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Thursday, November 4, 1999 Published at 10:05 GMT


Fighting back against the odds

Mental illness is estimated to affect one in four

Mental illness and social exclusion feed off each other, according to a major report by the charity Mind. BBC News Online describes the experiences of one woman who contributed to the report.

Ojaih Willow is 21 years old. She started suffering from severe depression when she was 17.

She was eventually admitted to hospital, and ended up spending 10 months inside. She was given drug therapies and electro-convulsive treatment.

Mental Health
"None of them worked," she said.

But more than the illness itself, the most difficult thing for her to fight was the stigma and exclusion surrounding it, she said.

"Before I went into hospital, I was working five days a week. When I came out, I had no flat and no job. I had to fight my way back every step of the way," she said.

She said she faced social exclusion on four different grounds. Firstly, she has had a mental illness.

"My employer moved away from me when I told him I was going into hospital," she said.

Secondly, she is black and said she faced institutional racism in the psychiatric system.

Thirdly, she is young and was initially told young people did not have mental illness.

Fourthly, she is a lesbian. "That is seen as not normal and some people see it is as a mental illness."


She says she has to mention her mental illness every time she fills in an insurance forms.

She has found it difficult to access healthcare services, saying physical problems tend to get dismissed as being related to her mental illness.

For example, she suffered fainting fits and was told they were due to her psychological problems. Later, she was found to have severe anaemia and needed a blood transfusion.

Ojaih adds that finding a full-time job is difficult for the mentally ill and they need support.

"The country paid for me to do 10 GCSEs, but I cannot contribute to society in the way I want to. Social exclusion is the worst crime against humanity because it stops you from contributing to society."

She felt as if she had become a "non-person" and that every time she looked sad, people were thinking she should go back to hospital.

She even feared that speaking out about her problems would lead to her being readmitted to hospital and she felt any display of emotion "above the stiff upper lip" was regarded as a mental illness.

"Freedom of expression does not exist," she said, adding: "I am 21 years old. I enjoy going out. I am not a mental health problem, but my mental health problem defines me."

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