Mental Health: How to start the conversation

I get told I talk a lot. I’m a prolific chatterer about everything and nothing. So, I decided to put this to good use and talk about something really important… mental health.

I became a Time to Change Champion to go out and talk to people about mental health and hopefully, help to break down the stigma. Sharing your own experiences to help others is really empowering and I’ve met some awesome people doing the same.

(Two awesome ladies I met through Time to Change celebrating my 30th with me ❤️)

I’ve been reading some epic blogs about it and think it’s really brave of these people to share. So thank you for doing that.

Did you know that just by writing a blog you could change someone’s life? Did you know that by asking how someone is can help too?

If you’re not much of a writer but want to help someone, here are some ways to start the conversation:

  1. Hi, how are you?’
  2. ‘How are you feeling?’
  3. ‘I know you’re not feeling so good right now but if you need to talk, I’m here’
  4. ‘Is everything ok? I’m here if you need me’
  5. ‘You’re not on your own, I’m here to listen’
  6. ‘Is there anything I can do to help?’

Just letting someone know that you’re there for them can really help.

When I get really low, really angry or really upset, my partner always says ‘is there anything I can do to help?’ Most of the time, there isn’t but just letting me know that he’s there, really helps. Because of my Alexithymia, sometimes j can’t even tell what’s happening with my moods. But it’s nice to know someone cares and accepts me.

So this 2018, if you haven’t already, start the mental health conversation. It only takes a ‘How are you?’ to make a difference ❤️

Daily Prompt: Conversation

Make your voice heard: Young people’s mental health services

A couple of months ago, I blogged about how important it is for there to be support for children and young people struggling with their mental health after Time to Change Wales launched the #WeCanWeWill campaign.

(I absolutely love this video from the campaign (featuring my lovely buddy) where Beth and Emily are talking about their experiences. Watch it here.

The UK Government has now put forward proposals in relation to young people’s mental health including:

  • the introduction of ‘designated mental health leads’ in schools and colleges
  • setting up mental health support teams working with schools to give young people earlier access to services
  • trialling a 4-week waiting time for NHS Children and Young People’s Mental Health Services

It’s definitely good to see the Government making an effort to help those suffering with their mental health from a younger age. And it’s so important that we do. But is it too late for some people? It’s definitely too late for the 1 in 4 who are already experiencing these issues and are in various systems trying to cope and get support.

It’s also good to see that the Government is asking for views/opinions of people when making these calls about what services to provide.

I got an email today asking me for my views on mental health services for children and young people. I thought this was pretty good from an engagement perspective but then I wondered how many children and young people were actually receiving this email?

Are you a young person struggling with your mental health or know someone that is? Help make their future that bit brighter. Respond to the consultation honestly with your ideas. If you’re a young person struggling, MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD and take part in the UK Government consultation, click here.

 

Determining the Diagnosis

If you’re struggling to see someone and get the mental health diagnosis you need, you’re not alone. With 1 in 4 people suffering with their mental health, this is not uncommon.

The problems with getting a diagnosis include:

  • GPs having limited experience of mental illness
  • Waiting lists in the UK being overwhelmed with GP referrals
  • Some of the disorders present themselves as something else so can be hard to diagnose
  • Having a negative 8-minute consultation with the GP and not wanting to bother again
  • Not getting a concrete one

Having been in limbo for the past 20+ years of my life as to what was wrong with me and who I actually am, I’ve become almost obsessed with finding out. Weirdly, the obsession is something that’s helping me with my diagnosis plight.

After I hit rock bottom in October and saw my new GP, I was referred within six weeks to see the Community Mental Health Team. I was so surprised that it took such a short amount of time but so pleased that my plea for help was being taken seriously. The last time I was referred to the Community Mental Health Team (CMHT) where I used to live, they sat with clipboards, studied me and when I told them about my episode of crashing my car they said I couldn’t make excuses for bad driving. You can imagine how I was feeling about seeing the CMHT this time around. Because we’ve moved, I now come under a different health board. Thank.Goodness. There’s been more progress in two months here than there has been in 20+ years with the other one.

In the time leading up to the appointment, I couldn’t sleep. I was grumpy, panicking, feeling sick and at the same time, felt so productive and totally amazing, I couldn’t complain. On the day of the appointment, I had been in two meetings at work and pretty much sped to the appointment (running late as usual). Sitting in the waiting room, I was twitching, biting the side of my cheek and feeling the sense of overwhelming foreboding that I wasn’t going to get anywhere.

The psychiatrist, turns out, was lovely. I took all of my proof of moods with me, my sleep patterns and any notes of ‘unusual behaviour’. She looked through it all, asked me lots of questions and listened to what I was saying.

After what seemed like a lifetime, she said she could rule out a few things but said that my moods and lack of control over emotions pointed to Borderline Personality Disorder or ‘Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder’. We talked about it and looked at the Mind website for a breakdown of the diagnosis. It seemed to fit me to a T. She did suggest that I also have a test for Autism, which has been suggested a few times by my counsellor too.

I came out of the appointment feeling confused. Relieved, that we’d put our fingers on it, scared, because this was something new and I didn’t know much about it, and still a bit unsettled. The psychiatrist changed my medication from anti-depressants to mood stabilisers, something I’ve been banging on about for years.

