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A moral and economic case against the cuts to mental health services and the need to reform the ‘back-to-work’ programme

The Government’s ‘fit-for-work’/’back-to-work’ programme is harming people’s mental health and thus it is also undermining the economic recovery.

It has been ruled by a coroner that it triggered a suicide. Yes, it is one suicide, but it is one suicide too many, and the programme should be helping people back to work in the right way, in a way that does not create more anxiety and in a way that is sensitive to the issues people have.

I don’t think it’s intentional from the Tories, it would be churlish I guess to suggest it was, but it highlights the incompetency of the system and the inadequacies of the A) advice given and B) some of the people administering the system.

Fit for work is a disgrace as it currently stands, and I could present plenty of anecdotal evidence to go alongside the evidence from Mind that it is detrimental to some people’s mental health.

It needs reforming.

Cuts to things like CAMHSwhich have been partially blamed for an increase in mental health issues among young people – are hindering people’s lives, and are threatening the economic recovery in that they create further problems down the line for people with mental health issues who then need to use the NHS because they have done one of the following. 1) Self-harmed dangerously. 2) OD’d dangerously (still self harm but more severe and slightly different) 3) Sectioned. 4) NHS walk-in centre. 5) Visited A&E due to suicidal thoughts.

Now, of course these things happen anyway and you will never stop them completely, but by cutting CAMHS and cutting early intervention, by squeezing the net so hard that you prevent people from accessing treatment at an early age or an early stage, you are increasing the likelihood of people developing mental health issues or those issues becoming more severe, and you are putting pressure on services down the line.

You also make it less likely people who are out of work due to their mental health issues and have been placed on the DWP’s programme will actually be fit for work in the future because there is less access to support, and that costs the economy billions of pounds a year. In 2009/10 the total cost of mental health issues to the UK was £105.2bn.

It is not solely the fault of the current Government that there are so few beds available for mental health inpatients, that there is so little funding for mental health, but the current Government is exacerbating these problems by cutting funding at a time when it makes economic and moral sense to actually invest.

It is somewhat rich of Norman Lamb to come forward and warn of a crisis (but he is right) when he was part of the previous government which implemented cuts mental health services.

Further, there are areas such as youth clubs which are forced to close because of cuts to local council budgets – with one of the first things councils do to save money is also to scale back Mental Health service provisions – these clubs are places that kids can go and learn about how to cope with things and in some cases I am sure have helped young people and perhaps prevented or at least lessened the effects of issues.

It is short sighted in the extreme to cut funding for mental health services, to implement policies such as fit for work without the necessary safeguards, and to implement it in such an abysmal way. It is a great idea to help people back to work, people with Mental Health issues should go back to work if they are able to, as it is in some cases far better than not working if indeed they have the ability to cope, but if they are not ready they should not be forced to take jobs that will only make them worse, and indeed they should not be pressured into finding work so soon or face the prospect of benefit sanctions.

It is economically (not to mention morally) naive to cut mental health services to the bone, to the extent that a mattress on the floor serves as a “bed” for an inpatient, to the extent that kids (and some adults) have to be held in police cells because there are no beds available. That they have to travel for 79 miles or over 100 miles for the nearest bed. That there are not enough beds.

It is not going to make the NHS more efficient to cut Mental Health services. It’s made out that it’s bureaucracy that gets cut, but it’s not just that, it has a real, and damaging impact on people and that’s so worrying from a moral point of view and also an economic point of view it’s just totally illogical. It will cost a bit more for now to invest in services, but in five years time you’ll see the fruits of it and it will save the NHS money and it will get people back to work and improve the economy in that way too.

This is not me bashing the government for the sake of bashing the government. I couldn’t give care less which party enacted these policies, it is the policies that are wrong, and they need to be changed. It just so happens that the government have made an already precarious situation even worse. I’m not saying that to take a pop, I’m saying that because I actually want people to see the realities of cuts to Mental Health services which are so dangerous.

This is not an “anti-government post”, this is an “anti-cuts-to-mental-health-services” post.

The only way is to invest in the services, and there IS money to do so. It would mean increasing the debt by a tiny, tiny, tiny amount in the short-term, but it would mean in the medium and the long term you’d end up reducing the debt.

I don’t believe economic factors should really come into it anyway- unless you are literally on the brink of economic disaster (and let’s face it, we really aren’t.) We need to reduce the deficit, and we should reduce the deficit, but let’s do it by improving our services, not by cutting them to the bone and condemning people to continued struggles.

The fact that so few people with Mental Health issues have been helped into work by this ‘back-to-work’ programme – with fewer than 9 per cent of people having been helped back into work, so many have said their mental health has been made worse by it, and thousands have died shortly after being found fit to work, means that something is seriously wrong with it. It should be there to support people, not to scare them, to threaten them with sanctions, to force them into jobs they may not be able to do.

People need support, they don’t need bullying into work. People with mental health issues are not shirkers, they do not hide from work, many want to work, but they need to be supported properly – financially and emotionally – but the system is wrong.

In addition, we need to put far more emphasis on educating people, in particular young people in education, about mental health – I don’t know at what age and to what extent because you need to be careful, but we need to do it. We also need to stop using such stigmatic terminology.

That final point is not exclusive to any politicians (or indeed, to politicians in general). John McDonnell made some insensitive comments on Twitter to First Great Western after a person was struck by a train, Douglas Carswell went one step further and deliberately used stigmatising terminology to someone with a Mental Health issue on Twitter and also blocked me for telling him how disgusting his language was, whilst also mocking “the left” for complaining (in a perfectly reasonable way) about the use of the term “nutjob” by Telegraph associate editor Jeremy Warner to describe McDonnell because he disagreed with his economic policies.

To explain the relevance of that paragraph, this is only achievable with better education and with the removal of the stigma that is perpetuated by the cuts to mental health services, by stopping comments about the disabled essentially being abnormal from the likes of ministers such as Iain Duncan Smith, by the attitudes of people in the fit for work programme and by the way the fit for work programme works.

Essentially, cutting mental health services in the way that the government has done (and previous governments not investing to anywhere near the necessary level), is foolish, morally abhorrent and just an example of how cutting the deficit dramatically in a very short space of time has usurped absolutely everything, and unfortunately, it is absolutely ridiculous economic policy.

Investment is needed in both services AND also in research into the causes of mental health issues or a crisis will hit and will just make things even worse in the future and will not help the economy at all. Reform things, but improve efficiency while also investing and put people’s needs at the heart of this scheme.

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No Place to Hide

Not here. Not over there. Not anywhere.

