I was diagnosed with schizophrenia when I was 16 – and I was given a leaflet, and that was it. No one sat me down and explained it to me – I knew what I’d experienced from the age of 14, but I really didn’t know what any of it meant.
After I was diagnosed, I would tell people, “I’ve got schizophrenia,” and they would recoil in horror. That’s when I stopped talking about it.
Schizophrenia affects one in 100 people. That number might seem high, but it doesn’t surprise me. People are scared to say that they have psychosis – these conditions are still so stigmatised that people just don’t want to speak out. They’re scared of the impact. And I used to be like that.
For years, I kept my diagnosis to myself. But as soon as I started volunteering with See Me, something changed inside me.
I’ve shared my story at events, with politicians, in the media – because I don’t want people to experience the same stigma and discrimination that I have over the years.
I’ve faced stigma in lots of different places, and in lots of different ways. Lots of people tell me, “You don’t look schizophrenic.” But what does a schizophrenic person look like?
I’ve had some people react really negatively to me – I used to coach a kids’ football team, and when one of the dads found out about my mental health, he challenged me. He said I wasn’t safe to be working with kids.
I’ve seen stigma in the workplace, in the police service, in healthcare. Recently, I had to go to accident and emergency after hurting myself, and a doctor told me that I was wasting their resources because I’d done this to myself.
Incidents like that make me do what I do. This is why I share my story. I have a complex, enduring mental health problem, that’s no fault of my own – and I deserve the same help, support and understanding as someone with a physical illness. All people with mental health problems do.
I try to find the positives in my experiences. Through See Me, I’ve set up the See Me, Hear Me choir, bringing together people from all different backgrounds. I’ve recently been involved in a project with King’s College London and the University of Glasgow too, working on avatar therapy for people who experience psychosis.
See Me has given me a platform to speak about mental health, without fear of prejudice or judgement. The more people speak out, the more people see it’s okay to not be okay – the more people stand up for something, the more people see the queue and they go and join the fight.
And that’s what it is – it’s a fight against stigma and discrimination. And if more people join that fight, more people are going to sit up and listen. That’s what drives me on.