Did you see them? The Serenity Butterflies? Did you pick one up and read it and smile, having read the piece in this blog or seen the article in the local paper? They were there only fleetingly – as butterflies always are. The local council accusing us of “fly posting” removed them sharpish which was somewhat disappointing.
Perhaps you saw them in one of the shops or cafés that cheerfully welcomed them to sit on their tables or near their check outs for their customers to pick up and read. Maybe you didn’t know what they were about and had to “Google” to see the reason for the unseasonal visitors. I hope you found information about Serenity meetings. I also hope they created space for you to think about the subject of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and mental illness more generally.
I’m off to the Serenity Group right now. They probably don’t really need me to be honest, but I like to go. I find a power, a peace and a warmth there. On a chilly Monday morning when I have had too little sleep and have too many deadlines, I need them. They remind me why this job is so important and why I love it. They set me up for the week with the power of their positivity and the care that they show each other.
At any one time, one in four people experience a mental illness. Look around you. I can see 10 people that I don’t know from my seat here in a coffee shop in Inverness – some of them will have experienced mental health problems themselves, some of them will know someone with a mental illness, in fact all of them will likely find their lives touched by mental health issues at some point. And yet the stigma surrounding mental illness continues.
People with mental illness find themselves more likely to be lonely, homeless, in prison. Many people don’t talk to others about their mental illness, I have heard some of the members at Serenity say that the only place that they can talk about their diagnosis of BPD is within that group. The only place – imagine that. Something as momentous as being diagnosed with a serious and enduring illness and you can’t talk about it in your everyday life, with people who know you well. Imagine not daring to breath a word at work for fear that you would be treated differently or even lose your job. Imagine worrying that your partner would leave you or that your children would be taken into “care”. Imagine all those things and being unable to share them with anyone.
This is why groups like Serenity, like HUG (Action for Mental Health) and other mental health charities are so important. They give people a place where they can just “be” in a world where headlines scream out the worst stories of people with mental illness that they can find. Often patronised, ignored and misunderstood, Serenity offers a place where BPD does not prevent them from taking part, where they can be open, where they can speak to each other and be understood, respected and cared for. Groups like this are a safe place, a source of comfort, they are empowering, they are supportive and most of all, they are not stigmatising.
See the butterflies? They were put there to represent the changes that people with BPD can see in their lives through , through understanding, through treatment and through the support that comes from sharing experiences with others who have the same diagnosis. They can also be a message for those of us without BPD, without a diagnosis of a mental illness. A message that we can leave outdated ideas of mental illness behind us, we can learn more, care more and challenge stigma wherever we find it. We can educate ourselves and with education we can challenge the fear that fuels stigma wherever we see it. By doing this we can help to change attitudes towards mental illness and work on a transformation to a better fairer society for everyone.