Ian Gilbert’s conference for teachers about mental health was an inspirational and empowering event, encompassed by first hand accounts from a teacher & students themselves. People who had suffered at the hands of mental health issues.

One of those speakers would take particular interest in the term “mental” due to the negative connotations it brings. Indeed, Nina Jackson has seen first hand what difficulties students face when suffering from a mental health issue. Her experience in Bridgend as a teacher is harrowing yet powerful. A detailed description of events which occurred in the small mining village in Wales left the room in stunned silence. It nearly moved people to tears, but it truly hit home what an impact hiding away can have on a person. It came at a terrible terrible price for those who suffered in silence from the stigma, but some were saved because of her quick thinking, her gentle attitude, awareness and kindness.

It’s OK to Talk.

Having come from a very dark place myself, I can empathise with many people out there who struggle with their emotions, who suffer from mental health issues. I don’t want to just empathise. I want to make a difference. So, despite my anxiety I spoke for 30 minutes about how it’s OK to talk. A room filled with 100 teachers and school counsellors.

How do you follow something which makes you cover your face with the notebook provided, which makes you feel so much in your stomach, which almost induces tears? How do you follow a speech like that?

It wasn’t about following anything or anyone. I wasn’t there to hide behind anything or anyone. I was there to be myself, just as everyone told me. That shone through as I discussed how it’s OK to talk.

An unconventional opening led me to introduce the person who has been my rock through the dark, difficult times, and is still there for me now that things are better, who means the world to me. They were there with me in spirit, supporting me through texts throughout the day. Calming my nerves. My best friend, the young woman I love, who helped me to gain the confidence to actually speak at this Conference.

I continued. “I was four years old…” what has that got to do with anything? What could I possibly have experienced aged 4? The answer:

“I was four years old when Tony Blair swept to power under the mantra ‘Education, Education, Education.'” Regardless of what you think of the man, the mantra, the slogan, it’s a powerful one.

I was happy to quote the former British Prime Minister, explaining that one of the most important things, the most important tools we have, is education. Education. If we educate ourselves, we give ourselves a greater chance of succeeding, of combating our troubles, of defeating them and finding a way through the dark. This conference was about what teachers could do for their students. How can they better support their students? Education. It’s Ok to Talk. To Educate students to see that it’s OK to talk about how they feel, about what they feel. If you educate a teacher, they can then pass that knowledge on. Teachers are in their job because they are able to communicate knowledge in a manner which is understood by students.

Trust. Teachers have a hugely important personal bond with students. A position in which you hold great responsibility and power. Teachers are the people who students see every day and you get to know them well. They form bonds with you & you learn that they trust you with all sorts of things. This is critical when a student suffers from emotional issues or mental health issues. Be approachable, sensitive and aware. Making promises and saying that a student can miss lessons until they need to go back, or extending deadlines and then reneging on such promises is only likely to create further problems for the student, making it more difficult for them to recover. Teachers can help students by easing them into talking about things. Phrases like “is everything OK?” “are you feeling OK?” Prompt questions which force them to give some sort of response which can give you an indication of how they feel.

Listen. To listen to a student is one of the most powerful tools at your disposal. To use your eyes, mouth and ears properly. Teachers are not counsellors, but they are the first port of call for a student who is struggling. So the care and the attitude they receive as a first impression is essential in determining how much they share and how likely they are to continue talking about how they feel. The best thing a teacher can do is listen & give positive signs such as acknowledgements to show they are listening. It’s not necessarily your place to offer advice, it’s your place to listen. People need you to listen & hear what they are saying. Don’t tell them what they think or feel is wrong, but let them know that what they feel & think is OK. Let them know that it’s OK to talk to you or anyone else. Empowerment. Empower the student so that they realise they have the ability to get better, to see this through and for things to be OK. The power is in the hands of the person who is struggling, only they can help themselves, but you can help them to help themselves.

Remind people, reassure them. THEY ARE NOT ALONE. Be gentle, sensitive. Take care to listen. Don’t force anyone to talk if they don’t want to. Ask a lot of questions but don’t be to intense. Remind them that how they feel is OK. Discussions don’t have to be candid, they don’t have to be completely based around speaking. There are many ways to communicate how you feel, such as writing or images.

If someone doesn’t want to talk about how they feel, then no-one can get them to talk. There’s no point in trying to force them, as this will most likely cause them to recoil and withdraw further, potentially setting back their recovery.

It’s about letting them know that if there is a point that they need or want to talk, then it’s OK to do that. 

How can you better inform about mental health? – Lesson  plans, incorporate ideas into a lesson plan, assemblies. Link mental health with physical health. When you talk about physical health, talk about how exercise can improve the mental state of a person.

How would you react when behaviour outside of the classroom had been impacted by a person’s mental health? Focus on discussing the causes of the behaviour, speak to a counsellor/pastoral care. How would you deal with bullying that has arisen as a result of someone having a mental health issue?

Teachers are not the ones who can solve the problem, it would be important to show them how they can explain to students that it is in their power to change things around, ensure they have access to all the information available. EMPOWER THE STUDENT.

Head girl/boy/prefects – maybe somehow get them to be a part of a push on information about mental health. Have a day where the assembly is about mental health. Role models who have suffered?

The BASICS – Make yourselves approachable. Let them know it’s OK to feel the way they do. Let them know it’s OK to talk. Help them to know they are in control & there’s no pressure. Support them. INFORM THEM. EDUCATE THEM about mental health. EDUCATE YOURSELVES about mental health.

It’s OK to talk. If you think a student is struggling then let them know that it’s OK to talk about how they feel. Show them, don’t just tell them. Show them by listening attentively & being approachable.

I’ve come a long way in 4 years because teachers listened to me, took on-board what I said & helped me to address how I felt. They were kind & considerate, they encouraged me to seek support & they were never negative. They didn’t just roll over & accept me doing no work, but they suitably adjusted things so that I could still succeed.

No Place to Hide.

The conference opened with former children’s commissioner Sir Al Aynsley-Green discussing his personal experience of children’s services and Government policies with regards to children. A specific focus on the United Nations’ Convention of The Rights of The Child ensued, noting particularly that students have the right to be involved in decision making. Aynsley-Green produced a report from the British Medical Association which claimed that “politicians are failing students on a grand scale.” This is evident throughout the cuts being introduced by the Government, but more specifically, those being made to mental health services. If we deal with the problem at its root causes, rather than simply treating the symptoms, then the likelihood of recovery is significantly higher & a quicker recovery can be ensured. Funding cuts on mental health are simply going to make things far more difficult, and ironically put more pressure on the NHS in the medium to long term. The former children’s commissioner continued by discussing the negative portrayal of children in the media, urging people not to tolerate local injustices such as being banned from shops or having “mosquitos” which make shrill noises designed to stop children congregating in certain areas.