If you’re in that stage where you’re not sure what to do about your mental health and feel like there’s more to it than ‘You’re just having a bad day’ or a bad week, make sure you tell someone.

I’d suggest the following (although I’m by no means an expert!):

  • Keep a track of your moods, emotions etc so you have proof for your GP of how you’re feeling (A diary might be a good way of doing this)
  • Make an appointment with your GP and tell them what’s going on
  • Fill in the test they give to monitor how you’re feeling
  • Have a chat with them and see if you can be referred to see a mental health specialist
  • If you’re not opposed, trial the medication they give you and if it’s not right, tell them
  • Don’t give up!

Grandma's Special HerbsThe last one is the most important. Don’t just settle for what you’ve been told. If you don’t think that’s right, tell your GP. If the medication doesn’t sit well or you experience bad side affects, tell your GP. You have to do what’s right for you and make sure it suits you and works for you.

It takes guts to do it but I believe you can do it. You deserve it. You owe it to you to be able to live the life you’re here to live.

Book Review: ‘Madness: A Bipolar Life’ by Marya Hornbacher

If you haven’t heard of Marya Hornbacher and haven’t had the opportunity to read her powerful biography ‘Madness: A Bipolar Life’, this is my intervention. And you should.

After speaking to my counsellor and mentioning possible diagnoses of Autism and Bipolar 2, I decided to see if there were any books around these subjects and this was the first of my finding. And I’m glad it was. Although Marya has severe Bipolar Disorder 1, some of the things she mentions doing in her book hit home.

“My brain sometimes departs from the agreed-upon reality, and my private reality is a very lonely place. But in the end, I’m not sure I wish I’d never gone there.”
― Marya Hornbacher, Madness: A Bipolar Life

img_0500The way that she describes her experiences are both poetic and ultimately, sad. She talks about madness as if it’s  “…sitting in an old plaid bathrobe in your kitchen, unpleasant and unshaved. Madness is a rotten guest.”

Don’t we all just feel that way? Those days where you head into the bathroom to get ready for work and the day ahead but you can’t. There’s something stopping you, standing in your way and not letting you move ahead. You want to do life but you don’t. All at the same time.

I have an appointment with a psychiatrist this week and I don’t know how my mind will behave. Do I want it to behave? Do I want it to behave like a naughty toddler, kicking up a fuss so the doctor can see what it’s really like? I’m so nervous. When I was assessed before and was having a bit of an episode, I drove my car into a lorry. It was stationary. It was my fault. I don’t wholly remember it. The Mental Health Team’s response? ‘It won’t be your mind or the tablets. We can’t account for bad driving.’ Hence my fear and anxiety.

“I’m sick. It’s true. It isn’t going to go away. All my life, I’ve thought that if I just worked hard enough, it would. I’ve always thought that if I just pulled myself together, I’d be a good person, a calm person, a person like everyone else.”
― Marya Hornbacher, Madness: A Bipolar Life

I honestly take my mental health hat off to Marya for her bravery and creativity writing this reflection. At times, I felt so sad for her, then angry at the system for fobbing her off for so long, then a sense of association and finally, a wish for her to have peace and find the help she needed.

Ending the stigma surrounding mental health and especially conditions like Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Multiple Personality Disorder and so on, has never been so important. Next on my list to read is ‘Sane: Mental Illness, Addiction and the 12 Steps’

‘Madness: A Bipolar Life’ is definitely a must-read. It’s a tough read but it will just make you admire Marya Hornbacher even more.

My First Time to Change Talk

Yesterday, despite being a Time to Change Champion for the past year, I did my first Anti-Stigma talk to around 40 members of the local police force. And it went really well.

I was a little bit nervous about getting up and talking to people about Time to Change and my personal experiences with mental health at work. I’d created some slides with plenty of pictures and (what I thought to be) interesting content. I really wanted to do this talk to find out how the police were approaching mental health with their officers and what help was available.

The weather was awful on the motorway and made the 20-minute motorway journey less enjoyable. Found the venue and chucked some make up on in the car. As we arrived, the nerves started to creep in but not as badly as they used to. I was getting the anxiety sweats despite feeling quite calm so decided my winter cardi had to come off. Alas, I managed to get dressed wrong and was wearing my top back-to-front. The cardigan stayed on and the sweats remained.

The officers were so good and listened to what I had to say. There were questions afterwards which I answered and made sure I didn’t waffle! It was reassuring having one of the co-ordinators from Time to Change there with me for my first rodeo.

After completing the talk, some of the officers complimented me on what I’d spoken about which was really amazing. A few years ago, talking about my mental health, what happened with work places and highlighting the discrimination I faced, was something I would never have done. I’m hoping that sharing my story will help others, especially some of those guys in the police who are so brave and see all sorts of things.

With my sister being an officer, I worry about her and her mental health. I’ve tried to palm her off with leaflets and information but according to the police trainer yesterday, they can access counselling and groups internally. He also said they’d look after her. News to my ears for sure!

