Monthly Archives: June 2012

Fortune Favours The Brave

Usually phrases like the above are horrid cliches often used in negative ways to tell people to do things that they are not ready for. 

So then, why do I have it as a title? My life has been a tad topsy turvy lately, two of my closest friends have been suffering the ill effects of depression and mental ill health whilst I myself have been on the opposite end of the spectrum so to speak, finding myself getting a job, being told many many positive things about myself by a senior university lecturer and just finding a lot of things clicking into place. For my friends to be worse for wear though, that was eating away at me, my heart was slowly being destroyed as I worried about them both.

However, one of them who I am very close to, they were willing to be 100% honest with me and to share everything with me. They were brave enough to listen to what I had to say and despite not wanting to do the thing that would make them better, they found the courage to do so.

I go over in my mind and in my emails/texts to see the messages that I have shared with people, and I look at where I am, and where they are now. I don’t think anyone of my friends has shown anything over than great bravery to talk to me, their friends, and/or a professional about their mental health issues. They’ve all taken very very tough decisions, but ultimately the short term difficulty from taking those decisions was worth it for the successes that were achieved in the medium to long term.

This story http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/shortcuts/2012/jun/27/why-british-children-so-unhappy?fb=native&CMP=FBCNETTXT9038 from the Guardian asks why British children are so unhappy. Anyone trying to give a single answer to this question would be extremely naive. There can be all manner of studies, research and opinions on it, but ultimately it comes down to the individuals. 

I personally believe that we need remove the culture of consumerism as the article suggests. Far too many young people are obsessed with the latest technology and consumer goods, but contrary to popular belief I do not agree that they are constantly stuck indoors playing computer games. I feel that the media portrays young people in a negative manner, whilst its reporting of social issues such as drinking and smoking as well as sex can cause, certainly in sensitive and suggestible young people, a lack of confidence and the belief that they are somehow abnormal. Why the media sees fit to generalise in such a manner, and to imply that almost all the nation’s children are going out drinking at 11pm at night, I do not understand.

Everyone is unique, and they have their own ways of dealing with things and reacting to things. No single mind is the same, and it frustrates me that the media has an agenda to push that all young people are the same when we really are not. 

I would argue that the media has a significant influence on people, it causes us to change our views about things and about people, so when it pushes a certain agenda which is inaccurate only those who take the time to question it see that it is a generalisation. 

I find myself avoiding newspapers and the news as much as possible, despite being a Politics student, because it is full of bad news, as bad news is what sells. There is a lot I disagree strongly with, and it upsets me to read. I’m sure I am not the only one. Something must be done to have the image of young people improved in the eyes of the media.

What does this have to do with mental health? Well, I believe that it does us no favours to constantly see things that society is supposedly telling us to do, when in fact it’s the media telling us society wants us to go out and get drunk every night, to have wild sex and to take drugs. Some people don’t do these things and see themselves as outcasts, abnormal. Combine this with irrational thinking that often comes with mental health issues and you have a recipe for disaster.

I’m sorry this is such a random blog post, it represents my state of mind as it currently stands and I always like to write honestly and as a representation of my beliefs at one particular moment.

I just wanted to express that it’s easy for us to do the easy things and look for easy ways out. To ask for help indirectly, but it’s the more difficult things that really make us who we are, that get us through the tough times. 

Advertisements

Today ‘The Sun…

Today ‘The Sun’ carried a story about a young woman who found ways to kill herself from certain websites, & ended up with brain damage following an unsuccessful attempt. It focussed on “suicide websites” & self harm forums, and their influence over this woman. 

A similar story was carried in the daily mail yesterday, & again I find myself angry as it is very misleading and ambiguous. 

My comment on the daily mail article (which did not get published) was as follows:

“I find it very very sad that this girl felt that the only option was to take her own life. Having suffered from depression for 3 years, and knowing what it feels like to do the things described, I can empathise with her & those affected by mental health issues. 

However, the article is misleading, and does not explain the nature of the sites. Were they pro-anorexia & self harm websites & forums? If so then I completely agree that they should be banned, although, if they were merely support forums then I strongly disagree. Supportive sites which focus on providing a platform for the expression of emotions are an important step towards recovery for many people. It is up to the individual to determine whether they will be ‘triggered’ by the content or whether it will help. Forums which discuss self harm, but are focussed on the recovery from mental health issues & self harm should be welcomed, otherwise we will not reduce stigma, and we will only serve to increase the rates of suicides. Furthermore, these sites are often ways to make friends with likeminded people, as Ruby Wax put it “our tribe”. This then leads to peer-support in the majority of cases, and the prevention of suicide or self harm. So it would be good if the articles were not so ambiguous and potentially misleading. I feel they perpetuate the myths & stigma around self harm & suicide.

