Today read an article that unfortunately is a story of mental health discrimination. I say unfortunately because it’s 2016 and we are all supposed to have a better understanding of such things but to be honest, we still don’t like to publicly speak about mental illness. This story concerns a young lady, Miss Becci Wain, who had self-abuse scars on her arms, wanting to buy a bottle of champagne for her boyfriend’s birthday. As she is 21 years old there should not have been a problem with this but the cashier on the till noticed the scars on her arms and refused to serve her. She sighted company policy, claiming it was company policy not to sell alcohol to anyone with scars on their arms. This was apparently stated quite loudly so as other people queuing could hear it causing Miss Wain to feel very humiliated. Worse still, no manager would attend the scene to straighten out the issue. It turns out that this is not actually company policy and if a manager had attended it would have been sorted out quickly and the staff member informed of her mistake and any re-training organised.
So what appears to have happened? I get the impression that the till operator at best was mistaken and at worse decided to make a moral judgement about someone and a subject she knows little if anything about and tried to justify it by quoting a none existent policy. The store management team where either too busy to attend or too scared. I have never seen management at this chain too busy to answer a customer query but have no evidence either way.
So the cashier tried to help, heart in the right place? May be but: she could have done a lot of damage to this young ladies recovery. Public humiliation could have made Miss Wain feel worthless and a feeling of worthlessness is one of the reasons people begin to self-harm. I get the impression from the article that Miss Wain is doing well in her recovery and was able to handle to situation well but, supposing she wasn’t. This incident may have put her recovery back considerably. That cashier had no way of knowing if Miss Wain was going through any sort of therapy process for self-harm or if so what stage she was at. The cashier didn’t know her mood or mental state on the day. She could have left the bottle at the till, gone home and self-harmed because of this event. She didn’t, she went home and made a complaint and I applaud her for standing up publicly and symbolically saying “it is wrong to treat me like this. It is wrong to judge me in this way”.
This may appear to be a story of a well-meaning individual getting it wrong but to me it screams that we as a society need to do a lot of work. Mental illness is a growing problem. Yet as already stated we still don’t like to talk about it. Because we don’t like to talk about it we avoid talking about it. Therefore there is still a lot of ignorance on the subject. Education seems the obvious answer. The trouble with education whether in schools or at in work training courses, is it needs to be delivered by knowledgeable people and that means financial investment. Financial investment that councils say they don’t have the money for and companies don’t want to spend. Unfortunately I feel we will continue down this path of ignoring the issue for the foreseeable future. This makes Miss Wain’s stand all the more important. It led to the article here which has given the issue some publicity. If that gets people talking or just gets one more person informed of some facts, or dispels some incorrect assumptions, then we as a society make a tiny bit of progress, progress that needs to be built on. So please, if someone starts to talk about them having mental health issues listen to them, don’t make assumptions, have that conversation. If you see someone you think has mental health problems, don’t judge, nobody chooses to have a mental illness. You if think a friend or relative may have mental health problems, talk to them. Ignoring it is not going to help them, be brave and start that conversation let them know they’re important to you.
I don’t know Miss Wain or how her treatment is going but I would like to end by congratulating her on the progress she has made so far and hope she continues to progress and that one day self-harming will be something she used to do, not something she does.