Thank you Mark and thank you for inviting me here today.
In 2015 I suffered a mental health crisis that led to a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, or BPD. In the UK this is also known as emotionally unstable personality disorder, or EUPD. As the name suggests, it is a disorder of the emotions. When in crisis, we struggle to manage our thoughts and feelings and find it difficult to self-soothe or calm down. We need to do something extreme so that we can re-set our emotions and behavioural patterns. Some people self-harm, others commit an offence and some end their own life. 7 in 10 people with BPD self-harm and 1 in 10 end their own lives. 1 in 10! BPD is a severe mental illness.
In 2017 I was in recovery. It had been a rough couple of years during which time I had received no help at all for my mental health problems from statutory services. In fact, by trying, or should I say, begging for help and being refused, my mental health deteriorated, with disastrous consequences. I went to prison and my disabled partner was placed in a care home. On leaving prison, I found a private therapist, and my recovery began. I started thinking of others with BPD. Not everyone can afford to go private, and I couldn’t bear the thought of them going through what I had, so I decided to start a support group, and that’s when I first came into contact with RETHINK Mental Illness. Through their Derbyshire Peer and Recovery Support Service, I managed to set up the group and keep it going. We will celebrate our 5th anniversary in October. Over 250 people have passed through our service, from all over the UK and several from overseas. RETHINK Mental Illness have supported us since the beginning, and I can’t thank them enough.
I have also worked with RETHINK Mental Illness on their national lived experience advisory board and community’s advisory panel. Having such faith placed in me has spurred me on to do more and I am now a member of the East Midland Academic Health Science Network PPI Senate and the Revolving Doors Agency. I am also a fellow of the Fair Access to Justice Institute and am on the research team for the University of Central Lancashire’s Offender Personality Disorder Pathway Higher Education Programme. And this brings me to what I believe is imperative for the future of all mental health treatment: adequate education and training. People talk about trauma-informed care and of course, this is essential, but sometimes even that’s not enough. A real understanding of the condition you’re treating is vital.
The vast majority of people with BPD have suffered some kind of childhood trauma. This could be mental, emotional, physical or sexual abuse. Sometimes, it is all of these. When these children grow up, they often face stigma from statutory services, who see them as mere attention-seekers. But that’s because they don’t understand. The number of professionals, whether it be in health or criminal justice, who are openly hostile to those with BPD is incredible, and wrong.
Before my mental health crisis, I was an academic in history, and a published author. Now, I am a campaigner for mental health and women in prison. I want people at all levels, whether strategic or front line, to look beyond what they are seeing and to understand why people behave the way they do. What has happened to them?
I was 55 years of age when I was diagnosed. Before that, I hid how I felt because I didn’t know anyone else felt the same way. I thought I was weird, a freak. I had severe abandonment and attachment issues and I was ashamed and embarrassed. But I would have given anything to have someone to talk to about how I was feeling. Someone who understood. When I told my support groups members, I was coming here today they asked me to pass on a message to RETHINK Mental Illness. Thank you so much for enabling our support group to exist; for helping to provide a space where they can meet each other without feeling judged. But our group is not a substitute for professional help.
Despite all I have said, I have hope for the future. We have an excellent voluntary sector in this country. We have an army of volunteers willing to help. Peer support is increasing and becoming more valued. And then there’s the next generation; students of health and criminal justice. I have carried out training sessions for some of these groups and they are so willing to learn and to understand. I encourage them to become the kind of professional they want to be, rather than following those who, probably through no fault of their own, have become cynical and jaded.
People with BPD don’t want better care than anyone else. They want parity, and they want to be treated right. No condition should be stigmatised, and no individual should be discriminated against, for any reason. I hope we can all work together to bring about change.
Sajid Javid resigned shortly before the event and was replaced by Secretary of State for Care and Mental Health, Gillian Keegan MP.
Unfortunately, the Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan MP was taken to hospital shortly before the event and was unable to attend.
Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, attended the event along with several other MPs.