Opening up for Men’s Health Week
George Redmayne, a lived experience support worker, talks to us about how his experience of mental illness helps him deliver compassionate care at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.
The theme which marked the week this year was ‘men’s health and the internet’ and it was all about considering the impact that devices can have on male health. To help men prevent negative health impacts of screen time the Men’s Health Forum shared a ‘message to men’ which included a range of tools and resources.
We took some time away from the screens and spent some time in conversation with George Redmayne to talk about his role working as a lived experience support worker at South London and Maudsley NHS FT.
What does it mean to you to be a lived experience support worker?
I have had a mental health condition for 22 years and when I was first diagnosed, I encountered quite set attitudes about what people thought a mental condition looked like and what someone with a mental health condition may or may not be able to do in a workplace; it did feel stigmatising at times. Now I am working at a mental health trust, my lived experience is a great advantage, and it enables me to do the job I do better than I would be able to if I didn’t have that lived experience. Now I’m surrounded by people who understand mental health challenges and some colleagues who have their own mental health challenges too - it’s the right sort of environment for me to work in.
What do you wish people had done when you faced stigma yourself?
I would have liked people not to have made snap judgements about me. I think that whatever the mental health condition is, people should reserve judgements until they’ve listened and tried to understand the experience. Stigma can stop people from accessing help, so it’s important to be kind and help people to speak openly about what they are going through.
What would you say to someone who is facing stigma?
Men particularly struggle to talk about emotions and mental health, it is something that I as a man am aware of, and I know I used to bottle things up which I think is what a lot of men do. My advice would be don’t be afraid to access help, don’t be afraid to talk about emotions even if you’re a bloke, there is help out there, there’s more understanding now, and there is such a thing as recovery.
What was the experience like for you once you talked about your experience?
Having gone from a position of bottling everything up and not talking about it - which I wasn’t aware I was doing at the time, but I clearly was. I now find it quite liberating to talk about it. There is something about being your authentic self, whether that’s with or without a mental health condition, and not feeling as though you have to put on a mask to face the world to hide your vulnerability. I think that is very important.
Do you see a lot of recovery in your role?
The answer to that is yes, happily. Part of my role is to try to provide hope to people who, when they come here, tend to be in the depths of a sort of mental health crisis. I also help people with some of the practical challenges that get in the way of their mental health recovery. The biggest challenges that I work with are housing, money/debts, and isolation. These practical challenges grind people down, they can make people feel devalued, and they can make people want to hide away. If you can clear away some of those challenges, then people can actually focus on their mental health and therapy can help them address past issues and move forward, something which they’re not able to do when their mind is completely cluttered with ‘how am I going to survive today?’, ‘How am I going to pay these bills?’, 'What am I going to do about the mould in my flat?’.
When can people access support and when did you know you needed support?
I didn’t realise I had a mental health issue until I crashed at work, I was sitting in front of the screen and everything stopped functioning, I knew I had to leave the office and get help, it was literally as dramatic as that. For others it can be something that builds up over time or it can happen very suddenly. I would encourage anybody who thinks they may have an issue around their own mental health to go and talk to somebody about it. Whenever you feel you can’t cope yourself and it’s too much for friends and family to support you with, a GP should be your first port of call, but I would say do it sooner rather than later; there is help out there and there’s no shame in asking for it. It’s no longer stigmatised in the way it was before.