World Mental Health Day: Brave Harold Hill mum Mary Steeds on her own experiences of living with mental health problems

Mary Steeds

Mary Steeds - Credit: Archant

Mary’s own family doesn’t understand her. The general public think she’s either workshy or dangerous. She is the stuff of national newspaper headlines.

But what’s shocking about Mary’s story isn’t anything she’s done.

What’s shocking is the way people like Mary who suffer from mental health problems are treated by those around them – even those who are close to them.

World Mental Health Day, celebrated annually on October 10, is now in its 22nd year. Despite its efforts, charities say the one-in-four people affected by mental health issues still face discrimination and misunderstanding.

To mark the occasion, the Recorder asked Mary – a 48-year-old mum from Harold Hill – to tell her story.


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“I think people need to understand that mental health illness doesn’t just refer to the well known conditions such as depression, schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorder,” she said.

“I myself have been diagnosed with major recurrent depressive disorder, anxiety, emotionally unstable personality disorder, avoidant personality disorder, obsessive compulsive personality disorder, borderline personality disorder and body dysmorphic disorder.

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“People also need to know that mental health illness is not always brought on by the individual through drug and alcohol abuse. It can be born into you and make an appearance later on in life, or be a result of trauma, abuse or circumstances in life – as a child or adult.

“Those who lack understanding of people with mental health illness can feel frightened or at risk by those with mental health illness who behave differently. If anything, the majority of people with mental health illness are more of a risk to themselves than others.

“My family has never tried to understand my mental health illness. Some of them don’t even believe I have a mental health illness.

“They believe my mental health illness started in 2002 when I had to terminate a pregnancy early due to complications, which resulted in a breakdown and a six-week hospital stay in the psychiatric hospital.

“But I had kept my mental health illness hidden for many years prior to that. I just wasn’t strong enough, after losing my son, to keep the pretence going any longer. The friends I’ve met through the mental health system know me and understand me so much more than my own family.

“We who have mental health illness are not just saying we have problems to avoid going to work.

“We are those who find coping with everyday life a struggle, and for whom daily tasks that should be easy are a challenge. We are those who take medication daily and spend much time in therapy, on courses learning new skills to cope, and in appointments with the mental health professionals.

“We are those who have to take each minute as it comes as we never know when we are going to be up or down, well or unwell.

“We are those who have to live the best we can with what we have – with the stigma, discrimination and lack of understanding still around.”

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