Following this, it was Oliver James who was next to speak. The child psychologist launched a fierce attack on Thatcherism and Tony Blair. James claimed that Thatcher increased the materialistic nature of society, which was later reinforced by Blair. Essentially, the speech was about how children had been failed by politicians and what he called “selfish capitalism.” To an extent, the speech was useful, as it focussed on certain aspects of society and how there is a culture of expectancy in academia. It also discussed how this became the norm from a previous norm of doing whatever people were best suited to. How does this link to mental health? The link to mental health is that these things have arguably caused a far greater increase in mental health issues and dissatisfaction with life. The focus was on where, why and how society has contributed to an increase in mental health issues.

Next up was Andrew Curran. A breath of fresh air, the neurologist gripped his audience with an engaging presentation about the human brain.

The key point of the speech was the focus on the psycho-emotional well-being of people. A natural follow on to Oliver James, Dr Curran noted that children have two unconscious role models in life; one being their parent and the other usually their grandmother. A scientific explanation of memory and the role of the medium spiny striatal nerve cell being the specialist facilitator of learning was engrossing, whilst the idea that emotional engagement results in a feeling of reward is surely one which resonates within all of us. The Independent Thinking Associate’s speech was fascinating but most of all very informative.

Dr Curran reminded people “don’t underestimate the importance you have through compassion and kindness.”

Compassion and kindness are two essential attributes to have when dealing with mental health. The relation to mental health here is the way in which the brain works, and how we can alter it’s development, hopefully enhancing it, from a young age. Teachers have a great role to play, and to educate students about mental health is one way to improve it and break down the stigma.

The subsequent speaker was Poppy Jaman from Mental Health First Aid England. MHFA is about increasing the mental health literacy of the population. There is a distinct difference between mental and physical health, but MHFA looks to help reduce that difference by engaging with the public in how to treat mental health issues. The idea of “ALGEE” is particularly relevant

  • Assess for risk of suicide or harm
  • Listen nonjudgmentally
  • Give reassurance and information
  • Encourage appropriate professional help
  • Encourage self-help and other support strategies

All of these things were mentioned in my own speech aimed at teachers. They are extremely important, specifically for teachers when approached by students with mental health issues. The MHFA speech was fascinating and gives an excellent insight into how best to treat people with mental health issues without prior professional training.

The first speaker after a lunch break was Dr Sara Evans-Lacko. Intent on breaking down stigma, Dr Evans-Lacko produced statistics which highlighted the severity of stigma that surrounds us. In everyday conversations, stigma is perpetuated by the language used by people. But what can we do to break this down?

Time to Change launched in 2009, with a particular video “The Stand up Kid” most notable for its powerful content describing the way in which it is so easy to ignore mental health issues and not deal with them properly in schools.

Dr Phillippa Diedrichs then produced more statistics whilst discussing body image concerns and how to promote a positive body image. Focussing largely on avoiding the discussion of body image at all, or at least keeping it to a minimum,

Dr Diedrichs gave an outstanding presentation of how society has created a world in which 50% of adolescent girls don’t feel comfortable leaving the house without make up on.

An interesting point on how eating disorders and body image concerns can affect academic performance was made, with the explanation that without eating it is more difficult to concentrate in class and process the information communicated.  The Succeed Foundation member discussed the social and economic burdens of a negative body image perpetuated by the media with particular reference to the internalisation of cultural beauty ideas. This was then exemplified with examples of what society tells us the perfect male and female body looks like.

Nina Jackson followed up with her harrowing tale of loss whilst teaching in the Welsh Valleys. Claiming the students whom she lost were given “no chance” due to the severity of the poor economic situation, Nina spoke with emotion and a real desire to make a difference. Discussing anxiety at the point in which a student’s life comes to a crossroads, it was clear that she herself had suffered in the past. Which road do we take? That was the key question. Labelled with behavioural difficulties, perhaps the system deemed the Welsh students to be troublemakers, when in reality what they needed was someone to listen, someone to care. They were kicking out against a seemingly hopeless and endless pit of despair that presented itself in the area. Abandoned. No-one was there to listen.

Putting it very eloquently, Nina explained that we need to “Feed the heart with emotional well-being” and to learn to love ourselves, learn to know ourselves and learn to love our own company.

The final speaker was Charlotte, from VIK Young Minds who is involved in the AcSeed programme. Her story is one which, sadly, too many people can relate to. Having suffered from a distorted body image which drove her to self harm, she was admitted to hospital. However, she found her way through the darkness and into the light, sufficiently to spend 30 minutes talking about how to improve emotional well-being in schools.

To end this review of the Mental Health Conference “No Place to Hide” I will share an idea from Dr Andrew Curran.

What the system does is somewhat irrelevant. We do not need the system. If everyone of us tries to improve the psycho-emotional well-being of people by giving good quality one to one care then we can help people, we can help people recover & help people with their well-being.

There really is No Place to Hide any more. No place to hide from the realities of the situation, no place to hide from the fact that unless we break down stigma, unless we act, unless we stand up and be counted, nothing will change.

It’s Ok to Talk.

The Internet And Mental Health

The internet. It’s a great invention, & most people use it at least once a day, but is it good or bad for our mental health? How does it impact upon mental health?

There’s a thousand and one ways to answer those questions & of course the answer is at least partially subjective & dependent on a number of factors, but ultimately I think it has got to be one of the best things out there to support people with mental health issues.

Social media is huge in finding support & realising that you are not alone with how you feel. There are an astounding number of twitter accounts which are set up with the aim of supporting people or raising awareness of mental health issues. There’s also plenty of accounts where people vent about their feelings, or talk about their feelings & how they are being impacted on a day to day basis. This can be both a positive & a negative thing.

Certain accounts can be triggering for people, with them talking in great detail about self harm or suicidal feelings. This is something that is crucial to monitor. Firstly, it’s important that these people get professional support, but secondly it’s important that if something is triggering you that you step away from it. They can cause distress & harm, therefore having a negative impact on your mental health, especially of they are something that is seen every single day. The thing is, though, it is crucial to remember that these people have their own issues, rather than criticising them, try to encourage them to seek support from a professional & talk to them about how they can go about doing so, or if they already are, then what it is that they are withholding &/or why.

