This is the second in a series of blogs from Emma Marks, Senior Socio-Economic Duty Project Officer

When I first experienced mental health problems in my 20s I was very ill. I had to move from London back to my family home in Birmingham and resign from a good job. It took me a good 18 months to get to a place where I was able to live independently and to find full time employment. During this time, I blamed myself for not being strong enough to hold down a full-time job and live independently – due to the prevailing narrative that mental health issues were a matter of personal responsibility. I had to claim benefits and I thought I would never again be in a position to have a professional job, have my own home and a long-term partner. Shame, stigma and discrimination played a large part in my slow recovery, and it still affects 9 out of 10 people who experience mental health problems today

Throughout my 20-year career as a mental health professional I have witnessed time and time again from people I have worked with this fear of not being “good enough” and the stigma and discrimination that accompanies this shame. I’ve worked hard to frame the work that I have done within a socio-economic framework. I have witnessed first-hand the experience of people having to face the fear of not being “good enough” not just because they had mental health problems but for other social factors such as age, race, disability, sex, sexuality and economic disadvantage.

When I worked for Mind as a Regional Coordinator on the mental health anti-stigma campaign “Time To Change” I facilitated people to speak up about their experiences within these contexts. Whether that was by supporting a South Asian campaign group or working in partnership with organisations that framed their work within an anti-racist context – such as Catalyst 4 Change, I purposely focused my work on areas within my region that were economically deprived. My priority was focused on working with people who had extra layers of stigma and discrimination to contend with which didn’t just come as a result of their mental health status. As I had limited time and resources within a region, I prioritised my work on where it would have the most impact.   

Through this work I learned just how different my experience of mental illness and treatment likely was, compared to those who experience prejudice and discrimination due to other, often intersecting, aspects of their lives and identity – including race and poverty.