Insight – Interview with Laura Ann Moulding

In setting up this blog, it has always been my intention to promote mental health. It is a cause that is incredibly close to my heart and something that I am incredibly passionate about. For this reason, I’m hoping to run a series of interviews with people with lived experience of mental illness in some capacity. I hope that I can provide some insight into what it’s like to live with a mental illness and to provide a deeper understanding about mental health as a whole.

The first person that has kindly got involved with these interviews is Laura Ann Moulding. She is someone I have admired from afar since I’ve had the honour of getting to know her through our involvement with Time to Change Wales. I’ve always been struck by her courage, her enthusiasm and her determination, especially when it comes to tackling the stigma around mental illness. I’m genuinely excited for you to meet her through the following interview.

 

Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I’m Laura, I’m 21 years old (which I find a scary age!) and I live in Cardiff. I’m currently a student at the University of South Wales studying music. I am also a Mind Cymru volunteer and Time to Change Wales champion.

Can you tell me about the mental illness that you have been diagnosed with?
I was diagnosed with severe depression with psychotic symptoms – a long-titled diagnosis, I know! Although this is my main diagnosis, I also suffer with severe anxiety and panic attacks.

How old were you when you were diagnosed? What was the process of being diagnosed like?
I was 15 years old when I first started seeking help, however, it probably wasn’t until a year later when I was actually diagnosed with something. It was scary at first. I kept silent for 7 or 8 years, so, when it came to having to talk to people I’ve never met before about what my diagnoses was, it was scary. It did take a while, and a lot of questions before I was properly diagnosed though.

How does your mental health impact on your day-to-day life?
It can impact me in many ways. At my worse with my depression and anxiety, I feel emotionally numb. I struggle to lift my head up because it feels like tons of weights are pulling me down. I struggle to leave my bed, leave the room. I miss university, or avoid seeing anyone because it feels better to me that they don’t have to be around someone like me.

When the psychotic side of my mental health kicks in, I find it difficult to get on, to hear the people around me. I hear voices which are louder than you and me. They tell me the most horrendous and terrifying things which include them threatening me and abusing me.

I also see hallucinations which at times make me never want to leave the flat. They make me feel alone.

You’ve been quite vocal about your hallucinations on your blog. Can you describe what it’s like to experience one?
It’s terrifying. It’s one of those things for me which can attack me at any point. If I’m walking down the street, with family or friends, or just at the flat, these hallucinations (which I call visions) can just come. To describe how I see it, I can only explain it in two ways. I often use the example of wearing virtual reality goggles: how you see everything with the goggles on is how I see these visions. Another explanation I use is like if you were wearing a blind fold where all you can see is darkness, nothing else. The difference for me is I see violent and terrifying vision of myself or others getting hurt. I visualise guns, knives, drugs, attacks… I see everything no one should ever want to see… and it’s scary. It breaks you down in more ways than I can ever describe. After having these hallucinations (which can last from 30 seconds to an hour at times), you feel exhausted, like all life has just left my body. It’s a horrible feeling, and also scary.

What do you do to manage your condition?
I’m a very creative person, and that has helped a lot with managing my condition. I play the saxophone, and I also compose and song write. I draw or I write. Anything which helps me keep distracted helps.

What also helps me is seeing friends and family. Without them, I most probably wouldn’t be here.

Just talking to them makes so much difference. They give me hugs and tell me they’ll always be there for me. My boyfriend also comes with me on walks which help me a lot when managing my condition.

What is your view about how mental health is seen and understood in society?
I’m glad that mental health is being talked about now. Only 6 years ago, I had my first conversation about my mental health. I kept silent since I was 7 or 8, because mental health wasn’t really something people talked about. When it was talked about, it was always portrayed in a negative light. I was brought up at a time where the media would constantly say, “Oh, that crime was caused because that person with ‘mentally disturbed’.” That’s all I ever heard. So, yes, a long way round in answering, I’m glad people are able to start having conversations now.

