Friday, 11 October 2013

World Mental Health Day and the Importance of Support

Yesterday was World Mental Health Day. To commemorate it, I thought I'd talk a bit about how I got the support I needed, why I'm so glad I did take that step and to speak a bit about attitudes towards mental illness even today.

I've probably had symptoms of Depression and Anxiety for much longer than I realised. I just figured I was more of a 'worrier' than others. I still use that term but, when it gets to a point where it does affect certain things in life, that's the time to see someone about it.

I didn't actually talk to a professional about how I'd been feeling until earlier this year. I almost didn't bother; thinking I could just deal with it myself. But I'm very glad I did. I took a deep breath and opened up to my GP; talking about how I wasn't even sure what it was, but I have ok days and very bad days. The ok days are when I'm busy and distracted. When I think about things, especially at night, I have these sudden 'crashes' where my moods are so low it's hard to cope. Like I don't feel comfortable in my own skin. I also feel irritable, can't cope with conversation and, although I feel very lonely, I can't bring myself to talk to anyone. I just want to curl up in a ball basically. I hadn't said everything to the GP at that point but she listened, and told me about my options. I could try anti-depressants if I want and/or could use the self referral service Healthy Minds. I decided against the pills (I take enough already) and said I would give counselling a try first.

It took a good couple of weeks before I got up the courage to phone the self referral service. I had written notes, thought about when I'd be free for appointments etc. It was a lot easier than I thought. The initial phonecall was just to take down details and make a phone triage appointment. I would also be sent some mental health questionnaires to fill in. I had those ready for my triage appointment and the psychologist I spoke to was brilliant. After this, she told me she'd send me an appointment soon.

I saw the same person I spoke to on the phone. I only realised it was her when she said. That's what is important about appointments I think; consistency. When you're opening up, speaking about your most personal feelings and experiences, you want to know that it won't be a different person hearing it every time. There's an element of trust to be built up and it encourages you to be open and honest; which altogether helps with gaining the right treatment and support. I've now been diagnosed with Anxiety (I think mild/moderate?) and Depression (moderate/severe). I've had 2 sessions so far, 4 left and think it is going fairly well. There's a few interventions she wants to try as well so I have bits of 'homework' to do.

Before I finally went to see my GP about this, I wasn't even sure if I was ill enough to deserve the help, or even if it was Depression that I had. The NHS website had said this: "If you experience symptoms of depression for most of the day, every day for more than two weeks, you should seek help from your GP."
(source: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Depression/Pages/Diagnosis.aspx)

I saw my symptoms of Depression more as 'crashes'. So it wasn't like a continuous feeling, although the crashes would last a while; up to days, and they would keep coming back. It was only when I realised how much it affected the way I spoke to people, my likelihood to answer the phone, whether I even wanted to speak to anyone, that I realised I needed help. It's all well and good to look after my physical health, but mental health is just as important. The state of your mental health can affect your physical health and vice versa.

I began to open up about my mental health on this blog. I want to branch out and talk more about mental as well as physical health/illness as both are subjects of interest to me; as well as relevant subjects. I wasn't sure about the response I'd get, but it's mainly been a very positive one. I've found that people are more likely to open up to me now and it's surprised me, how many people have been feeling exactly the same, and I didn't even know! As well as helping raise awareness and break down misconceptions, I hope this blog can help me to understand my own friends more and create important connections. I do hope that I am able to give out as much support as I receive as well, I am very grateful.

Stigma- TRIGGER WARNING: Mentions of disablist language.

Stigma can be one of the reasons someone might not seek help about their mental health; whether it be from loved ones or medical professionals. Recently, tabloids have been a major factor in exacerbating stigma. The infamous headline from The Sun for example: "1200 Killed by Mental Patients". The careless sale of "Mental Patient" Halloween costumes by Tesco and Asda also. They have apologised since (too little too late?)

The fact is that more education is needed about mental illnesses; in order to help break down stigma, abolish misconceptions and altogether create better understanding. We also need to look at the language we use. Words such as 'mental', 'psycho' and 'schizo' are extremely offensive and stigmatising. Using this type of language should be seen as just as offensive as using racist language.

Trivialisation of mental illnesses must be stopped also. I have personally heard conditions, such as Bipolar Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder used in careless ways. Someone may describe themselves as feeling a little Bipolar on a particular day, or may say they are "a bit OCD" because they like things to be neat. Attitudes like this, frankly, are disgusting. You wouldn't say you were feeling "a bit Cancer-y" or "having a bit of Parkinsons" would you? It's completely out of order! Also, remember with illnesses, such as Depression, it isn't a case of "cheering up" or "pulling yourself together". Would you tell someone with a broken leg to walk it off or use "positive thinking" to cure themselves? No you wouldn't. My advice would be to listen to the person, take a bit of time to learn about the illness they have (be it mental or physical) and be understanding and supportive. Don't ask why they feel the way they do. Sometimes that's just the way it is. You don't need a particular reason to have a mental illness.

I am so glad I sought the help I did. I see this as only the start of my journey to get the support and treatment/therapy I need but it is a positive step in the right direction. If you feel that your emotions are getting hard to cope with, I would say talk to someone first of all. Speak to a trusted friend or family member and go to your GP if you feel you need more help. If your GP is unwilling to help then see a different one and remember that it is 'your' mind, 'your' body, 'your' health. Everyone deserves support when things get tough.

Here are some useful links:

http://www.samaritans.org/ - I think this is the first place we think of when in crisis. You can contact them by phone, email, post or you can drop in for a chat.

http://www.mind.org.uk/ - This mental health charity is brilliant, and I would love to volunteer for them some day. You can get information and advice as well as reading up on the experiences of others.

http://www.rethink.org/ - Another brilliant mental health charity. This charity does a lot of campaigning and fundraising.

And finally Healthy Minds http://www.bcpft.nhs.uk/services/for-adults/83-community-services/247-wolverhampton-healthy-minds?eprivacy=1 - This is the self referral service I used; in order to access counselling. It is worth looking to see if there's a similar service in your area. They will assess your needs and, from what I've experienced so far, this does not seem to be a "One size fits all" service.

My post "The day I opened up about my Mental Health" will give a bit more information about my own experiences.

I hope this post has been some sort of help but please comment with any suggestions/corrections :)


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