As has been said
I am Graham Morgan. I am a user and an Advocacy Worker - I work with
the Highland Users Group, which represents people with a mental illness.
Within the next few minutes I can't outline my life or the lives of
my friends but I hope to give you an inkling of what stigma means
I expect that
you will all know more about discrimination and equal opportunities
than I do, but I would like to start off with the labels with which
we define others and ourselves. Labels can be useful things but equally
they group, they generalise and they make sweeping statements about
diverse groups of people.
I define myself
in lots of different ways. When I look back at my life there are events
that I would like people to know about me.
I would love people
to be able to feel with me the time when, in mid Atlantic, we sat
on watch and looked at the myriad bright stars above us and our friend
Meirav gave us the Hebrew and Arabic stories of the constellations
- a time of peace and softness.
I would love
you to meet my son when he is so excited about life and learning that
his whole body wriggles and you feel refreshed about living itself.
like to share the wonder that I feel when I realise that I live with
a person who wants to spend the rest of her life with me. Join
me at breakfast when we look into the garden at the squirrels and
rabbits and birds.
Come to my office
and meet me as I whirl around being very busy but sometimes doing
nothing very effectively.
My life is and
has been great. I love it, I have family, I do a job I love- I have
a good income - I live where I want to and I have friends.
and glimpses about myself are the ones I feel happiest with but there
are other definitions that I also use, and which other people use,
that I feel less happy with and these are the experiences and feelings
that I have about mental illness.
illness is an illness, which in its horror puts people like me outside
of society, which in the feelings it provokes makes people like me
feel shame and in its wider context alienates and excludes people
like me from the ordinary opportunities of society.
Let me go back
17 years to the time when I was diagnosed as having a personality
disorder. A time when I believed in nothing, and found no comfort
around me, a time when everything seemed pointless and meaningless,
a time when the only way I could express my pain was by cutting my
skin with razor blades, to sit and watch the blood gather on newspapers
spread below me, only to feel disgust at myself, to turn to my bed
to curl up and wish, beyond wishing, that I could have the courage
I could tell you
about those times when the days and the months stretch greyly, uneventfully
and miserably forward or the times when there is such a whirl of anxiety
and confusion in your head that you cannot speak properly, when everything
is agitation and when simple tasks become impossible.
But for me some
of the worst times came about in my early thirties when I became psychotic.
When all my comfortable realities shattered. Where there was no certainty,
where life became bizarre and unmanageable, when I thought I was evil,
when I saw spirits and demons in the glare of the sun or the sheen
of a lightbulb reflected in glass. When I thought people knew what
I was thinking, that my very thoughts and feelings were being controlled
and when in a bizarre effort to protect myself and those around me,
I burnt patterns into my hands with cigarettes, hid under the floorboards
of our house, and refused to go near to or to touch people for fear
of the damage I thought my very presence would do to them.
In those days
life was unbearable everything had turned to splinters. I could not
reach out and people could not reach in. I became a stranger to everyone.
The dreams that we had as a family only served to mock us in the reality
that we now found ourselves in.
Nowadays I am
diagnosed as having Schizophrenia. I still have symptoms but not many.
I take the drugs but unwillingly, and generally life is good, fulfilling,
bright and is what I want.
Writing what I
have just written is meant to give the message that I want you to
take away. That the attitude to mental illness is and is not the same
as the attitude people have to other minority groups. It is a horrible
experience. It is easy to understand why people may fear it and avoid
it. It is almost possible to see why people may fear us and why we
may feel shame for what those around us go through and yet, all the
hundreds of thousands of us who experience illness are ordinary people
going through extraordinary experiences which we did not seek out,
ordinary people who are diminished by the reaction of our culture
and society to mental illness.
Stigma is all
around us; it is in our playgrounds, where my son routinely and innocently
calls me a weirdo or a nutter. It
is on the television with every other thriller, with loony tunes cartoons
with the comedy acts and the soaps and the sensational headlines.
Stigma is inside
all of us. Pause for a moment and imagine that you are diagnosed as
How would you
tell your friends?
How would you tell the press?
How would you reveal it to a stranger?
I have to do this
all the time and although I rarely get a bad reaction, I live with
a hollow stomach at the rejection that one day is sure to happen.
At its extreme,
stigma is shown in abuse and discrimination, in loosing jobs, loosing
friends, loosing belief in yourself, even being assaulted or being
spat at, being talked about, being the subject of campaigns to stop
you living in certain neighbourhoods and being feared.
It is wrong. It
is deeply wrong to think that an illness can cause this. To think
that we can be marked out with shame or disgrace for something over
which we have no control degrades all of us.
It is changing
though, discrimination seems to be less common and we who have experienced
illness are refusing to feel shame for something over which we have
no control. We are speaking out and in our refusal to accept rejection
we can help change to occur.
You can help too
but first let me give an example-
One of my friends
experienced depression for years but she wouldn't let anyone in her
local community know that she had a mental illness. She would travel
for miles to other services so that she could be sure no one who knew
her would see her. She was a beautiful, warm, humorous, gentle, reflective
I remember the numerous days drinking coffee with her looking over
the fields laughing together.
When you think of mental illness think of her. Think of the suicide
of a dignified moral lovely woman who never lived to see the supposed
shame of a horrible illness that she carried within her disappear.
You can help in
the words that you use and the legislation that you pass and the initiatives
that you promote. Remember everyone is affected by mental illness.
Remember that each fearful headline, each silly film, each measure
taken to protect society from people like me, damages not only me
but you and your friends also.
there are projects run by people with a mental illness yearning to
get off the ground to help people learn about our lives and in this
learning, to take away the fear.
in one short week of events last year we worked alongside a drama
company with 350 school children, 69% of whom said that their attitudes
to mental illness had changed as a result. We could do more of this
if only we had the resources.
the words of one of those schoolchildren who said that she had never
realised that a person with Schizophrenia could be married and have
a family, and in those innocent words see the power of stigma and
the ease given minimal resources with which we can all challenge it.