If you ever feel brave enough to share your mental health story, absolutely do. You never know who might hear it or see it and feel empowered.

Yesterday, figures were released that said 300,000 people in the UK had workplace issues because of their mental health. There needs to be a change in the way employers approach those with depression, anxiety, bipolar etc. Granted, some people don’t feel comfortable sharing. It all depends on how your boss is.

 

The blues, the masks and the light at the end of the tunnel

*Warning: The video in this post may act as a trigger for anyone suffering with their mental health*

So Tuesday was World Mental Health Awareness Day, a time for everyone to look at how they talk about mental health and how as a nation we can improve it. A day for Time to Change Champions like me to be vocal about stigma and reaching out to those who might be in trouble. Instead, I had my lowest dip I’ve had in a while.

Normally, and to the outside world, I’m looking a bit like this…

PICcollahe

We’re talking no sleeping, crying, thoughts of life ending, feeling hopeless and lost and overall, guilty. I put a warning in above because when I was having my meltdown in my partner’s car (literally went to move it off the driveway), I filmed myself. Ballsy move some might say. But, I wanted to show that some people who appear to be jolly, happy-go-lucky people on the outside might need help and support on the inside.

Here goes… (Excuse the giant face to start with)

So, yes it might not make sense and yes, I was very snotty and yes, a serious amount of tissues were harmed in the making of this spur-of-the moment video, but for good reason.

I hate attention, I don’t work well with compliments and pity makes me feel funny. All I wanted to show was that those you think have everything sussed out and be coping, might not be. As a consequence of my meltdown, I did manage to see a doctor at our new surgery.

I was so scared and had already decided that they weren’t going to help me after previous bad experiences. However, my catastrophic brain was wrong. While in a high and flighty mood a few days previously, I’d made a list of things that I experience. I’d also been filling in a Mood Diary too. So I was armed.

The doctor was amazing. She sat me and my partner down (he was there for support, oh, and to provide tissues) and asked me to start from the beginning. She was so patient and kind and really listened. She said what I’d tracked was useful and that I needed to keep monitoring my sleep (or lack of) and my mood patterns. She prescribed me a totally different kind of tablet and explained what it was and how it could help for now. She also said she’d refer me to a psychiatrist. Out of my horrible ‘I don’t want to live anymore’ mood came a light.

My partner has been an absolute angel. He’s been so supportive and kind and let me cry all over his shoulder. He’s given me tissues for my snotty nose and tried to make me laugh to distract from the pain. I feel so guilty that I have this most amazing person, we have our own home and I’m still, in the depths of my brain, horrifically sad. But he makes it better. He shows me that there’s a light at the end of a dark tunnel.

Sometimes, we have to drop the mask, accept the blues and keep focussing on that bright light of hope. I realised how good I was at hiding my feelings when I asked my partner if he’d noticed any change in me in the past few months. He said he had but also said ‘You hide everything so well but you have been more up and down.’ Even those closest to us have no idea. This is when it’s good to drop the act, get rid of the mask and attack it head on.

Never give up on looking after yourself or your mental health. It’s so important. If at first you don’t succeed with family, friends or doctors, kick up a stink. It’ll be worth it.

‘Locked door’ approach to mental health from employers

A survey carried out by Rethink Mental Illness has found there’s still prejudice/discrimination when it comes to employers hiring people with mental health issues.

According to the charity, the figures show:

  • 68% of employers hiring someone with severe mental health issues worry they won’t fit into the team
  • 83% of employers would worry someone with a severe mental illness couldn’t deal with the pressures of the job
  • 54% of employers surveyed wouldn’t know how to support someone with schizophrenia

The one that really made for eye-opening reading was:

“Only 43% of all people with mental health problems are in employment, compared to 74% of the general population.” – Rethink Mental Illness survey 2017

How can society do this to people who have illnesses they can’t help? Would they do the same to someone with a broken leg? The problem is, many employers aren’t sure how to deal with people who suffer mentally. Do you treat us differently? Do you treat us the same but keep an extra eye out?

Recently a lady in the US tweeted about how she needed to take a ‘mental health day off’ and what her boss’ reaction was. Read the article here. It went viral because he responded in such an accepting way and thanked her for reminding everyone of the importance of mental health sick days.

Email resposne

(Courtesy of metro.co.uk)

 

Programmes like Time to Change (of which I’m a Champion – Read my story) are helping to end this stigma and also helping organisations to understand what to do when someone needs help. Years ago, I faced discrimination and not great treatment after I was diagnosed with depression. I was made to feel bad about myself, the work I was doing and the fact I didn’t wear make-up to work to ‘make myself more presentable’.

All of the above is why I got involved and became a Champion. I’m proud of how far I’ve come in my career despite my mental health not always being up to scratch. Being accepted by colleagues and in fact, respected, really helps. I was thanked by someone who’d been having mental health issues for reassuring her that there’s no shame in talking about it. Because there isn’t.

For those who won’t hire someone with a mental health issue, thank you. You make us realise how awesome and how much potential we have. It might knock us down initially but when we find the right organisation, it builds us up bigger and better than before.

If this has happened to you, keep going. You can beat this and find the right job for you.

Stay positive 🙂