The support accounts can be helpful, but they should in no way take the place of professional help, & hopefully most will state this in some form or another because it can be dangerous to take advice from someone with no professional knowledge. Make sure that you trust the person & know where they are getting the information they are giving out, from. From a personal point of view, everything I write is based on my own experiences & is geared towards encouraging people to speak about their feelings, & to give people hope, rather than attempting to provide advice. Occasionally I may offer words of advice, & in private I do, but publicly I will always post what is on my mind from personal experience, which generally tends to be what helped me through. Largely, support accounts provide a platform & a tool to be utilised & provide information which can be used to build on what is gained through professional intervention.

The internet more widely, as a whole, is slightly different. There’s far too much stigma out there still, I see it everyday on some of the forums I use that have nothing to do with mental health. However, there’s also plenty of places out there which allow for support, plenty of information & assist in gaining knowledge about the symptoms of mental health issues, ways to combat them & simply people to talk to. It allows people to make more friends, sometimes those with similar issues to themselves & in some ways can create a peer support system. Again, I stress that professional support should not be replaced with this, but that it is still useful.

Overall the internet can have a positive impact on mental health, it can create friendships, increase social opportunities & provide information as well as support. However, it is how these tools are seen & developed that is the most critical aspect in determining how useful the internet is for mental health. Largely it is down to how we use the internet. Use it too much & it can have a detrimental impact on our social lives, thus not helping our mental health. Indeed, it can be far too easy to get to a stage where we are simply focussed on our on-line lives, rather than striking a healthy balance between the two. I refuse to use the term “in real life” because the internet is real life, it’s just an extension of our lives which happens to be slightly different. It’s terms like this which perpetuate the stigma around forming relationships on-line & ultimately can contribute to mental health issues. People can feel trapped between two worlds, the outside world in person, & the on-line world. For some people the internet is their only recluse, to escape from the mundane reality of everyday life, the pain & suffering they experience in their day to day life. Some people find it easier to form relationships on-line, which in turn can also help them to form relationships in person. It can be frustrating to see people say that accounts such as those which trigger people & talk vividly about mental health issues in a somewhat perturbing way, should be closed down. Yes, they need professional support, but you’d be taking away a vital network & resource for them to vent & to talk. It’s absolutely critical that they are allowed to express how they feel, but likewise they need to be challenged, or at least they need to have it told as it is. Abrupt, but polite & sensitively done.

The internet has played an absolutely massive part in my life & assisted immensely in bringing me out of depression & into a more stable, happier place. Most of my closest friends are those who are going through similar to me or similar to what I have been through. They are the people I’ve known through on-line conversations when I’ve sought to find people that help me see I was not alone. They are the people who have come through a lot of difficult situations, low moods & struggles. Most are not “recovered” & they are neither in a place you might want to label depressed or any other label you wish to use. They’ve come through the darkest days & they’ve got somewhere, but they’ve fallen back into confusion & difficulty as a result of x, y & z. However, they are stronger for their experiences & more prepared to deal with what comes at them, finding ways to deal with their issues. These people are friends I have made through on-line conversations. I’d rather have friends who I had things in common with & cared about, than worry about the manner in which I have made those friendships. After all, they are friendships, it just so happens that I don’t get to see them face to face all that often.

Stigma will possibly always exist in some form, as language evolves & meanings become skewed, words become ambiguous. Some people will see things in a different way to others & for whatever reason may find it enjoyable to mock those with mental health issues, or at least to attempt to increase the myths & misunderstanding surrounding mental health issues & mental illness. The internet provides a platform for them to do this, but equally it provides a platform for people to strike back & dispel some of those myths & misunderstandings. A collective effort to find ways to talk more about mental health is required, as it will encompass all of the things mentioned in this post & hopefully save a few lives, improve a few lives, transform a few lives, because your voice, your pen, your keyboard, they’re some of the most powerful tools you will ever have or find. Whilst your actions may speak louder than your words, it is your words which can also put warmth into the coldest of places, to put light back into the lives of people, create a spark & propel people towards achieving what they are capable of, propel people towards greatness.

Be careful with what you put on the internet, be careful who you trust, but don’t be afraid to use it to find like-minded people, those who can relate to your experiences. Feel free to support people, but remember that you cannot help anyone unless you are in a good enough place yourself. By looking after yourself, you look after others who you may support. People who care about you. Next time you go to write something about your state of mind on a forum, a blog, on Facebook or Twitter, take a moment to consider what potential impact it may have on someone. If it’s likely to upset someone, then perhaps write it down privately. Try to seek out that support in a direct, constructive way. It can be difficult when you are led by your feelings & not your head, but it’s not impossible, & it’s a technique which will serve you well in the future. The best way to find support, is to ask for it. Attention seeking? Yeah. Yeah it is. Attention being that fundamental human need that we all have. Quite why there is so much negative association with that phrase I fail to accurately comprehend, but to seek attention is not a problem. It’s how you go about it that matters. Everyone needs attention, & if you’re lacking it, or needing some more to help you through, then please ask for it, because there’s always going to be someone out there who is willing to support you. Hinting at things, posting cryptic things, as a general rule is not going to help anyone. Sometimes you might need to get something out that only you understand & hope that maybe another person might realise what you’re talking about, & that’s ok, but try to limit the times you do that & actively seek support in a direct manner.

The internet has allowed for much greater social interaction, more information & support in terms of mental health, but really, the main benefit of the internet when it comes to mental health is to integrate all of these things & allow them to interconnect. If you write a blog about how you feel, & you share it via social networking or a forum, you gain the opportunity to discuss mental health & mental health issues. By talking about it, you help to understand it better, new ideas form & more detailed, developed discussions occur. More complex & engaging conversations happen, you get to understand the way people think & how to interact best with people. By sharing it with social networks you allow a greater number of people access & you can form relationships through these means. You also will be able to find more information about how to find support in your area, & then you can begin to find better ways to help yourself through the feelings that you may deem insurmountable, but are in actual fact, usually temporary. There are websites out there which allow you to relax & take your mind off of things, websites which allow you to engage with the world & what is happening in it, websites which allow you to discuss common interests & meet people who share your interests. Websites which help you to find information about things. The internet is an extension of our every day life & it’s one of the most important tools when it comes to mental health. The relationships which can be formed assist in recovery, or in teaching about mental health issues. They give another view on things. Ultimately, the internet provides a foundation upon which you can choose to access & build upon. It allows for a journey of greater self discovery, but it needs to be noted that a lot of things which it provides are merely more detailed versions of what you can find in your day to day life in person. Use the internet in an appropriate manner alongside maintaining healthy relationships outside of it & it can be an instrumental part of recovering from mental health issues.

