Practice for Part 5 of the Reading and Use of English paper by reading this extract from an article by a woman called Caroline. Caroline talks about her experience with mental health and how she is helping others with their mental health problems.
Read the text and then go through questions 1 – 6 below and choose the correct answer, A, B, C or D which you thinks fits best according to the text.
Thirty strangers stare out at me from my laptop screen as I tell them about being hospitalised for mental illness. They are all training to be mental health social workers. I tell them about the good and bad experiences I’ve had, reflecting on how professionals can best support us. In two years of doing this, what’s surprised me most is how it has helped me make sense of my own story. It’s been wonderfully liberating to express my own experience that has often felt like it has been shaped by others.
Learning to accept myself as someone with mental illness has been challenging, but service-user involvement has allowed me to share a side of myself that society expects me to keep quiet. There is a sense of authorship, of putting my life into my own words. Hearing from others who have been through something similar reminds me that I’m not alone, and when I share what I’ve been through, I feel like I’m taking some level of control over my story.
Sharing in this way isn’t completely new to me. As an undergraduate, I started a group for disabled students at my university to make the campus more inclusive. And as a writer, disability is a topic I’m regularly attracted to, realising that my own experience of living with visual impairment and mental ill health allows me to give valuable insight. It’s an opportunity to take what I’ve learned and think how it could help others, while also being empowering for me.
I first heard about the Mad Pride movement when I was at my most unwell. It helped me feel that it’s okay to speak about living with mental illness, that I shouldn’t avoid using my voice. Mad Pride was formed by people with lived experience of using mental health services. It ran from 1999 to 2012, and the movement’s parades and festivals were a big deal in a society that often keeps mental illness hidden.
Today, those who know what it’s like to have a mental health condition are involved throughout mental health services, whether advising professionals, delivering training, assessing students, or working with others who live with mental illness.
How I tell my story is a challenge. It can be tempting to try to package it as a story of recovery, not mentioning the challenges I still face: daily medication that regularly has me in bed early, continuous anxiety and regular bad moods.
Oliver Wood, who has been active in the service-user movement for over 20 years, emphasises the importance of telling stories the right way and with a purpose. “If I’m telling a story about an experience that was difficult, there’s a reason for it. People listening are then able to learn something, change their attitude, and change their approach,” he says.
What about the stories we don’t hear? I think about some of the people I met on the wards, and how they probably aren’t getting ready to give a talk about mental health to a group of students. It’s important to keep in mind these limits on the voices we hear. Sometimes I worry that people will see me differently once they realise I know what it’s like on a mental health ward. That I know the details of that place, from the two scoops of mashed potato with every meal to the sound of others in distress, the ringing of alarms or the sense of helplessness. But by speaking out, I choose how to share my story. Maybe it will help challenge the general view of hospitals and of living with mental illness.