As has been said,
I am Graham Morgan. I was first diagnosed as having a mental health
problem when I was about 21. At that time no one really had much idea
what was wrong with me, I was troubled you might say. I had a habit
of cutting myself with razor blades, of taking overdoses and not knowing
how to talk to other people unless I was drunk, basically I was unhappy.
Sometimes people told me that I had a personality disorder and at
other times they suggested that I was depressed.
That was a horrible
time but it seemed that I had left it behind when I first met the
person to whom I am now married.
Around six years
ago everything collapsed when I cracked up and kept on dipping in
and out of psychosis for a couple of years. I was diagnosed as being
Schizophrenic, an event that I have talked about before. Since then
I have seen numerous psychiatrists and tried all sorts of different
medications. Now I am sometimes depressed and the occasional nagging
symptom will flit in and out of my head to annoy, confuse and irritate
me. I've also just realised that I have a drink problem following
talks with my wife and my psychologist and frequent trips to the bottle
bank with my whisky bottles.
For many people
Schizophrenia has spelled a life of unremitting unhappiness. For me,
although there have been occasions of sheer terror and desperate sadness,
and although this diagnosis plays a huge role in my life I am very
happy with the life that I have been privileged enough to experience.
There are moments
that define my memories: meeting and getting married to my wife; spending
nights learning about the legends of the stars in the mid Atlantic;
surfing down a wave with phosphorescence lighting the sails of our
boat; watching the sunrise in a desert or looking down on the clouds
from a mountain top; the day when our son was born and holding him
in my arms - I knew for certain after all our indecision and musing
what his name would be - the nights when my son climbs into my bed
and whispers that he loves me; and being able to do a job that I love.
I would not swap
my life for anything, but there is one aspect I would change and that
is the fact that I am apart, and I am different and self-conscious
about it. My job is partly to campaign for the rights of people with
mental health problems. I work with the Highland Users Group and we
write reports on every topic under the sun to try and improve things.
We're in the middle of a report on stigma and we are actively engaged
in challenging stigma through mental health awareness training.
We use the word
stigma automatically. All of you in this room are aware of what stigma
is and I would imagine disapprove of it. That makes it quite hard
to say anything new about it, but let us think for a moment. I am
used to the user movement, the carer movement and the whole mental
health movement, comparing itself to those campaigns for civil rights
and equality as shown by black people, women, gay people and the wider
We talk about
stigma. In the dictionary there are various definitions of stigma,
but the one I will quote is: "Stigma is a mark of disgrace, a
stain on ones character, to mark out as something bad. It is dishonour
and reproach". Other groups talk of prejudice and discrimination,
much more positive and assertive words. They make people understand
that what is being done, or thought, is unfair. There is nothing in
the definition of stigma that says to be stigmatised is unfair, unjustified
I think that this
is an accurate reflection of reality. The shame and hurt of mental
illness permeates our society. It is embedded in the culture of our
playgrounds, in our stories, in our jokes, in our myths and histories
and in our psyche.
is changing more and more. Some of us are beginning to be open about
our experiences and to refuse to accept prejudice, but equally there
are those of us who will not admit their experiences to anyone and
in the extreme, those of us who find it impossible to go on living
with the shame of the condition and the fear of the public's reaction.
of the attitudes that are held against us are, at their extreme harassment,
discrimination and abuse. For most of us this doesn't occur. It is
usually very hard for people to become aware that we have mental health
problems and therefore very hard for people to single us out as the
subjects of their fear.
In a rural area
this is sadly not the case. In small close communities people know
each other, people know who the psychiatrists are and the CPNs. They
are very well aware of Craig Dunain and they know who in their community
has what problems. Sometimes this can mean that people look out for
your welfare which is well intentioned but can mark you out as different,
but sometimes, especially if you have been in Craig Dunain or use
a mental health facility, you can find yourself on the receiving end
of ignorance and fear.