It’s ok to talk.

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.

Consciousness

Consciousness. It means you’re alive. If you can write down or speak a stream of consciousness despite feeling suicidal or low, then you are alive. That is a great thing, regardless of whether you see it now or not, it is a great thing. You have worth, simply by existing you create worth to this world, and you are simply amazing because of that.

A few months back, I was feeling suicidal and I wrote about those feelings. I won’t share what I wrote because it could be highly triggering for someone. However, I did then write a much more positive outlook on how I felt. It still described my feelings but in a constructive, positive way.

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week this week, and I’ve not done anything to mark it. Obviously I still try and raise awareness with my twitter, but I mean nothing special. But then, why does it need something special? It doesn’t, it just needs me to reaffirm my belief that I’m doing the right thing, and I will continue to help people by spreading positive messages, by offering support when I am able to, but most of all by encouraging people to talk out about their feelings, about their mental health.

So I say to you, turn a negative into a positive, look up to the sky and say you will get through this. If I can, then so can you.

It will not defeat me, pain will not overwhelm me, I will always be stronger. It shall not strike fear into my heart, for I am stronger than it, I have the power and the control. Regardless of the problem, it will always have a resolution. The soul which protects against evil will divulge its secret to the mind, and the mind shall be powerful again, powerful enough to fight against the pain that so desperately, constantly attacks, in an attempt to overpower. Power is in the hands of the mind, the mind is able to be trained to repel the constant barrage of pain which appears ceaseless. It will not defeat me. Defeat is not an option, defeat never came, it was on the verge of being victorious, but it failed, the mind combats the strength that pain has, it succeeds in its battle, taking a prisoner, a very important prisoner with it. For the power is from experience, experience of that which attempts to destroy all that is good within the mind. Channelling from the root of evil to use for good. It will be the mind which succeeds, never let that light flicker away. As life slowly ebbs away, a glimmer of hope that seemed before to merely prolong the pain, is able to manifest itself within the mind and expand outwards, putting up an impenetrable barrier which will always remain, regardless of the times it appears to be broken, there will always be a barrier there. It may retreat in order to protect, but the barrier will be there, stubbornly refusing to break, preventing the pain from reaching. The positive, the good, is better than the evil, and always will be whilst there is some hope, and there is always hope.

I Wanna Talk Tonight, Until The Morning Light, About How You Saved My Life

So I guess I should document my life from depression to this here now. Whatever that may be. This may end up as a stream of consciousness and all over the place, simply because that’s how my mind works, at 400mph, thinking of ten things at once. There’s going to be some things that I hold back, but this is all true, the bare bones of me.

I am a 19 year old undergraduate studying Politics with International Relations. I suffer from depression (although only by definition that I am still on meds, I will soon be ‘recovered’), and was diagnosed at the age of 16 although I believe it eminated prior to this and was evident in my childhood/pre-teen years, roughly from the age of 12. Having suffered from bullying and loneliness throughout my time at secondary school I was finally “accepted” by my peers towards the end of my school years, and did well at GCSE but I feel that my unhappiness held me back from getting better grades than I did. Then I moved onto a sixth form college to do my A Levels, where I was able to make friends more easily, but my depression was still affecting me greatly. At this time I had joined an online site which had modules based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and a forum with other people who had similar issues to myself, and I had also begun counselling through a service which was recommended to me by my doctor. My depression was still troubling me and the doctor agreed to put me on medication alongside my counselling. After about 8 weeks of counselling I had made significant progress, in particular changing my thought processes and felt much better within myself. I opened up to my new found friends who were very understanding and helped me through that period. It was around this time that I decided to tell my parents that I had depression. I didn’t feel comfortable telling them, but they needed to know, and they respected my hesitancy to open up to them about it, whilst still trying to support me. I then returned to counselling at my college as I was troubled again, and this helped, but not as much as the previous counselling, and after a while I stopped going. I spoke to my tutor and teachers about how I had been feeling and they were very understanding and also supported me greatly. Towards the end of the academic year I visited the counsellor again because I was in a bad place. I achieved good results at A Level despite my depression, and that was thanks to the friends I made who understood and supported me whilst I helped myself improve my mood.

With regards to the support that was available to me, that was interesting. I first went to my doctor after I found myself posting about my feelings on a football forum that I was a member of, as I felt like that was the most comfortable place for me, and several people offered to talk to me, which I took them up on. Eventually it was suggested I see my doctor, which I did. Firstly it was just basically given a leaflet for counselling and told to ring the number. I wasn’t in the right mindset to do this, and later went back to another doctor who wasn’t particularly helpful. Eventually I found a doctor who understood and have seen him ever since, he introduced me to the counselling service and put me on medication. I found there was not any sort of help available at my secondary school, but was lucky enough to have trust with a very kind teacher who knew my family, and was able to talk to him. At college there was a counselling service and my teachers were all supportive, but certainly there was no real attempt to concentrate on the issue of mental health. At university I have contacted a seminar tutor with regards to how I could get the uni to sign the time to change pledge, and she forwarded it on, but since then nothing has happened. They have disability support and the person in charge of it was very helpful. I still feel more could be done however.

Where to start? During primary school is when everything was set in motion, my mum worked in my class and as such I was always scared to be “naughty”. Not because I was afraid of the punishment from the teacher but because I didn’t want my mum to find out. This prevented me from realising my own sense of what was right and wrong, and whether I wanted to be “naughty” or good. As a result this would affect me later on in life. I started to get bullied in year 5 and year 6, by a small group of girls mainly. Then as I moved up into secondary school I was bullied viciously, and no-one stood up for me. I used to hang around with my brother and his friends because I was seeking comfort, reassurance, and as such I didn’t mingle with those from my own year. One day I tried to join in football and was told to go away (in slightly ruder terms) and play football with my brother. Really, the bullying never ceased from year 5 until even year 11. I slowly began to integrate myself within my year and make my own friends, but still the bullying was there. It was only words now, but it was still as difficult to take as if I was being beaten up each day. I came home and sobbed for a good few hours one day, I was so upset by it all. As I grew older, I became more resistant to it, but then everyone joined in, even my so called friends. They would call me “old man” and none of them knew why, but I did and it made me self conscious, I still bear the effects of that to this day. It was about my hair. Really. My hair. Supposedly I had a receding hairline, well that’s bollocks I tell you now! I just have a high forehead. However, I still make a massive effort to make my hair look good, and it’s not due to vanity, it’s because of that bullying. Eventually it began to settle down when they all realised I was half decent at cricket, but even then, I accidentally broke someone’s finger just by bowling a cricket ball during a nets session, and they started to make out as if it was deliberate. It was a bit of a lose lose situation.

