Fighting stigma is part of most trust’s policies and even some people’s contracts, but little seems to be done to support this.
As mental health professionals, we regularly tell our patients/clients to stand up to prejudice in their local communities. There is an idyllic concept of community mental health teams being beacons of hope for the misconceptions in mental health – even going as far as having mental health teams situated in the middle of the high-street. It is debatable whether having teams in such a prominent area is in itself breaking confidentiality and potentially making our clients targets, or a stand up against the idea that mental health teams are any different to any other type of healthcare.
As someone who has had mental health problems, I have worked with staff members who, with their best wishes for me at heart, have told me to keep my own experiences to myself lest it be used against me.
When studying I also received similar advice, with the same best wishes for a young, developing professional who experienced staff wished to protect from slander.
But as touching as their concern is, those staff were unconsciously layering discrimination in their workplace.
I came into mental health nursing as a reaction to my own illness, and being told not to share it for fear of it being used against me is not only insulting that staff would use it against me but it also shows the reality of the barrier between patient and professional is as strong as it ever was.
We can build brand-new state of the art hospitals, bring in numerous nurses and OTs and put up as many policies on the wall as we like, but until staff scrub over the discrimination in their own ranks, the old bacteria of asylum nursing and social negativity towards clients will remain.
If a nurse cannot share their own experiences, for fear of it working against them, they not only suffer themselves but also miss an opportunity to create great therapeutic relationships with those they “care” for.
If we cannot fight stigma by sharing ourselves, how can we ask our clients to do so?
How can we expect society to change its outlook, if it’s the same outlook we possess ourselves?
Helena King is a second year student nurse studying mental health nursing