have a good outcome.
Your story is personal to you. As is your recovery. And if you truly want to help others then make sure your story is honest and signposts the reader to safe places where they can receive the help and care they need. I’ve always said that when you suffer from a mental illness you have a responsibility that comes with it. Supporting others the correct way is part of that.
So think twice before purging your story to all and sundry, as it doesn’t always help.