I was probably 12 or 13 when “depression” manifested itself in a different form inside me. That was aggression and anger. A quiet, shy little boy who was suffocated at school would come home and explode in fits of rage at his brother. My brother, 2 and a half years my senior, bore the brunt of my aggression. You might say “well that’s just your normal sibling rivalry”. You would be wrong. I spent hours and hours on end fighting him, he barricaded his door with a bookcase and yet I would spend hours screaming and shouting and slamming against his door just to get at him. I even hit him with a miniature cricket bat I bought from the Oval when I captained the school team there. That wasn’t right, and it’s evident that something was wrong looking back.

Then, college arrived. I was leaving school and those friends I spent so long trying to find were all heading off elsewhere. Like I said earlier, I managed to make new friends, but it took a little while. These friends are probably the best ones I’ve ever made but it sucks that they’ve all gone to uni elsewhere. Two in particular saved me from myself during my time at college. H & S were just brilliant, so understanding when I opened up to them about my issues and just really great friends. ‘I’ was also a great help, she was just one of those people who you could talk to about anything. Also, in my business class, there was a girl called Sam. She was quiet, but seemed pretty good at business. I didn’t like where I was sitting because of a guy called Jordan who was loud and kept trying to get me to give him my work! Eventually I asked my teacher if I could move and she said it was fine. Then the next lesson I was put into a pair with Sam, I was a bit scared because my confidence was pretty low, but we got on well. I then decided to move and sit next to her as she was awesome at business, that took a lot from me because I was a bit worried for some reason. Yet, she’s a really good friend now. So it goes to show that sometimes good things happen when you fight back against your fears.

Moving on to what is probably the most interesting thing for me. People. People are my life and soul. My t-shirt says it’s music but really it’s people. I love interacting with people, talking to them, helping them, whatever. I mentioned that I joined a forum, well I befriended a girl a couple of years younger than me ‘K’ and we got to know each other really well over the course of about a year. We both had major issues at the time, but we helped each other through them. You know people talk about love, and they misunderstand it, but this, this was love. Not romantic love, but sort of like sibling love. I would spend hours on the phone trying to calm her down, trying to help her, we would text all the time. Why am I telling you this? Unfortunately one day, her family forced her to hand over all her passwords, they looked at her messages and her sister came onto msn, had a massive go at me for talking to K about my feelings (I wasn’t very subtle) gave me the most severe panic attack I’ve ever had to this day. I was physically sick because of it.  I regret the way I talked to her throughout that year because it probably made her worse, and in the end it contributed to losing her. From that day onwards, the only contact I’ve had from her was an e-mail to say goodbye. No-one will ever begin to comprehend how that felt. I still dream about her to this day, I still wonder what she is doing, how she is, if I’ll ever get to see her. It was like someone had taken my insides, twisted them around and ripped them out, performing surgery on me without anaesthetic. That’s how painful it was. I miss her, I loved her, and she loved me. Since then, no-one has ever loved me, not anywhere near to the way she loved me, and I’ve never loved anyone the way I loved her. The closest I’ve come is probably Ch, who I love and who cares about me as well. A girl who has lots of troubles in her life, but gets on with it, is still here and comes to me when she needs support. I hope she knows that I’ll never give up on her, I’ll always be there to help her and that I’ll try my best whatever it is she needs support with.

People really have come and gone from my life. Too many people just as I got close to them, they would go, for whatever reason they left. That includes my uncle. This is a guy who was more like a dad/best mate to me. I would confide in him about anything and everything, we would laugh and joke, he was a bit of a comedian, but then my nan died, and well family stuff happened and he fucked off, punishing me and my brother, but mainly me, for something that we had no control over.

To lose people, that is my greatest fear in life. If I get close to someone, I have a fear that I will lose them. It takes over and it begins to affect the relationship and thus I have to be careful to notice this and act on it.

There’s one person who I attribute the title of this blog to. ‘V’ . This girl, or young woman now, she saved my life. I don’t mean that literally, but I might as well mean it literally because she was there for me when I needed someone the most. We got to know each other because we support the same football team, and we became friends. V was the friend I was crying out for, and if I hadn’t had her with me then I don’t know where I would be. I love her, she’s amazing and I’m so pleased I know her.

If this was an essay, I would be losing marks left right and centre for digressing. It’s not an essay though so it’s alright. However, here is where I explain what this all means and how I battled through all of the above to be where I am now. Where I am now is a content place, a place rid of depression and largely anxiety, but a place with underlying problems still very much there. The difference between today and last year is that I know how to deal with them. If you asked me “how do you deal with it?” then I wouldn’t be able to answer, because it’s sort of become innate now. Counselling changed my life. I love self actualising. Learning about the human mind, in particular my own is beautiful for me, and it helped me to recover. I identified the problems that I had and I realised when I was being irrational, when I was allowing my logic to be overridden by emotion. Talking to people, a counsellor and people in general, it allowed me to explore myself and discover ways to cope with my emotions. Gradually I moved out of the dark and into the light.

I implore you not to give up on yourself. You have so much to give to the world, you cannot see it right now, but you do. “Oh darling, I know you can’t see a light, but darling, don’t you see, you have one inside!” You’re scared, you’re tired and you don’t want to fight anymore. You constantly tell yourself you’re going to end it but you’re still here. That’s because you have hope, you think that surely nothing can be any worse than this, you’re still here, you want to live and you will live so long as you believe. I’m not preaching to you, I’m not going to tell you everything will be rosy tomorrow just because you believe it will, but that belief inside is key to giving you the strength to find ways through this.

Look at me, I’ve come from suicidal tendencies, an overdose and self harm to being content with myself despite my life being far from perfect. I’m 18 months free of self harm. Me, I’m nothing special, yet I am. I am special because I am unique, just as you are. You are unique and that is beautiful, if you give up on yourself then the world will lose something, the world will weep at your loss because it’s brilliance, it’s beauty becomes less because you passed away.

Please don’t be afraid to talk, if you have a bad experience with one person it doesn’t mean you will have it again, talking saved my life, it can save yours to.

