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Monday, 12 March, 2001, 00:49 GMT
'How I coped with mental abuse'
Emma found her friends deserting her
Six out of ten young people admit verbally abusing the mentally ill, according to a new study. It says the mentally ill are subjected to a torrent of verbal abuse, physical abuse and harassment.

The government has launched a campaign to tackle the fear and confusion surrounding mental health problems. BBC Online talked to one woman about how she coped with the stigma of mental health problems.

When Emma was diagnosed as schizophrenia she was shunned by friends.

One even told people to avoid her because of her problems.

Things started to feel strange when I became convinced my housemates were thinking bad thoughts about me

Emma, who was diagnosed schizophrenic

At a time when she needed all the support she could get, Emma found that her social contacts were drying up, as people embarrassed by her condition started to avoid her.

Emma, who is now 26, first started having problems at school.

Identity crisis

When she was a teenager she started truanting, shop-lifting and taking drugs.

But despite all her problems, she managed to get a place at university and start her degree.

She soon found that her new flatmates were very different from her, and this left her suffering an identity crisis.

This is when her mental health problems really started.

She said: "Things started to feel strange when I became convinced my housemates were thinking bad thoughts about me.

"Slowly I just got more paranoid, until I thought people could read my thoughts just walking down the street.

"I was hearing voices all the time, but I didn't even realise I was ill - I thought maybe it was just an effect of the drugs I'd taken when I was younger."

It took a year for Emma to get help and eventually she went to hospital as a voluntary patient.

Badly let down

After a bleak period Emma was able to return to university and eventually passed her exams and got a job in mental health.

But Emma says she feels badly let down by those who were supposed to be close to her.

"I think friendships and social relationships can really suffer when you've got a mental health problem, either because people are scared, or they don't understand - or sometimes just because they're thoughtless.

"I've had friends who haven't taken me seriously, or who seem to have written me off as a worthwhile person.

"One friend used to go round 'warning' others about me before they met me - so of course they were pretty suspicious about me when they actually met me."

In the end it was only Emma's self belief that helped her cope.

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See also:

12 Mar 01 | Health
Mentally ill abused by the young
20 Dec 00 | Health
Tougher controls for mentally ill
08 Dec 00 | Health
Mentally ill 'denied drug choice'
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