UNPREDICTABLE, even dangerous...

That is the unfortunate, but very real, public view. They are shunned. They are ignored. In many cases, they are even blamed for their own problems.

But the stigma for people experiencing a mental illness has to end, if any real change is to come.

At least, that is the hope of Stirling woman Denise McLaren, who shared her experience in a bid to highlight some of the problems that still exist in everyday life.

The 38-year-old hopes people in Scotland will think twice when it comes to their words and actions around mental health and illness.

She has teamed up with charity See Me as she reflected on the workplace interactions that hurt her confidence and made her feel like a failure.

Denise has been volunteering with the good cause since 2005 and has opened up in a bid to eliminate outdated stereotypes and ideas of what the public might think when they hear of someone with a mental illness.

“I looked after newborns and small children,” she explained as she looked back at a past volunteering role.

“I was upfront at that point about my mental health and it was all great for about the first year.

“It feels like it happened overnight, but it happened over the next six months to a year.

“This new worker comes in and she was paid.

“And she was always undermining me, saying what I was doing was ‘the wrong way to do it’ or telling me to go do something else.”

After a three-month-old was taken from her arms, Denise went to the bosses but was “shocked” to find they started acting differently compared to when she started.

Having struggled with anxiety since she was about 14, Denise was left feeling worthless by the experience at a crèche where she loved to volunteer.

“I didn’t do anything for quite a number of years,” she continued.

“It tore me apart because it was all I wanted to do since I was young — I just love looking after children.

“After what they said to me, I just felt like I wasn’t allowed to be near anyone.”

More recently, she would try volunteering again – this time at a foodbank.

She hoped she could give back to the community after they helped her during the pandemic.

For a good while, she would feel amazing because she felt like she did not have to hide her scars.

However, after two years, the atmosphere would change.

Denise said: “At first, I thought it was just the way I felt, but even when I was feeling mentally well and I was feeling good, people were treating me differently.

“And I thought: ‘Here we go, it’s the crèche all over again’.

“They were undermining me and telling me I was doing things wrong.

“They were constantly at me, and I thought, I can’t do this anymore.

“It broke my heart.”

On both occasions, she was hoping to get involved with something she was passionate about.

However, she said others' perceptions of her and her mental health meant she could not.

Denise is calling on people across Scotland to rethink the way they treat others and hopes one day people will have a basic understanding of mental health.

“People still judge people with mental health issues the way did they years ago,” she continued.

“The stigma is still there where people are holding on to that backdated view of people with mental health issues – that we don’t belong in society and we should be locked away.

“It would’ve helped if they had taken the time out to sit down with me and talked to me.

“Let me explain what my mental health condition is and the signs of what to look out for — that for me would have been one of the key things someone could do.

“Everyone has the right to feel safe and included regardless of what their mental health condition is.”

People looking to fight mental health stigma can visit seemescotland.org.