To conclude, I just want to say a massive massive thank you from the bottom of my hear to these people:  Vicki, Kel, Harry, Sophie, Chloe, Cath, Alex, Amy, Doug, Rebecca, Saira, Sam, Sarita, Tom, Rag, Lee, Steph, Aimee. All of these people have in a huge way helped me through my depression, they supported me through the bad times, they shared my good times, but most of all they never gave up on me. I love every one of them, they are my strength. I missed out one ‘person’ from that list though. Twitter. Each and every one of you who talks to me, who retweets, who favourites, who interacts with me in anyway shape or form helps me through the day. I love you all, and I hope that my words give you hope, that my words help you in some small way. If they do, for just one of you, then I consider that a success. I set up Talk Out to help people, I seem to have a knack of doing it and doing it well. It’s a gift I’m grateful for.

Don’t worry, about a thing, cos every little thing, is gonna be alright! The trick of it is: don’t be afraid anymore!

‘The Trouble With Men’

The trouble with men is society. The trouble with men is stigma. The trouble with men is the past. The trouble with men is…

The trouble with men was the title of a ‘Tonight’ ITV special looking at depression in men and the fear of opening up about how we feel. It centred around former England rugby player Duncan Bell who admitted to suffering from and hiding his depression until one day the team doctor took him to one side and asked him how he was feeling. Having responded with the all too common phrase “I’m fine” the doctor replied “no no really how are you feeling” and Bell admitted to basically breaking down into tears.

So this post aims to explore what it is about men that stop us from talking about depression or admitting we suffer from it. Right there I touch upon something which is perhaps slightly inaccurate. I put it to you that it is not some sort of pre disposition, chromosomal, hormonal or other biological thing that stops us talking, but it is (partly) a societal reason.

It can be argued that gender stereotypes still exist in the modern age, as is evidenced by the ongoing feminist movement, but it’s not just women who are the butt of sexist stereotypes. Men are affected by them too. There is a myth that men are the protectors, the strong guys and the stable people with strong upper lips. We’re meant to get into fights and throw punches. We’re meant to show all the attributes of a warrior. Unfortunately it is this that is part of the reason men are either afraid to talk about their depression or reluctant to do so. I was told to “man up” at age 15 when I first opened up about how I felt, and that was from a guy who was supposed to be my friend. Things like that, silly ancient perceptions of what a man is stop us from opening up and getting that all important help. There’s the idea of a golden hour when doctors try to save people’s lives, well there’s something similar with mental health. If we notice the symptoms early enough then we can help save people from themselves, and help people to save themselves much more easily before depression manifests itself and blinds them to the reality of life. That is why it is crucial to stop this petty culture of sexism that pervades society today. This brings me onto my next point.

Society. I feel that people with mental health issues are perhaps more aware of people who may judge them, and we use our heightened sense of fear to suggest that there is a culture of turning a blind eye when it comes to mental health. I believe we exaggerate the amount of people whom are all to willing to judge us, to look down on us and to ignore us because we are different. I am in no way suggesting this is the case for all, neither am I suggesting it does not exist, because plainly it does! We must be wary not to let our fear blind us though. However, within society exists a culture of ignorance, and this is where stigma stems from. A lack of understanding of issues, of being afraid of change and people who are different to us. Society allows the continued growth of the idea that men should not talk about their feelings because feeling this way is simply not manly. This is so wrong, so very very wrong, and if you come across this feeling guys then swat it down like you would a fly. Crush it like you would a can. We need to find a way to remove this belief, this myth from society, and the best way to do it is to talk.

The trouble with men is that when you combine depression in men with societal attitudes, you get men hiding away and continuing to allow the myth that depression is a weakness and unmanly to pervade our culture. Now that’s not the fault of the people with depression, but if we can break out of this bubble, to talk out and explain how we feel, then slowly but surely the bubble that society holds itself within will pop and people will throw off their false conciousness’ to find the truth that depression can strike anyone, it strikes in different ways, and that men who suffer from it are no less than men who don’t.

The trouble with men is that because of this myth that depression in men is a sign of weakness and not macho many simply suffer alone in silence increasing the pain they hide inside as the world continues to turn, but their world inside crumbles and crashes, beginning to burn. Men are more reluctant to see their GP, to talk to their friends about it, and all because of this idea that it is not manly.

The only way to solve this idea that emotions, depression etc are signs of weakness and not macho is to educate people, to remove ignorance, remove prejudice and stupidity, and to encourage strong independent thinking. Shun societies supposed rules, talk about how you feel if you need to, it’s ok to do so. Education will of course only be 1 egg in the basket, but it will be a bloody big egg at that.

The trouble with men is that we are scared. The trouble with men is that society has indoctrinated us to see vast differences between us and women, when in reality the only differences that matter are biological. Large amounts of what has been discussed here can be applied to women as well, it’s just men are even more afraid to speak out. Men and women, we’re not that different. Lose your chains and fight for your freedom.

Depression Awareness Week

This week (beginning 23/4/12) is Depression Awareness Week. A week for us to look at depression and to educate people about it’s causes, it’s effects, and just what it consists of.
It seems to have passed by as somewhat of an afterthought. Or should that be a 4thought. The latter reference is to a channel 4 TV programme which has triggered a complaint from Rethink to OFCOM due to the ridiculous trash spouted by an ignorant being about the causes of depression. My advice would be: do not watch or research the programme.
Anyway, let’s get back on topic. As mentioned before, it doesn’t appear to have been in the news, in the public eye or in the media. There are plenty of campaigns/blogs/websites trying to increase awareness of depression, but it is all focussed online. Of course most things are heading towards the idea of 24/7 online media, but now and again it does just help to have an advert on a train, or at a station, or even (an article or advert) in a newspaper. For instance, the recent campaign by Time To Change that ran in the metro made me feel much more normal. Which it should do, because there’s nothing abnormal about people with depression, it’s just a mental health issue (there’s a reason this phrase is often used by us). Ok, it’s not ‘just’ a mental health issue, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of, or to be treated differently for. Treat us with as much love and care as you would anyone else you care about. The metro campaign was probably seen by millions of people, and that’s great because it helps spread awareness. What is more important for me, is that it was something that people pick up on their way to work or way home from work/school etc. The more it is out there where we can see it with pictures, with bold writing, where we can touch it with our minds, the better. The crucial thing is to balance the idea of having it online and having it out in places that people travel to. Online, we can’t make as much difference unless we find the right contacts, but out there we can grab the attention of different types of people, of people who aren’t necessarily aware of these websites. I haven’t done any research, but as far as I am aware the BBC or ITV have not mentioned depression awareness week at all. Indeed, a quick google search for “depression awareness week BBC” on news articles lends itself to a pathetic return of 3 results. I shall leave you to draw your own conclusions.