What those articles should show people, is that it is ESSENTIAL that they seek professional support for mental health issues but also that it is ok to talk about them. We need to end stigma around mental health”

Talking Out With Your Tribe

Yesterday evening I got to meet Ruby Wax, the comedian & founder of BlackDogTribe whilst I also met Laura Davidson from Mental Health Research UK Charity (http://www.mentalhealthresearchuk.org.uk/) & a very inspirational, polite & brilliant young woman by the name of Fiona, who by her own admission pretty much eats breathes and sleeps mental health!

Ruby performed her play “Losing it” or also known as “Out of her mind” which was to raise funds for MHRUK Charity. Essentially it documents, in comedic fashion, her own upbringing and realisation that she was a member of the 1 in 4 tribe, that, of course being the 1 in 4 of us who suffer from a mental health issue or mental illness. Furthermore, it went on to discuss this tribe and how in reality the 1 in 4 might as well be the 4 in 4, in that anyone can be affected by mental health issues or mental illness, and we should all talk about it. I think Ruby was trying to get across that we identify ourselves with particular groupings, for instance a football team, and we should apply this to mental health as well. If we stick with our “tribe”, in this case people who know how we feel, what we think, the emotions we go through, and the difficulty we have in opening up, then we can overcome these demons, and we can learn to deal with them, to accept and challenge them.

Having studied Psychology at AS Level, and having an interest in it, it was fascinating to listen to Ruby describe the workings of the mind in a scientific manner, speaking about the neurones and the affect that negative thoughts have on our minds. But the reason this was so fascinating, was because Ruby managed to integrate an academic subject into a comedy & an informal, easy to understand way! I seldom look at the scientific side to depression, but I am aware of it, and the play enabled me to make the link between our way of thinking and the impact it has chemically on our brain.

Ruby focussed a lot on the humorous side of living life with depression, and the old adage “you have to laugh otherwise you will cry” is probably relevant here, in that she detailed her story through laughter. Not only this, but she noted how people she knew with similar issues would find solace in laughter & laughing about being “insane” (please note, this was not in any way mocking people!) or about their thoughts/feelings.

The one main thing I took out of a wonderful play was that if we all group together and act as one large community, if we find people who are similar to ourselves, in that they are 1 of the 4, then we can find ways to cope, to live, to laugh, and to enjoy ourselves. Life is too short to be stuck in a depressive haze, and one of the best ways to get out of that, is to find likeminded people, and to bond with them. Personally, most of my friends, certainly my closest ones, are those who I know because I’ve talked to them about my depression and found that they too, share similar thought patterns and similar emotions to me.

Mental Illness is not something to be ashamed of, it’s something we can make into a positive by sharing our experience with likeminded people. Hope and belief, love and compassion, these things go a long way towards helping.

I hope to work with Fiona to spread the message throughout at least London universities that mental health is not something to be ashamed of, and to raise more awareness of it, and the research being carried out by MHRUK Charity. They were set up in 2008, and prior to this there had never been a mental health research charity. When you consider just how large cancer research charities have become, it is mindblowing to think that a mental health charity had never been set up prior to this! Talking about mental health is so important to us, to me, to everyone who suffers from mental illness.

If you get a chance, then please do visit the website of Mental Health Charity UK, they have really inspired me alongside Ruby. Laura stated that she believes the best way to eradicate stigma is to fund research into the causes of mental illness and therefore help find better treatments without so many side effects, which actually work. I firmly believe in this charity, having spoken to Laura via twitter, but also meeting her last night. By talking about mental health, if you can participate every Sunday in #TalkOut discussions at 8pm onwards, using that hashtag then you will be doing your little bit to help reduce stigma around mental health. Furthermore, if you could raise awareness of MHRUK Charity by tweeting about them, by visiting their website, or even by donating some money to them, you would be doing something amazing to help fund research into the causes of, and the treatment of mental health issues & mental illness. Furthermore, if anyone knows of a company which will distribute wristbands to individuals then please let me or MHRUK Charity know! I aim to produce wristbands to show that talking out about mental health is important and not to be ashamed of. The only issue is the distribution.

