Friday, August 19, 2011

Our Guest Blogger Writes About "Us & Them" Mentality

We're not really writing tonight. Really. We're not. These are not words written by us.
Okay, what comes after this is isn't words written by us.
Meet Kerry Stott (@kerrystott) - she is our fairly new guest blogger, a mental health nurse from the U.K. and a great lady.
She's written a piece about "us" and "them" mentality - we understand it's hard not to separate the us and them. In our last job, working with homeless and low-income people in our city (some of which were severely mentally ill - and yes, we just gave you a hint about where we used to work) the rule was to not have an "us" and "them" thought process (and technically we were just as much "them" as "us"). Of course it's hard because in any business, non-profit or not, the people who aren't employed there are generally "them"; but what Kerry is talking about is the human collective, not a business (don't let us start on the political references again, corporations as "people" and all the nonsense), and so it should be easier for people to not split society down the center and put themselves on one side. Erasing the us and them idea is just a step towards peace and tolerance. We're a big fan of the concept, though being realists we understand the world will never have peace, it never has, in all of human existence - what makes people think now is so special that that is going to change? We digress.
We enjoyed Kerry's mention of the "tipping point", which is also the title and an entire concept of one of our (my) favourite books by Malcolm Gladwell (look it up, Google it, or follow this link, if you care to know what it's about - note, the link takes you to an Amazon affiliate page that supports our friend @NickSilly, who is one of our first friends of Twitter & whom has been a great help when we needed him in the past 7 months)
Read what Kerry has to say, and as always comment if you have an opinion. We don't get nearly enough comments on our entries these days.
We're going to do what we do.
Them and Us
Student nurse: Yeah well there’s them and us.
Me, looking puzzled: I don’t understand?
Student nurse: Well, there’s them, the patients; they’re ill. And then there’s us, the staff; who are OK.
It is usually at this point that I lead the student nurse somewhere quiet and explain to them the facts of life, generally with a pained expression on my face and having let out a huge sigh.
There is a trite saying that without mental health there is no health. This saying gets on my nerves but from my perspective, it is very true. Mental illness is often called a hidden illness because it is not always obvious to an onlooker. I know that most of the people that I work with want to be ‘normal’ and don’t want to stand out from the crowd. Unbeknown to them, they generally don’t stand out from the crowd, they are normal. They are no different from me and I am certainly no different from them. Allow me to explain:
OK, let’s take it out of the mental health background and start talking about health in general. We are all on a sliding scale between healthy and ill all of the time. Rarely do we feel completely healthy and although we can feel ill when we have a cold, again, rarely do we feel completely ill for any length of time. The same is true of mental health sometimes we are feeling fine and can hit all the highs; sometimes we are stressed and we mess up everything we do – not just putting your foot in your mouth but only opening your mouth to change feet.
The majority of us have busy lives and do not look up to view the life around us but we are all pulled in so many different directions. We are generally money poor and time poor with demands of family, work, children and keeping up with the Jones’s. With one thing, or stressor, building on other stressors it can start to wear us down. We tend to become susceptible to colds and illnesses, unable to sleep properly, eat crappy food, drink too much, become snappy, irritable and feel stressed: sound familiar? Well that last bit is ‘mental health’ and it happens to us all BAR NONE. There is no them and us, never has been and never will. My only hope is; that as a mental health nurse, I am feeling better than the patients I see –I suspect that they want me to be more on my game than they are on theirs.
OK, I hear you say, but I’ve never needed a mental health professional to help me. It is really not a big step from having work breathing down your neck, your spouse nagging you, a credit card bill, the boiler blows up; add to that bereavement, a serious illness, a relationship breakdown or the birth of a baby and suddenly your mental health can be in real trouble. This is called the stress vulnerability model (Zubin and Spring 1977) and is the corner stone of understanding mental illness; the more stress you are under the more likely you are to become ill. It’s a bit of a no-brainer, if you’ll pardon the pun. Thus, there but for the grace of God go I. No one is adverse to illness, I had clinical depression in 2005 and then again in 2007, the latter as a neurological side effect of having cancer and once the tumour was cut out my mood lifted. Both episodes I wholly put down to basically doing too much and having too much on my plate.
Everyone has a tipping point, including you even if you think you are superman. The lost common reaction to reaching this psychological point, which is different for everyone, is depression. This is why depression is called the common cold of mental illness. I am sure that I will talk more about depression in another post as it would confuse this post too much.
I have worked in hospitals, prisons and in the community in my professional career so far. There is no great difference between being mentally ill and being on my caseload, and you reading this now. I often think that life conspires against us and throws us curved balls plenty of times. With enough stress all of us can develop: depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), psychosis and schizophrenia. And yes, there is enough stress in the world, so be mindful of your mental health, just like you do with you physical health when you pop those vitamins pills at breakfast because mental health and mental illness affects all of us.
Zubin, J. and Spring, B. (1977). Vulnerability: a new view of schizophrenia. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 86 Pp. 103-126.
Other posts Kerry has written for us:

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