A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by a journalist from The Guardian.
She was writing an article about people who have been denied life insurance based on their mental health, which happened to me when I bought my house a few years ago. I was more than happy to speak with her. It’s incredibly anxiety provoking not having any insurance; I frequently worry that something might happen to me – be it a broken leg, asthma attack or manic episode – and I wont be able to afford to take any prolonged time off work. Honestly, as morbid as it sounds, I also worry that if something terrible were to happen, my boyfriend would struggle financially and I feel horribly guilty about that.
After the article came out (you can find it here), it got me thinking about the other times I have experienced stigma and discrimination as a result of my mental health, and there were a number of situations that sprung to mind.
I got bullied a lot at school. Although I had friends, I started to lose a lot of them as I got more depressed and withdrew into myself. Although I tried to hide the fact that I was self harming, it was always pointed out in the changing rooms before P.E and people started to call me names and pull my sleeves up or grab me by the arms. My teachers became dismissive of me. After a particularly bad crisis period not long before I was admitted to hospital, I was withdrawn from all school trips because it was felt the risk was too high to take me. I ended up even more isolated.
When I got my first job, I was mid-relapse into anorexia. I fainted on shift and was told I would be fired if I ever went of sick after that. A couple of years later, I joined the NHS as a support worker in an adult psychiatric hospital. I had to have an advanced occupational health appointment because I was honest about my mental health; the doctor told me that if I had taken any psychiatric medication in the year before my interview, he would advise that I wasn’t employed. He also told me I would never be well enough to work in CAMHS, and that because I had learnt to cope with stress through disordered eating, I would probably do so forever. I can honestly say that doctors appointment was the moment I realised, as an adult, that I would be treated differently if I was honest about my mental health.
So for the next few years, I lied. I lied and I hid and I denied until I was blue in the face, and became much more unwell as a result.
I am a lot more open now than I used to be, and overall the responses I get are positive. I feel that in a lot of ways, my mental health has opened a lot of doors for me. However, there are times in which it definitely still goes against me; life insurance being a perfect example.
Just today, I had to buy travel insurance. With just my asthma declared, it was £17 for 11 days in South East Asia. With bipolar disorder added on, it was £62. I struggle with my asthma every day. I haven’t had either a manic or depressive episode in almost 18 months. I don’t take my inhalers properly. I take my mood stabiliser religiously. But none of that matters – I have a mental illness, so I am high risk.
There are a lot of ways that the world still unfair for people with mental health problems, and I hope that many more articles follow on from The Guardian’s highlighting the many ways that our lives are affected by stigma.
Have you ever experienced stigma or discrimination because of your mental health?