As a slight aside, there was an interesting discussion when I last did #TalkOut assisted by @Time4Recovery who combined all the tweets into one place. It centred around the idea that 5 year olds had been diagnosed with depression, and whether or not labels/diagnoses are a help or a hindrance. The general conclusion was that they were a hindrance, especially at the age of 5 where it is arguably even more difficult to determine the mental state of the individual in question, but for some people, being told they had depression or bipolar or another mental health issue/illness was a relief because they finally knew what these feelings and emotions were. I personally believe that we should be very careful in using diagnoses and labels, and it should be down to the individual to either accept or reject them, but I do believe unless the individual has sufficient evidence that their GP is incorrect, they should always follow their advice, so with regards to medication etc. They may not have to accept that they are depressed just because their doctor has said so, but I firmly believe they should take the advice given to them. After all, outside of that doctor’s room, it is just a word. I think that it is important to discuss how we feel, but we don’t have to use the terms depression, bipolar, mental illness if we do not believe we actually have them, or they actually exist so to speak.

The Slings And Arrows Of Outrageous Fortune

Depression. More than just a word. A very real, debilitating condition. I was diagnosed with it when I had just turned 16, and in truth knew very little about it. But it was through talking to people about how I was feeling that I came to be in the doctor’s surgery being told that I had depression and referred to a counselling service and that I will enter that very same doctor’s surgery in a few weeks time to hopefully be told I no longer suffer from depression.

Talking about mental health is seen as something to be afraid of, people are afraid of the reactions they might get, but I was in the fortunate position to have good people around me, and a support network that I built up by talking out about my own mental health. It was when I began college that I suffered my most severe bouts of depression, and it was then that I began to explore what it was and how I could bring myself out of this deep dark black hole, a journey which seemed to be an endless spiral into the depths of despair. Soon I concluded that for me to get better, my friends and teachers needed to know what I was going through. Fortunately I was on good terms with my form tutor who appeared sensitive and understanding. Indeed, this proved to be the case when one day I stayed behind to discuss the problems that I had been having. My tutor was happy to listen to me and not only that but encouraged me to seek support by actively inquiring as to what support was available throughout the college. It transpired that the only time I could get counselling was during tutor periods, and having discussed it with my tutor, I was able to take up this opportunity.

The first time I went to the room where counselling was, I walked past a handful of people waiting nearby, sitting on the floor. As I walked past them, I felt the anxiety that had crippled me thus far at college, as if they somehow knew what I was going in for, and were looking disapprovingly at me. Of course they weren’t, how could they possibly have known? They couldn’t have. The trouble is that’s sometimes how people feel as a result of the stigma that manifests itself within of our society today.  However, those who mock us, who see mental health issues and mental illness as a weakness, are so very wrong. I am a stronger person for my depression, because I talked about it to people, I managed to find the causes and the triggers and in turn managed to utilise the support I received to educate myself whilst improving my mood.

My experience of stigma has been both direct and indirect, with friends whom I have got to know through support groups but also in the form of people using words such as “schizo” or phrases like “I’m so sad I’m going to cut my wrists” as a sarcastic response to something that has been said to them. This is stigma as much as people telling us to “get over it”. However, I was told that I was a “hater of life in general” by someone who was supposed to be my friend and knew about my depression. Despite this affecting me at the time and making me feel like I was attention seeking or that I should keep my problems to myself I persevered because I knew in my heart that the only way I was going to get better was by talking about it. Today, one of my favourite pieces of writing comes from Hamlet, the play by Shakespeare, with the famous soliloquy ‘to be or not to be’. Hamlet is in a battle with his mind as to whether or not to live anymore. This, I feel documents the feelings many people go through with mental illness and certainly resonates with how I felt. I use it to remind myself that I was right to choose the option to be, to exist. We are all unique, special and contribute to society merely by existing.

Thankfully, we’ve largely moved on from the times where it was unacceptable to be homosexual or to be of any other ethnic origin than white British, but yet with mental health there still remains this ancient attitude that we are somewhat inferior. Why should attitudes towards our health be any different to our race or our sexuality?

We need folk to sit and listen to what we have to say, to try and understand what we are feeling, you cannot do that by treating the symptoms and ignoring the cause.” This quote sums up my experience with, and views towards the treatment of depression. I reached out to those who were willing to listen and try to understand what I felt, and I will be eternally grateful to those friends who did this.