Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Coming out as Disabled - Experience of a student with a mental illness

Today is International Day of Disabled People and to mark this, NUS have launched “Coming Out as Disabled” a campaign in which they encourage people to write articles about their disabilities and experiences. RUSU has collected several blogs from Reading students who wanted to share their stories. We hope that starting these conversations on our campus will encourage all students to talk more openly about disability and most importantly remind disabled students that they are not alone.

Thank you so much to the students who wrote to us and supported this cause, we hope you found it to be a positive experience.

Sophie Davies, RUSU Welfare Officer and Ellie Brady, RUSU Disabled Students Part-time Officer.

Disclosing that you are a disabled student to others is often a very difficult process. Even more so if you suffer from mental health issues, as people aren’t nearly as accepting of problems that they can’t physically see. Mental health is something of a social taboo, as many people refuse to talk about it. There is a preconceived notion that mental disorders are very uncommon and this myth helps fuel the biased interpretations many people have towards mental health. Statistics suggest that 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year, whereas cancer affects 1 in 3 people in their lifetime; both have a large impact upon the clinical population, and yet only one is widely recognised and reported in a non-biased manner.

Admitting to someone that you suffer from a mental health condition is no easy feat, it often leads to an enormous amount of anxiety due to all the negative connotations that such problems have been labelled with. For instance, behaviours associated with mental disorders, such as suicide and self-injury are often seen as either selfish or attention seeking. As a result, an individual who experiences such things may feel like they are deviating from some sort of societal norm, and therefore may feel the need to hide their problems. Admitting this perceived weakness should not be met with ignorance and hostility, but instead with empathy and support.

Personally, I only told one of my friends from my course, as I felt she would be more understanding about my situation than my flatmates and she reacted admirably. But unfortunately this is not always the case. Those who would not react so kindly to such a confession are often easily identified, and therefore prevent people from being comfortable with sharing such information with them.

Regardless, positive awareness of mental health is essential in order to promote a better understanding of such issues. Many people suffer from mental health difficulties but are too afraid to seek help due to a fear of these negative judgements. Therefore it is important to spread awareness of mental illness in an attempt to help these individuals realise that it is perfectly okay to struggle and for them to know where and feel able to ask for support should they need it.

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