Following Time to Change’s Time To Talk Day, COT’s Professional Affairs Officer—Mental Health and Learning Disabilities, Genevieve Smyth, reflects on the importance of reducing mental health stigma and the issues that we still don’t seem able to talk about.
Last week COT took part in Time to Change’s Time to Talk Day which encouraged us all to have a chat about mental health in order to reduce mental health discrimination. Many OTs joined us and a huge number of healthcare professionals and service users on Twitter to discuss tackling mental health stigma using the hashtag #timetotalk.
Occupational therapists in mental health believe that teaching people new skills is of little value if you then place the person into a hostile social environment. The attitudes and beliefs of those around us are incredibly powerful and impact on our beliefs about what we can do and how we spend our time. External stigma becomes internalised and the person experiences a double disability—firstly because of the mental illness and secondly because they then feel ashamed and marginalised. This is obviously wrong and is why the Time to Change campaign is so vital for our society to evolve.
But what wasn’t talked about in Time to Talk? The recent tragic death of the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman from drug addiction is typical of our inability to talk openly about drug and alcohol problems. Unhelpful attitudes still exist that perpetuate old myths such as “It’s all in their control—they just need to stop taking the stuff, no-one’s forcing them to take it”. The level of people with drug and alcohol problems is under-reported and they are frequently neglected by services and by society. Working with people who had gone through detox, asking them about their work skills, interests or friends was generally met with a resounding blank: the addiction was their whole life, their reason for being and everything they did was associated with this. Trying to rebuild lives away from addiction was like trying to build a brand new person with new roles, routines and friends—a super-human feat.
Addicts need our support not our discrimination if we are to stop these tragic early deaths occurring and help rebuild drug free lives.