The ‘shame and stigma’ of having a less talked about mental health condition - and the importance of open conversations

Some of those living with mental health issues that are not as talked about as others have found that there’s still a stigma around opening up

Living with mental health issues is something which is beginning to be more openly talked about, with campaigners and some of those with mental health problems encouraging others to reach out and talk if they find themselves struggling.

But some, who are living with mental health issues that are not as talked about as others, have found that there’s still a stigma around opening up.

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New research carried out by mental health charity Rethink found that 88 per cent of people severely affected by mental illness still report widespread discrimination.

Some of those living with mental health issues that are not as talked about as others have found that there’s still a stigma around opening up (Graphic: Kim Mogg)

The survey, which was completed by more than 500 people, including those with diagnoses of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder, revealed that 74 per cent of people felt levels of stigma towards people severely affected by mental illness have not improved in the last decade.

Eighty-six per cent also reported that the fear of being stigmatised or discriminated against stopped them from doing things they wanted to do, including seeking help for a mental health problem (61 per cent) or disclosing their mental health condition to friends or family (69 per cent).

‘A significant deal of shame and stigma still surround the conditions’

Jessica, 26, from London, has suffered from dermatillomania and trichotillomania since late childhood - two mental health conditions which she says “are rarely talked about and have a lot of stigma still attached to them”.

Dermatillomania is also known as skin-picking disorder, a condition which involves the compulsive picking and scratching of your own skin.

Sufferers may also have trichotillomania - also known as hair-pulling disorder - which is a condition that causes you to uncontrollably pull out the hair on your scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes and body.

Jessica says that because “these conditions directly impact on the physical appearance of the sufferer, and because they are often labelled as 'bad habits' or forms of self-harm,” she believes “a significant deal of shame and stigma still surround the conditions” - despite them not being rare.

Jessica – who also works with Nudge, which a company working to raise awareness of these two conditions – explains that she would feel uncomfortable talking about her own experiences of the conditions in public, and often goes “to great lengths” to conceal her conditions.

However, she says she would like to encourage anyone else who thinks they might have trichotillomania or dermatillomania “to speak up and refuse to be ashamed” as they are both serious mental health conditions “that impact on multiple domains of the sufferer's life”.

“I'd like to see more media outlets and celebrities working to raise awareness of these conditions, and I believe that there needs to be a huge improvement in the support and resources on offer for those affected,” she adds.

Floss Knight, psychotherapist and founding director of UK Therapy Guide, also reiterates the importance of mental health issues being spoken about publicly.

She says: “I think discussion in the public domain about any type of mental health problem is hugely valuable. Any discussion on mental health opens up the possibility for others to speak out.”

‘It's shocking how few people feel safe talking about their mental health’

Jesse Driessen, 33, from Cornwall, lives with body dysmorphia (BDD), anxiety, and depression, and became anorexic in his early 20s, partly as a result of his BDD.

However, Jesse says that because of his gender, he found he found his mental health issues were often disregarded.

He says: “As a ‘man’, my experience with BDD and anorexia was often overlooked both by my family and medical professionals.”

Jesse also explains that from his experience, “people mostly don't know how to recognise, talk about, or have solutions for eating disorders”, after often being told to just "eat more".

He adds that “male BDD and anorexia are still rarely talked about,” but that now he has “adopted mental health issues into being part of my identity”, he tries to talk as openly as possible about his experience as a way of helping others.

Jesse says that although “it's shocking how few people feel safe talking about their mental health,” some people only feel comfortable enough to speak about their own issues when they hear others talking about theirs, which is why he now “often tries to be that person”.

Talking openly about mental health issues is something which Floss Knight emphasises: “Testimonials from those that have suffered from a particular issue is the most powerful ministry. Bravery and overcoming mental health issues is so inspiring and relatable.”

However, she notes that although she “would always recommend that talking helps”, it's also “extremely important that it is to someone trusted and safe”.

“Open dialogue in a general way can help, but caution is required upon reflection of vulnerability,” she adds.

‘The more mental health is reported and spoken about the stigma will naturally decrease’

Nick Conn, CEO and founder of Help4Addiction, has also suffered with mental health issues in the past, including postnatal depression.

He says that postnatal depression in men is perhaps “lesser known and not as mainstream as other mental health issues”, such as depression and anxiety.

Similar to Jesse , Nick feels his gender may play a role in this, as men struggling with postnatal depression may be less likely to talk about it in case it comes across as “patronising towards women,” with the “mentality of male ego” also playing a role in this.

However, the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) says that although postnatal depression in men often goes undiagnosed, the number of men who become depressed in the first year after becoming a dad is double that of the general population.

According to the NCT, it’s also more likely if there is maternal postnatal depression too, as 24 to 50 per cent of fathers with depressed partners also experience depression themselves.

Although he says that “we have come so far in regards to mental health in the last ten years,” particularly due to social media influencers talking openly about their own struggles in a bid to reduce stigma, he believes people continuing to connect with each other can be “very powerful”.

The research carried out by Rethink also found that 67 per cent of people agreed that levels of stigma towards more common health problems, such as anxiety, which can be managed with the right treatment and support, had improved in the last ten years.

Talking to each other about mental health struggles can allow people to share their own experiences of what has helped them, and can make people feel less alone, explains Nick.

Floss Knight adds: “The more mental health is reported and spoken about the stigma will naturally decrease. It has come a great way over the past decades.”