My experience with mental illnesses started in my early teen years, when my grandma developed Alzheimer’s disease. Seeing my Dad having to watch his mother decline slowly was so hard. It started slowly, with her forgetting small details about things; but escalated into disorientation and severe confusion. After a nasty fall down the stairs, we decided that a nursing home would be the best environment for her to live in, as she would be surrounded by people who could care for her at all times of the day and night. Visiting was the most painful experience, especially when it got to the stage where she couldn’t remember who we were or where she was. Her personality changed so much it was like she was a different person. My mum was so supportive, having a background in nursing and working in a care home herself. But my dad found it hard to deal with the slow change in brain function and personality, as a result of the disease which onset is upsettingly inevitable.
When I turned 16 and started working in nursing homes, first as a cleaner and then as a carer, I found that these feelings were common in relatives who had to watch their loved ones change as a result of mental illness brought on by the onset of old age: their personality quirks faded, they could forget details of their lives or their families, and in some cases they could become distressed, aggressive or inappropriate. Of course, this brought great sadness to the families concerned but also to the person that was suffering from the mental illness. During my time as a carer I have spoken to residents who are scared; who know what is happening to them, and are aware that there is little they can do to stop it. They feel distressed at their confusion and embarrassed when they draw attention to themselves with erratic behaviour.
As a carer used to looking after elderly people suffering from mental illnesses, I thought that the care and treatment that they receive should be universal and apply to people of all ages who have trouble with their mental health – whether it be an illness, or just a temporary instability of the mind. I also believe that just because mental illnesses are expected more with old age, they are still very common in younger generations and so just because they are not necessarily expected to suffer from a mental illness does not mean that it is unlikely to happen, or that it should be looked down upon as a weakness. I find that far too often the pressures of life in the 21st century mean that people become run down and unable to cope with everyday demands. People cannot be seen to be ‘weak’ in any way, and so admitting that they cannot come to work because they are suffering from a mental illness or condition is often seen as less of a reason than if that person was physically injured.
So, my reasons for joining the Mental Health Matters society are because I believe in the right to have equality and recognition of mental illnesses and conditions across all ages and lifestyles, and that the stigma attached to mental health, especially in the younger generations, should be wiped out completely.