The Social Network.

Having taken part in the Viewpoint Survey, which I spoke of in my last post, the questions I was asked made me aware of something which, I think, may be a problem for many who have experience of mental ill health, and that is that during or after being unwell, one's social network can become not only altered, but also very limited. We know that because of stigma many can lose friends, face hostility from those they live near, and even become estranged from family. But also, even if one does make it through such difficult periods of adjustment and manage to forge a new existence and make new friends, it seems to me that one may still have a limited social network because this new existence may be one entirely based around mental illness.
It seems that those within mental health services would want service users to develop as wide a social network as possible, moving into circles which are outside the realms of the mental health field. But, if my own case is anything to go by, I have found this extremely difficult. My close friends, mostly, I have met through my own experience of mental illness, and undoubtedly they too have a history of mental ill health. The voluntary work I do is all about the stigma surrounding mental illness, and indeed it is the subject of (most) of this blog. You could say, then, that although I have had around six years of stability, mental illness is still the main focus of my attention.
So, it would be nice just to get away from all this mental health related stuff for a change, and in this blog, I have attempted to write, on occasion, of different subjects and other things which interest me. But, it does seem that once one has a history of mental ill health, it is not easy either to get better, or to develop links with the world of the "normals". Most social activities which mental health services can either provide or point you towards are for those with experience of mental illness. Such places as our local clubhouse network in Stoke-on-Trent, for example, provided by the charity Brighter Futures, which although they give people with mental illness a safe environment in which to meet and socialise, are not places where one can develop avenues out into the wider world. So, although such environments are a great way of finding one's social feet again, after so long one can begin to feel that one is living within some form of social ghetto, where there are clear distinctions between those with and those without experience of mental illness.
Having said that, it is not as if me and the friends I have made don't go anywhere else or talk about anything other than mental health. Indeed, me and my friends discuss everything from politics to our cultural pursuits to work, and of course, sometimes, as I do with my hairy, hippy friend Gary, aka klahanie, we just babble about not much in particular in the way that all good friends do. And, rarely do we talk about each other's diagnosis. To my friends, I am just Dave. And to me, they are just the kind and friendly bunch who have thought me worthy of being their friend. After years of getting only negativity from people who I had known all my life, it is refreshing to know that it is their perceptions which may have been false, and that my new friends seem to see an entirely different person to the one who was so derided in that previous life.
But, the problem still remains of forging links with the wider society. It is comforting and supportive within my own little circle at the moment, but I would like to venture further. For some, who are at stages in their illness when this seems truly scary, then, it seems, there are plenty of places for them to go. But, if you are like me, then your social network can begin to feel limited. How much this is, again, to do with stigma is a difficult question. All I know is that I have not, as a graduate and published author, had the same social opportunities afforded me as someone with the same qualifications, but without any experience of mental illness.    


klahanie said…
Dear David,
First of all, I must say how much I like your new template. Yes, I think that's what it's called. Must change mine fairly soon before the candle blows out.
Anyway, my illustrious friend, delighted you decided to do a posting on the very subject we alluded too in our latest intellectual conversation via the telephone.
We both realise one can get 'cocooned' into immersing ourselves in just mental health related resources. I firmly believe that we are both clear demonstration that there is so much more to us than just our mental health concerns.
I would like to think that you would have the same social opportunities as someone with the same qualifications as you who does not have the stigma of mental illness attached to them.
And yes, my friend, I see Dave, a thoroughly decent chap. If we don't talk about our illness, I don't even think about it.
Good grief, I'm typing this at three thirty in morning.
This was a refreshing and optimistic post. Nice one, dude!
Your hairy hippy friend and all round decent human, Gary...
David said…
Dear Gary,
Thank you for liking my brand new template. I thought the old one was beginning to look a little tired.
Speaking of tired, you must be, having typed your comment at 3.30 am. So, I shall leave it at that and allow you some well deserved rest.
From one jolly decent chap to another,
The Manic Chef said…
David, I truly enjoy the new template design you have picked, it's rather cheery, with all that blue sky. Hmmmmmmmmm, as I take note of the rest of the picture, it would seem that the landscape is barren, a dessert, with a single bus adventuring into the unknown, is this 'symbolic'? And I feel it suits this entry, venturing out from aloneness to the open social world, sort of speaking. Very good article, and the hopefulness felt in this posting matches with the endless crystal clear blue sky. Oh....I feel a song coming on, you know the one,it goes sort of like this, "nothing but blue sky, heading my way" who sang that? It's from a movie....I'm sorry I see this writing has put me into a very positive mood at this moment....thanks for the memories! Later
David said…
Dear Manic Chef,
Yes, I too like my new template, and I suppose it is sort of symbolic, the open road representing my own journey towards more positive times, the clear blue sky being those endless possibilities. Thanks for picking up on this, but unfortunately I don't know the song you speak of. I only know the one entitled "I can see clearly now the rain has gone", which has a line in it which goes, "look up ahead there's nothing but blue skies". Could that be the one you're thinking of?
Anyway, glad to have put you in a positive mood!
Best Wishes,

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