This, in some
situations, has meant people having bricks or stones thrown through
their windows, having children constantly ringing the door bell and
running away, having people urinating in your room, being spat at
in the street or alternatively having people cross the street to avoid
I remember one
of the members of HUG meeting me in hospital. I remember him holding
onto my clothes and begging me to find some way that he could stay
there permanently so that he wouldn't have to endure the harassment
of the community that he lived in.
Perhaps the two
most hurtful situations that I have heard of are when a community
decides that, because someone has a mental health problem, that they
are a paedophile or at the very least a danger to children. This has
occurred not only in local communities but also on those occasions
when supported accommodation is being opened. I remember local news
coverage reporting a councillor who equated the idea of putting accommodation
for people with a mental illness near a children's playground, as
being as silly as putting someone with a drink problem above an off
The other situation
is where our children have experienced harassment in the school playground
from other children, sometimes to the extent that they have had to
be taken out of school, or people have had to move area.
Far more common
is the action of the community that could not be called subtle, or
even any less hurtful, but is harder to prove. Those situations where,
before you were in Craig Dunain, you had lots of friends and now that
you are out you don't. People don't ring up or call round or invite
you out and people feel uneasy and don't know how to treat you. Where
once you would be asked to help out, perhaps to baby-sit or something
like that, people now think maybe not.
In the pubs there
is not the instant recognition and, as our members know all too well,
that is because you have been in Craig Dunain and the reason they
know that is because they too were brought up to avoid someone who
had been in a mental hospital.
At its least offensive
are the comments of concern that stereotype you into a perpetual role
of illness and helplessness, so that whenever people meet you in the
street they ask after your health. Not in the meaningless way we all
do but in the way that says they are acutely conscious that you have
a serious illness and that they are consciously looking out for your
welfare. This is nice but it can get irritating.
It is not just
other people that stigmatise us - it is also ourselves. We grew up
with the same attitudes; we were the children whose parents told us
not to go over the canal to play because the psychiatric hospital
was over there. We are the people who talked about the "men in
white coats" coming to take you away; we talked routinely of
people being "mad" and "crazy" and "nutcases"
in our everyday conversation, and as we grew up and began to read
newspapers we began to read of "schizos" and "psychos".
We began to learn that community care didn't work and that these people
were violent and had been released as potential time bombs into the
If we weren't
reading of violence, we were reading stories and talking of the horror
of mental illness and of the tragedy and fear and misery of illness,
and when it wasn't the agony of illness, it was the barbarism of the
old foreboding institutions that should have been closed years ago.
We saw the films like "One flew over the Cuckoo's Nest"
and we heard of ECT, medication and sectioning.
who had been brought up to think of these people as different and
strange and frightening, who had been brought up to fear and ridicule
the institutions and professionals and treatments, became ill ourselves,
and is it any wonder that many of us assumed that this was our lives
Out of the window
would go careers and relationships and friendships. From a place of
hope in our future we had come to hopelessness. Is it any wonder that
we reacted negatively and that some of us denied that we were ill
at all, or if we were ill, we were not like those others who were
really ill or we became angry and indignant or sad and depressed.
Whatever the reaction,
for a large number of us we found ourselves feeling that we were living
on the verges of society due to the reaction we have to the way society
treats us and due to our own feelings about our self worth.
There is a story
that illustrates this. One of our members was told that she would
be admitted to hospital and travelled down in the ambulance. She was
so scared that her husband would stop the ambulance and get out and
leave when he found out where she was going, that she didn't tell
him until the last possible moment of the journey.
Once in hospital
she kept her coat on all the time in the hope that people would think
she was a visitor, and not a patient, and when she left the ward she
waited until the nurses did the same in the hope that those people
seeing her would mistake her for a nurse.
and these accounts should be depressing to you, but no surprise. However,
the effect is enormous. I remember the first time I decided that I
needed help I was sitting on the wall outside the doctor's surgery
for so long, frightened to go in, so embarrassed and ashamed to say
that I could no longer cope.
out well that time because the doctor had seen me and left instructions
with the surgery for me to be sent straight up as soon as I plucked
up the courage to enter the building, but there are so many people
who, even if they know that they are getting ill, will not accept
or go for help. This is especially so if they have to get help from
a mental health service.
