Mental Health needs understanding NOT branding.


By Hannah Bober

Last week Chamali Fernando, a Conservative parliamentary candidate for Cambridge, sparked controversy when she suggested that mental health patients should wear wristbands to identify their illness. Since then both mental health campaigners and fellow politicians have called for her to retract her comments and step down.

My life revolves around mental illness. When I was younger I suffered from severe bouts of depression and early last year I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. I also work at a clinic helping with art projects for people who suffer from mental health issues such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and many more.

My friends and family have been very supportive throughout – encouraging me to seek help, asking questions and generally being there when I’ve needed support. However, I have met people who have not been as fortunate as me.

Chamali Fernando
Chamali Fernando

Sadly, even today, mental illness still comes with a stigma attached. This is why so many people try to hide their feelings, avoid admitting problems and could possibly be why suicide rates are rising.

The idea of reaching out and revealing that you are not coping mentally is hard enough without having other peoples’ judgements to deal with on top of that.

Since I was diagnosed, I have been quite open about the fact that I live with mental health issues and that is because I want people to see that it’s okay to struggle. I strongly believe that people need to realise that admitting there is a problem does not mean that you are a weak person, but instead it should be seen as a sign of strength.

However, being open about my bipolar disorder was my choice to make. After all, I am the person who takes the medication every day, I am the person who regularly attends counselling sessions and I am the person who is living with this illness, no one else.

Personally, wearing a wristband identifying my mental illness would not bother me in the slightest because I don’t mind people knowing, but not everybody feels the same way as I do. Throughout my counselling sessions and my work at a mental health clinic I have been fortunate enough to meet some incredible people. Some people are like me and very open about their conditions, but quite a high number of people I’ve met choose only to tell a select number of people about their diagnosis.

It is because of these people that people with mental illnesses should not have to wear wristbands identifying their conditions. People with mental health issues are no different from people with other illnesses, yet people who have cancer, AIDS or other illnesses do not have to out themselves publicly with their illness, so why should we have to?

In regards to Chamali Fernando, I don’t believe that she should stand down. Mental health is a difficult topic that not many people are able to comprehend and I know that although my family and friends are supportive, none of them truly understand about my mental illness, and that is because thankfully they haven’t experienced it first-hand like I have.

Ms Fernando should revisit the comments she made and realise that while she may have meant them in a positive way, producing ideas that mean outing people with mental health issues and forcing them stand out in society is not the way forward. Many of us already feel like outsiders on the inside, we don’t need to be identified as different on the outside as well.

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