Hope Cafe: Addressing Discrimination One Coffee at a Time…

Donna Barrowman is part of a group of activists in Lanarkshire who have set up the Hope Cafe,  a cafe in Lanarkshire that highlights mental health, gives opportunities for people, and does a mean coffee. This blog was originally posted on the Hope Cafe site.

We are halfway through See Me Scotland 2 day conference up here in Dunblane.  Yesterday was an very interesting day.  We heard from many speakers including Michael Matheson Scottish Minister for Public Health.  Michael re-assured us that at Government level there is 100% commitment to tackling stigma and discrimination.  We then heard from both Isabella Goldie and Judith Robertson from See Me Scotland about how the next stage of the See Me campaign hopes to develop in Scotland.  There appears to be a definite commitment to taking work around breaking down stigma and discrimination right to the heart of our communities.  This was very much music to my ears as this is where I believe that the biggest difference can be made.

This is a huge part of what The Hope Cafe hopes to achieve by taking conversations about mental health to a High Street setting.  Each and every one of us within the cafe wears our heart on our sleeve.  We speak very openly about our own experiences if asked because we know that by doing this we start to break down the barriers that are created by stigma.  And by doing so we can inspire hope for people that recovery is possible.

So many times we hear “Really???…….you don’t look like the type of person who would have had a mental health problem”.   My response to this is always “What exactly does someone with a mental health problem look like?”   There is of course no answer to that.

These conversations need to be happening on a daily basis across communities If we want to have any chance of breaking through the barriers of stigma.  Yesterday we heard about how See Me has done alot of fantastic work around changing attitudes – but that the focus now needs to be on changing behaviours.

I left with alot of information yesterday and alot of reflections,  The message I took away yesterday was education, education, education.  And I don’t necessarily mean education in the sense of formal learning.  Whilst I do believe that it’s incredibly important that we start embedding conversations and information about mental health and well-being into the curriculum from a very age – I believe that the education has to be much wider than this.  And I believe that the best tool that we have at our disposal is the lived experience of those who have experienced stigma and discrimination first hand.

Yesterday we heard from Gemma Welsh, See Me media volunteer about her own experiences.  I am pretty sure I was not the only person who had a tear in their eye listening to Gemma’s story.  For me it resonated so close to my own experiences – and I can’t quite believe that there has probably been about 10 years between mine and Gemma’s experiences yet we faced the same stigma and discrimination.  “Your hair is done, you have make up on – so you can’t be depressed”  What a load of crock!!!!!

Gemma spoke about how difficult it was for her to approach her GP, how she had pinned her last glimmer of hope on her GP being able to help her – and how with that one comment her entire hope was wiped away.  This is why I believe that we need to get right down to the grass roots of our communities and start conversations.  We need to share our experiences – good and bad.  We need to challenge stigma and discrimination, and every single one of us needs to take personal responsibility to do so in whatever way we can.  From the top of the hierarchy within NHS, to schools, to workplaces and in communities – we need to start talking and listening.

Very soon we hope to be able to help facilitate some of these conversations in workplaces and schools using our own lived experience to show how stigma and discrimination hurts.  We are already doing it in the heart of our own community in Lanarkshire within The Hope Cafe and believe you me we are already starting to stamp out stigma – one conversation at a time.

I look forward to day 2, and hearing more about how the wonderful campaign that is See Me Scotland plans to move forward.

Meanwhile we will keep plodding away in our little corner of Scotland within Hope Cafe – please do pop in and support us and help us stamp out stigma one cup of tea at a time.

Donna 🙂