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Guest blog: Can a Story Change Your Life?

Wendy Halliday, Director at See Me reflects on the power of sharing stories to tackle mental health stigma and discrimination.

Over the last 20 years See Me, Scottish Recovery Network and HUG Action for Mental Health have done some amazing work together. I was delighted to join them, their members and partners for a Recovery Conversation Café as part of HUG’s Burn’s story telling project.

We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet, For auld lang syne.

Story telling is such a huge part of tackling mental health stigma and discrimination. People coming together to share stories is one of the most powerful tools in challenging myths and assumptions. Sharing experiences breaks down barriers that can exist for people as a result of their mental health. 

Through the conversations on the night the benefits of talking were clear. Everyone contributed, we formed relationships, and laughed, we gave support and reassurance that we are not alone. Through coming together and sharing experiences we can (and are) making a difference and challenging stigma.

Stigma continues to be an issue

I really appreciated everyone’s honesty and openness to share their thoughts and experiences. It is clear stigma continues to be an issue. People described how they found it difficult to be open with others when they are struggling; they spoke of not wanting to ‘bother people’ when there are ‘bigger issues’ to consider. A few people shared their worry of being judged. That they choose not to tell family members or friends of their diagnosis. They also spoke of finding it difficult when they did share. People described frustrations of not getting the support they or their loved ones need. I heard some great examples of where people were able to access support but also some awful stories. Stories where care and treatment has gone horribly wrong.

No one should be isolated, alone or not taken seriously because of their mental health.

Recovery Conversation Café participant

For everyone I spoke to being involved in HUG and sharing their experiences has been hugely positive. It is ‘life changing’; they described a sense of belonging, being listened to, valued and empowered. It was lovely to hear about the steps people are taking to challenge stigma. Through listening and offering support, leading projects and running groups. By sharing their experiences with students, inputting to schools, colleges and universities. Taking part in events, groups and hosting and taking part in many creative activities. 

To change this we all need to be doing something, taking some action, having a conversation, educating someone, showing someone you care, challenging discrimination where you see it.

Recovery Conversation Café participant

A national movement for change

See Me’s research into the stigma experienced by those with mental illness highlights that we still have a way to go to make a difference with and for people across Scotland.

It’s clear to me that HUG, its members and partners are doing a great deal already. I’m really looking forward to our next meeting. It provides a chance to see how we can work more closely together. To drive forward change and profile HUG’s great work as a key part of our national movement for change.