Have you ever experienced any stigma or discrimination as a result of your mental illness?
I have faced a ton of stigma and discrimination because of my mental health. I’ve faced stigma by a psychiatrist who didn’t believe me when I spoke to him about my experiences because it didn’t match the ‘medical books.’ I was also told by someone I used to know that mental health sufferers should die and would never succeed in life. I was told we should all be locked up.

The worst bit of stigma and discrimination I’ve ever faced came from someone who I once consider my best guy friend. He told me I should never have children because he felt sorry for whoever I brought into this world (because of my mental health), and he felt sorry for anyone who knew me. Because of him, I’m now afraid of him. He’ll never know how much he hurt me, not just in a stigma and discrimination sense as well.

What advice would you give someone experiencing similar symptoms to you?
I would encourage anyone to talk to a friend, a family member or GP; talk to anyone you trust! I know I originally said I kept silent for 7 to 8 years, but that wasn’t a choice I had back then. I wish I could have spoken about how I was feeling before, because life became difficult for me because I didn’t speak. Yes, stigma and discrimination is still out there, but for the majority of the people I know and see, they’ve all been so supportive. I’m not saying speaking is easy, it’s the bravest and potentially the scariest thing you will ever do, but believe me there are people out there who want to help you the best they can!

What does the future hold for you?
The future holds so much for me! After I’ve finished and hopefully pass my undergraduate course, I hope to study a Masters in either Music Therapy or Songwriting/composition – I may even try my best to study both (if I can!). I also aim to continue my work with Time to Change Wales and Mind Cymru; both which I enjoy volunteering for so much.

 

You can find out more about Laura Ann Moulding on her blog: A Girl named Laura.

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Mental Illness and Violence: Media Reporting and its Consequences

I recently read Angermeyer and Schulze’s[1] paper, Reinforcing stereotypes: How the focus on forensic cases in news reporting may influence public attitudes towards the mentally ill. It’s a fascinating, if troubling, investigation into how crime reporting can lead people to hold stigmatising attitudes towards individuals with mental illness.

What struck me the most when reading this paper was the research that they drew on during their literature review. While I’m aware from various news reports[2] that public attitudes are not wholly positive towards individuals with mental illnesses, I wasn’t quite aware just how severe these opinions were. For instance, Angermeyer and Schulze[1] write that:

  • Public attitudes towards people with mental illnesses are dominated by the belief that individuals with these conditions are violent and dangerous.
  • A survey in Germany by Angermeyer and Matschinger discovered that the central stereotype for the mentally ill was that they were dangerous. Participants in the study even stated that individuals with mental illnesses commit violent crimes on a more frequent basis than members of the general public.
  • A survey by Angermeyer uncovered the popular belief that individuals with mental illnesses were more likely to commit rape or arson. Respondents to this survey also expressed the view that a murder was more likely to be committed by someone with a mental illness than someone without one.

What is so troubling about these findings is how incongruous the beliefs expressed above are to reality. In fact, a report by the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide[3] found that, across a ten-year period, only 59 individuals with mental illnesses were convicted of homicide across England and Wales – a far cry from the proportion felt to be committed by Angermeyer and Matschinger, and Angermeyer’s participants.

Regardless of how incongruous these beliefs are, they still exist and it can be argued that they stem from media reporting. Regular reports on crimes involving an individual with a mental illness can make the connection between violence and mental illness cognitively available to media audiences, making them easier to believe and, therefore, reinforce.

However, it is important to recognise that these reports typically tend to simplify the reasons behind the violent crime, so that it is solely attributed to the mental illness itself[4]. Contextual factors, such as social and cultural contributors that could have provoked the event, are often overlooked for a solitary cause: mental illness.

In fact, there are a wealth of reasons why someone may engage in a violent crime, such as:

  • Being exposed to violence or abuse at an early age.
  • Having unstable relationships.
  • Experiencing employment problems.
  • Struggling with substance misuse.
  • Having been violent previously[3].

