Sunday, May 6, 2018

Guest Post #7 - Mental Health Awareness Month - By Martin Baker

Interview Questions for Mental Health Awareness Month
By Martin Baker
I am delighted and proud to contribute to Rebecca and Joe Lombardo’s Advocate All Stars series to mark Mental Health Awareness Month 2018. A few of the questions were written for someone who lives or has lived with a mental health issue or diagnosis. With Beka’s permission I have adapted these to better fit my experience as primary support and caregiver to my best friend Fran Houston, who lives with bipolar disorder.

1. How old were you when you began to appreciate the impact of mental illness on others?
I spent much of my adult life turning my back on the impact of mental illness on those around me. The depth of their crises and need terrified me, mainly because I (wrongly) believed their need was for me to “fix things” or “make everything better.” I felt overwhelmed and scared. Those responses are forgivable. What is less easy for me to forgive is that I made no effort to learn, to educate myself, or even to remain present with those affected. All that changed in 2011 when I met Fran Houston on social media. I was fifty years old. We connected as friends immediately. Fran made no secret of her bipolar disorder, indeed she was highly manic when we met and for six months or so afterwards before falling into a desperate depression. Yet somehow I did not feel afraid. That meeting was transformational for me. Everything else starts from that point.

2. Do you feel you would have mental health support and seek treatment if you needed it?
I have never been diagnosed with a mental health condition, or felt I needed to consult a doctor for a mental health issue. I believe I would seek help if I needed to, and that I would have the support of family and friends in doing so.

3. What would you tell your younger self knowing what you know now about mental illness?
Keep your boundaries healthy but do not turn away from others. Engage openly, honestly, and with curiosity. Pay attention to what is going on around you: personally, locally, globally. Connect. Talk with people. More importantly, really listen to what they are saying. Make a sodding difference.

4. What do you think are the biggest misconceptions those with mental illness have to face?
I think the biggest misconception is the false notion that mental illness marks a person out as compromised in some way, as “less than,” as failing, or broken. Also the equally false idea that mental illness precludes someone having meaningful, long-lasting, and mutually rewarding relationships of all kinds.

5. How do you feel about the stigma surrounding mental illness? Do you feel we’ve taken positive steps? In your opinion, what needs to be done in the future?
I don’t think it is unreasonable for someone with no direct experience to not understand what it means to live with mental illness. That is the position I was in before I met Fran. Not knowing, however, is no excuse for turning your back on people or refusing to educate yourself as I did for so long. It is certainly no excuse for disrespecting someone or treating them poorly. It is no excuse for ignorant “us and them” thinking, which is the root of stigma and discrimination.

What can be done about that? In my case it was Fran’s willingness to engage with me on a one-to-one level which broke through my walls of fear and ignorance. From there it was down to me. I read widely, took courses, and talked (and listened) with people who know what it’s about because they live it every day. That is why memoirs and autobiographies, blogs, podcasts, interviews etc. are so important. Fran and I wrote our book “High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder” because we felt the voice and perspective of those in supportive friendships was under-represented.
6) What do you do to get through the bad days?

At first I felt this question was aimed at those who live personally with mental illness but I am going to answer it because well or ill we all have those times. When I am struggling or in any kind of crisis I turn to Fran and a few other close friends. It is at such times that you find out who you need. That’s not necessarily who has known you longest or best, but who you feel safe with. I used to struggle on alone rather than sharing with others. I have learned the value of being able to reach out to someone. Not needing them to fix anything, just to be there, to hear me without judgement. It still isn’t easy for me but I can do it when I need to. It helps.
7) Do you have any projects that you’re working on that could benefit the mental health community?
I recently became a contributing blogger at bp Magazine for Bipolar ( which I’m passionate about because it means we are reaching a wider audience than ever before and I feel I am contributing meaningfully to the mental health community. I am also increasingly engaged with groups and individuals here in the north east of England, including Time to Change (, Launchpad (, and OPENM;NDED which is a group of incredibly motivated people based at Northumbria University working to open up the conversation on mental health and suicide prevention.

8) Please give us some of your social media screen names in case someone wants to get a hold of you.

Fran and I blog at We welcome guest bloggers: see the Guest Guidelines on our website’s contact page. I am active on Twitter ( and Facebook (personal page: Our book “High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder” is published by Nordland Publishing and available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online retailers.

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