Carola joined the Scottish Diverse Experience Advisory Panel (DEAP) organised by the Mental Health Foundation in 2022, driven by her passion to fight stigma and discrimination towards people with disabilities. In this blog, Carola shares her experiences of her first year as a member of the DEAP.
I have a physical disability rather than a mental one, but also a keen interest in all types of disability and 'otherness' that might limit or prevent full participation in society. I responded to the call by Mental Health Foundation (Scotland) for members of the new Diverse Experiences Advisory Panel (DEAP) without any serious expectations of being accepted.
I’ve experienced discrimination, bias, stigma and bullying at school, in the workplace, by friends, family and society in general. I can therefore understand and appreciate the challenges and hurt that those with mental health issues face on a daily basis. Knowing that such behaviours often stem from ignorance rather than intended cruelty, of course, does nothing to lessen their impact.
Even being selected for an interview surprised me. I met online with two staff members (Mairi Gordon, Senior Participation Officer, and Shari McDaid, Head of Evidence and Impact). The experience was efficient yet friendly and, to my relief, without the awful 'trick' and 'scenario' questions often encountered in interviews. Mairi and Shari seemed genuinely interested to know what I thought I could bring to the Panel.
Despite the feeling that things had gone well, I still didn't think I would be selected. When I heard back a couple of weeks later, I was amazed and thrilled to learn that I was one of about 30 applicants to be chosen.
Looking back over DEAP's first year of existence, during which six main meetings (as well as a number of other voluntary ones) were held, what have I been able to contribute?
Sadly, probably not as much as I'd hoped - at least that is my own impression. But I have learned an awful lot and it's been eye-opening to be involved in something so worthwhile and completely different from anything I have done before.
It's been eye-opening to be involved in something so worthwhile and completely different from anything I have done before.
It seems to me that I have helped more through feedback and editing of documents that explain how DEAP works, rather than through my opinions or ideas on how to improve mental health services.
We all have different strengths (and weaknesses) and I do know that mine lean more towards the written, editorial and the administrative than to the spoken. I need time and mental space to reflect, and written work helps me do that. If I can, I leave the speeches and presenting to others who are better at it than I am. I'm sure Mairi, Ines Marcos (Project Officer) and their colleagues will have worked that out for themselves before reading it here.
Before joining DEAP I didn't realise how difficult people find accessing some of the services, particularly if they are in the middle of a crisis. I was dismayed to discover that the various mental health services available aren't more joined up. In the age of computers and the internet, when other medical records are available to practitioners online, I was shocked to learn this isn't the case for mental health.
I remember feeling aghast when one panel member explained that patients must repeat their experiences each time they see a different specialist. I can't imagine how frustrating that must be, just when you begin to think that someone might finally be able to give you the help you need.
I would like to believe that in the time remaining for its current term, DEAP will be able to recommend to Scottish Government that services are streamlined more effectively, and the promotion of available services is extended and improved.
I envision information (like easy-to-read pamphlets listing services and contact details) being readily available in many more public spaces than they are at present. These should include GP surgeries, libraries, community centres, church halls, schools, airports, and train and bus stations.
I believe that having such information readily available in places where it can be picked up unnoticed will help normalise the fact that we all have mental health. It may also raise awareness that some people face more challenges than others.
I hope that this visibility of information will also educate those who have not previously met anyone with mental health issues. I hope this, in turn, will help over time to end bias, stigma and discrimination against all who experience mental ill-health. Everyone is unique, special and has their own talents. This fact should be celebrated, not ridiculed or misrepresented by an ignorant minority.
I realise the vision I have outlined here is a tall order, but I am willing to do all I can to help make it happen. I know I am only one small voice, an individual with physical limitations which make me housebound and prevent me from travelling, but I'd like to think there is something I can do to help bring about change. Anyone with more influence than I have reading this is more than welcome to get in touch.
About the author
Carola Huttmann has been a member of the Diverse Experience Advisory Panel (DEAP) since its inception in March 2022. She holds an MLitt in Scottish Literature and, with almost forty years of working in office administration behind her, now practices as a writer and independent scholar. She is passionate about addressing stigma, discrimination and biases towards those with disabilities — both mental and physical — and finding ways of promoting public awareness and information in order to eradicate such prejudices.