Focusing solely on an individual’s mental illness when reporting on a violent crime, therefore, misrepresents the backstory to the event and the person involved in it.

This reporting trend is problematic as the link between mental illness and violence serves to propagate the stigma and discrimination experienced by individuals diagnosed with these conditions. Throughout her research, Stuart[4] has found that connections between individuals with mental illnesses and violence in the media mean that people are more likely to condone forced legal action and coerced treatment for individuals with mental illnesses.

Even more problematic is that the presumption of violence in individuals with mental illnesses can lead to others justifying bullying and victimisation of the mentally ill to the extent that 8.2% of individuals with a mental illness reported experiencing criminal victimisation compared to 3.1% of the general population[4].

So, why does this happen? Angermeyer and Schulze[1] explain that people’s understanding of the world rarely takes place through personal experience anymore. Instead, people’s understanding of the world around them occurs indirectly through media consumption. This finding is especially apparent when dealing with mental illness as few people have first-hand experience with an individual with a mental illness. Instead, the general public’s understanding of these individuals is often shaped by the information and images on the TV, in films and in the press. When we consider the vicarious movie depictions of “crazed killers” and the proportion of news reports associating mental illness with violence, it becomes clear how these public misconceptions can be fuelled.

References
1 Angermeyer, M. C. and Schulze, B. (2001) “Reinforcing stereotypes: How the focus on forensic cases in news reporting may influence public attitudes towards the mentally ill”. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry. 24, pp. 469-486.
2 Fenton, S. “Majority of Britons ‘uncomfortable’ letting someone with mental illness look after their child, study finds”. The Independent. 4th August 2016. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/mental-health-problems-illness-british-social-attitudes-survey-britons-children-marriage-stigma-a7170281.html
3 Mind (n.d.) ‘Violence and Mental Health’ [Online source] Available at: <http://www.mind.org.uk/media/998781/Violence-and-mental-health-Mind-factsheet-2014.pdf&gt; Accessed 27.12.2014.
4 Stuart, H. (2006) ‘Media Portrayal of Mental Illness and its Treatments: What Effect Does It Have on People with Mental Illness?’ CNS Drugs. 20(2), pp. 99-106.

Stigma and Mental Illness

This story is another one that I meant to pick up on earlier, but have been a little too busy to catch up on.

Time to Change conducted research into the stigma surrounding mental illness and found that there have been improvements in the way that mental illness is now perceived.

Some key findings include:

  • 95% of respondents recognise that stigma is a problem.
  • 3/4s of people say that they are aware of the facts surrounding mental illness.

You can read the news story here.

Film Representations of Mental Illness

I’m a little late to this report, but Time to Change have published a fascinating and insightful report on film portrayals of mental illness from the 1970s to 2006.

One of their main findings was that mental illness is portrayed in one of four ways:

  1. Comedy.
  2. Faking and indulgent.
  3. Pity.
  4. Violence.

You can read the report here.

Using Language to Diagnose Neurological Conditions

This morning, I listened to RTF Talk the Talk‘s “Diagnosing with Words” podcast, which gave a really fascinating insight into how linguistics is now being used to diagnose neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Bipolar Disorder.

It was a fascinating insight into how the language we use can be used to predict future neurological orders that we could develop and even how those conditions will develop.

It also has the added benefit of including an interview with one of the PhD researchers currently looking into this area, Katie Fraser.

I’d highly recommend checking it out!

Time to Change Wales Champion

Today, I attended my first training session to become a Time to Change Wales champion and I’ll admit it, initially, I was apprehensive about the whole thing. I had no idea what being a champion entailed, what I would need to do as one nor whether I would be able to do it. But, now that I’ve finished my first day of training, I can safely say that I’m not only perfectly capable of doing everything that a Time to Change champion does, but that I’m incredibly excited about being one.

Who are Time to Change Wales?
So, who will I be working for?