There are a number
of issues about stigma and challenging it that are unique to people
with mental health problems. I have talked about the reaction of the
community to us, and the implication of that has been that it shouldn't
happen. I would agree with that, but in many ways I can understand
why people feel wary and ill at ease, and at the extremes avoid us
when we are actually ill.
We live through
things that no one wants to live through, we act and express and communicate
feelings and emotions that no-one wants to have to face or acknowledge.
When I am sitting in a chair waving a cigarette over my hand in the
hope that I can overcome my wife's wishes to the contrary, and burn
magical patterns on my skin and thus get rid of the spirits I think
inhabit me, I am myself in a world of emotions and experiences that
I would give many things to avoid - but so also is my family.
When my wife reminds
me of the time I hid under the floorboards, sleeping on the rubble
that made up the foundations of our house with our son sitting on
top of the trap door pointing down and saying daddy, I hope to myself
that never again will I do something like that which my son will be
grown up enough to see and fear.
When I see talented,
vibrant, creative people full of different things to give to society
sink into depression, who think of themselves so badly, whose energy
has trickled away, who can hardly look at you or even think of an
end to the darkness that they are in, I feel a huge frustration in
me. I do want to shake them; I do want them to pull themselves together.
They are my friends and I want them to see how much I like them. I
want them to see how much they could like themselves, and yet I can't
When I see someone
talking, and talking in a welter of ideas, movements and emotions
where bursts of brilliance and energy light the air next to fantasy,
stupidity, embarrassment and confrontation, I know that the best that
I can do is occasionally smile. I know that I will not understand,
or be able to keep up, and I wish that the good bits could be harnessed
and the ugly bits thrown away and that someone will be able to find
some way to calm them down.
we can talk about the liberation we sometimes experience when allowed
to express emotions when we are ill, that we wouldn't ordinarily do
or the ways we can grow having lived through experiences like these.
These are certainly important points, and in many ways I am glad of
the things that I have gained through the experiences that I have
lived through, but I could never claim that it is desirable to live
this way. In an acutely depressing story, one of our members told
of how a chicken marked out as weak or different would be pecked and
pecked by the other hens in the hen run, and then compared their reaction
to that of the rest of society to us. Some people thought this a very
negative view of society, and yet sadly it seems to hold some truth
- many of us will avoid those extremes of negative emotions, which
you see in illness.
There is the phrase
"health, wealth and happiness", a condition to which we
are all meant to aspire, and yet when we look at the majority of people
with mental health problems is it any wonder that people avoid us,
or feel awkward or sorry for us, we don't have health and part of
this ill health takes away happiness and our status in society means
that earning even an average income is unlikely.
When we talk of
removing stigma we often talk of comparing our illness to diabetes
or some such chronic illness. I find this a silly thing to do. As
I have just tried to say, mental illness is not just an illness; it
is an experience laden with judgment and values, which are so fundamental
to our aspirations, and wishes that they couldn't be disentangled.
At the moment the statement that stigma is a natural consequence of
our experience seems to me to be understandable. We seem only to be
at the level of saying stop bullying and avoiding us and start realising
that people with these lives need support and understanding.
This of course
only reinforces stigma. The level of just trying to support us and
understand us can be so patronising and derisive. I want to go a step
further, and although I only have a half hearted belief in it, would
suggest that we look at our emotions.
When we look at
happiness we also look at sadness. Without an experience of the negative
emotions we cannot be aware of what all the positive emotions are.
Perhaps we can go a step even further and, instead of saying that
the experience of sadness reveals to us what happiness is, the existence
of the whole range of negative emotions have a purpose in their own
right and to resist their reality is to resist the diversity of life
It would be nice
to have a theory that proves to other people that the negative experiences,
so common to people with a mental health problem, do not mark them
out as justifiably avoided. I don't have that theory, but as we all
know you just need to be in the company of people who have experienced
mental health problems to realise that the dictionary definition of
stigma should include that the disgrace is unjustified.