Talking about mental health whilst being on a ‘professional’ qualification – why I have decided not to let the stigma silence me

Over the past year I have been sharing my story of living with mental health difficulties on twitter and on this blog. I have shared my journey of facing up to my past trauma, my daily struggles and the ways in which I am learning to overcome this. I did this because I think it is important to talk about these things. To challenge the stigma and to connect with other people facing similar challenges. Recently, however, I have been having doubts as to how much I should be sharing about my life.

When I wasn’t working or studying it was, in a way, easy for me to talk about my mental health. It didn’t matter to me if this made people uncomfortable, because how else are we going to change anything? However, since I have started back at university to study Community Learning and Development, doubts have been seeping into my mind about how much I should be sharing. Will talking about my mental health be perceived as ‘unprofessional’? Does it matter if it is? Will I be seen as weak or unable to carry out my placements on my course? Will sharing my daily struggles effect my chances of gaining employment? These are the thoughts that led me to making my blog private last week and deleting all of my tweets. Stigma around talking about mental health is still very much alive.

I shouldn’t have to worry about these things. Talking about my mental health, sharing my struggles, connecting with other people and using my voice to fight for change, should not be seen as a negative. But unfortunately I think my worries will be accurate in some settings. How do we change this though? The only way I can find for me to challenge this is to carry on talking, no matter how uncomfortable it is making others feel. Because I shouldn’t have to hide, and neither should anyone else.

As a ‘professional’ I think it is important to be real. The people who have helped me most throughout my life are not the ones who had any answers, but those who were able to relate to me and say that they have had struggles too. In my experience of working with young people I have also found that my experiences became a strength in being able to connect and build relationships. When I tried to be something I wasn’t it created a barrier. When I let down those walls we became equals. This allowed real empathy, compassion and connection. Aren’t those things more important?

Today I received a huge compliment from someone who said they appreciate how much I have shared my story over the past year. That I have been an activist in talking about mental health. I realised that this is what is important to me. That I use my voice to challenge things. That I don’t hide or stay silent about things that matter. I can work with young people and people in the community, whilst also facing my own difficulties. That is what makes me human. It is what makes me real, just like everyone else. We need to be able to talk about that, and to see that our challenges and struggles that we are overcoming makes us who we are. For me, my past trauma has given me many strengths as well as struggles. I will not hide that.

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