Time to Change Wales is a partnership between three of Wales’ leading mental health charities (Gofal, Hafal and Mind Cymru) that atime-to-change-walesims to end the stigma and discrimination faced by anyone with a mental health condition. They do this by running community projects, delivering mental health training, campaigning to get mental health on the political agenda, and promoting mental health in the media all in the hopes of spreading the word about mental health and addressing the common misunderstandings surrounding these conditions throughout society.

So, what does a Time to Change Wales Champion do?
And where do I fit in with that?

Quite easily, actually. Time to Change Wales champions are all volunteers who have some form of experience of mental health – whether that means that they have some form of mental health condition themselves or that they have experience caring for someone with one. They work at the frontlines of the organisation to help tackle the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health by campaigning in the media, sharing their experiences or participating in events in their local community.

So, in my new role, I could now be asked to engage in social media campaigns, give media interviews, deliver training and talks, and participate in a wide variety of events and activities across Wales, which makes for incredibly exciting times!

Why do we need Time to Change Wales and its champions?
Because it is so incredibly important. Believe it or not, despite the hard work of many different mental health organisations, mental health is still surrounded with a significant amount of prejudice, ignorance, stigma and discrimination.

The Stigma Shout survey carried out by Time to Change Wales showed that 87% of people with mental health conditions reported the negative impact that stigma and discrimination had on their daily lives to the extent that they can find it difficult to hold down a job, build up relationships and engage in social activities. In fact, many people with mental health conditions have reported that this stigma and discrimination is often worse than the illness itself.

If you’re still not convinced, here are some key facts and statistics from the Time to Change Wales website that will show you just what people with mental health conditions are facing in their daily lives:

  • 1 in 4 people have a mental health problem.
  • 300 people die by suicide each year in Wales and 150,000 have thought of suicide.
  • The overall cost of mental health problems in Wales is an estimated £7.2 billion a year.
  • Fewer than 4 in 10 employers would consider hiring a person with a mental health problem compared with more than 6 in 10 who would hire a person with a physical disability.
  • 4 in 10 employees are afraid to disclose mental health problems to their employer.
  • 1 in 10 who disclosed a mental health problem said colleagues made snide remarks.
  • Over a quarter of people said that being around someone with mental illness can make them feel uncomfortable.
  • Nearly 1 in 10 people believe that people with mental health problems should not be given any responsibility.
  • 1 in 7 believe that people with a mental illness can never fully recover.
  • 66% of people in Wales would not rent a room in a shared flat to someone with a mental health condition.
  • 1 in 10 people believe that people with mental health problems are less trustworthy than people without.
  • 1 in 10 people believe that people with mental health problems should not be allowed to have children.


How can I get involved?

The whole point of Time to Change Wales is to create a society where having or talking about mental health conditions is not something to be ashamed of, and there are plenty of things that you can do to help achieve this aim.

  • Get involved on social media: Something as simple as sharing a Time to Change Wales Facebook or Twitter post can help raise awareness around mental health.
  • Become a champion: All it takes is five minutes to fill in a quick, online form. There are no obligations on you nor on your time as a champion. You can do as much as little as you want to do and you only do whatever you feel comfortable doing.
  • Talk: Something as simple as checking in on someone you know with a mental health condition can be incredibly effective in providing the support that they need. Even if you don’t know someone with a mental health condition, just speaking openly about mental health can help break down the misunderstandings surrounding these conditions in society and can do the world of good in tackling the stigma that people with mental health conditions face.

its_time_to_talk

So, what are your pronouns?

This morning, I listened to an incredibly fascinating podcast by The World in Words about pronouns. It’s not really an issue that I’ve considered before beyond the recent trend in using the gender neutral “they” to refer to someone of an unspecified gender, but it’s really opened my eyes to the importance and power that pronouns have in expressing someone’s identity.

I’d highly recommend giving it a listen. You can find it here on The World in Words website.