So what can we do? How can we raise awareness? Well we can raise awareness simply by having a conversation with someone about it. A white lie if you fear the response, or fear someone finding out you suffer from depression. Something like “did you see on BBC this morning that it’s depression awareness week?” along with an additional comment about how depression is misunderstood (which it is by somewhat large numbers of people, hence why we have stigma) or just a pause for their response. Personally, if I was still at school I would want to do an assembly about it, a presentation like they do on ANZAC day or in Citizenship where they talk about numerous social topics. Obviously that’s one for the more self confident people out there. There are ways to turn conversations onto mental health subtly, a tad difficult to describe, but it is possible. It can be a short conversation, or a long one, either way you are still taking the time to speak about it.
Depression is not an easy topic to broach, but with the right attitude and a lack of fear, we can get talking about it. This is where social media comes in useful. Twitter and facebook. Facebook is more difficult for those who fear “reprisals” so to speak, the fear of the unknown, the unkown being what the response will be. If you suffer alone, things will take much longer to improve, so maybe the first step is to be able to share it. If you put a status such as “this week is depression awareness week, it’s important people don’t feel afraid to talk about it” then how many people are honestly going to assume you have depression? People don’t assume you have cancer if you put a status about raising awareness of that. Ok poor example but the point stands. No-one is forcing you to do anything, no-one will think any less of you if you don’t do it, but if you do then that is a great way to help people think about it. Sometimes we look at things and think “that’s interesting” and we go away and research. The same can be true of depression, if you get 1 person to change their view on depression for the better then it will have been worth it.
We at Talk_Out marked depression awareness week by having a twitter discussion asking for people’s experiences, and here is a summary of all the tweets we received with the #TalkOut hashtag: #TalkOut marks Depression Awareness Week: http://storify.com/Time4Recovery/talkout-marks-depression-awareness-week?awesm=sfy.co_qTJ&utm_campaign=&utm_medium=sfy.co-twitter&utm_source=t.co&utm_content=storify-pingback

Take the time to read through these tweets. Are they all positive? No. Are they mostly positive? Yes. Are they all talking about how rosy life is? Of course not. What are they doing then? Well they are simply helping to break down the stigma around mental health. They are helping others to see new ideas for coping, and hopefully to see that others have improved and become happier, therefore so can they! You don’t have to be happy all the time, or positive, but if you can talk about how you feel openly, then you are well on your way to bringing happiness back into your life.

To finish this entry, I leave you with a quote from Dr Tim Anstiss who wrote in the Guardian today that: “There is so much bullshit out there about mental health and mental illness…” The trouble is, unfortunately it’s hard to disagree with him. However, he goes on to claim that “people are ready for an accessible and helpful resource where they can share experiences, concerns and feelings, learn about new things and explore issues without feeling judged or told what to do.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/social-care-network/2012/apr/26/social-media-depression-support) We agree, and the purpose of #TalkOut is to do exactly this, begin a community, bring a community together to help each other alongside getting professional help, to return happiness to those whom it belongs to.

It’s A Parent-Child Thing

We all know what it is like to have arguments with our parents, most of us probably got on better with one of our parents than the other. Certainly it’s part of growing up and maturing, the fight for independence and the struggle for the parent to let go of their baby whom they have cared for, for so long. The question which sits in my mind though, is: ‘When does an argument become emotional abuse?’

This is a very personal subject, and I don’t particularly intend to put anyone across as a villain or criticise anyone, merely to explore the thought process that occurs in my mind at times like these.

So when does a series of arguments become emotional abuse? Let’s not look at it in terms of the dictionary definition, but let’s look at the effect it has on a person.

19 years of age. Living at home. Suffered from anger issues, a short temper and emotional issues since the age of about 12. They call it ‘depression’. I’m not a label, it does not define me and it never will. However, it did help me to tell my parents. My mum, she’s a very intelligent person that is obvious, but certain things have happened which have caused her outlook to become blinkered, and this is where the conflict occurs. The war of attrition as the waves crash down upon the rocks, gradually wearing them away to require either a compromise of soft defences, or a more hardened approach of re-inforcing that cluster of rocks preventing any penetration. I digress slightly. The conflict results in blame, arguments, “fights” and hatred being spouted.

Streams of consciousness enter the atmosphere & it becomes like a book. Dialogue is merely these streams of consciousness battling against each other. Nothing actually goes through, we both listen but do not hear. Shouting and screaming. It’s better than the alternative, but it’s far from perfect. “I can’t live like this anymore” comes the cry after half an hour of my thoughts being battered against her mind, trying to worm their way in to make that breakthrough and create an understanding. What happened?

An offer of money for a box to change to digital TV or no TV. We’ll give you £25 and you can pay the difference. I’ve just spent £102 to get my laptop fixed and money is not exactly in abundance right now. “Can I?”. Immediately the words are regretted because it results in an argument which centres around the idea that I have spoken in a “tone of voice” which she does not like. The irony here is that tone of voice is subjective. The ‘discussion’ continues & the annoyance is there due to being accused of something which is not true. The blame comes my way, it’s all because I spoke in that tone of voice. The frustration eminating from my heart and mind is blatantly obvious by now as I throw the cup down in frustration as she mocks my reaction, walks away knowing full well that it will anger me further. Why? Knowing full well it will anger me further, why does she do this? Is it some sort of petulant act of childishness, or is it just a form of regaining that control she lost when I grew up? Only one person knows the answer. The frustration boils over as whenever an explanation is forthcoming I am interrupted by a reaction designed surely just to wind me up further.

There is much more to it, & to be blamed for something constantly is perhaps a form of emotional abuse, but as noted, there is far more too it than this.

What causes this? Mental health issues? Perhaps. Really though, it is just emotions & personalities. Define it as depression if you so wish, but I do not see it in this way. How you see yourself is entirely your choice, depression is a serious condition and certainly something I experienced. Past tense. For now it is just a label to say that because I react in this way to life, I have depression. There is a chemical imbalance in my brain, the positive impact of this new medication suggests this is true, but depression does not define me.

Let us take that the two people here suffer with mental health issues, predominantly depression. What is it like to live with a parent with a mental health issue?

I love my mum, there’s so much I regret from my childhood about how she treated me, but instead of that being violence and abuse, povertyesque conditions, it was love. I love her because she loved me. I feel her actions contributed to who I am today, and whilst there’s so much I want to change about the past & some things about the present also, I love the way my mind works. The speed of thought, the analysis and the questioning of everything. Even something like football and the way it changes over decades, I was knackered and it was 1am on the DLR on the way back from Portsmouth, I asked my friend how football had changed, what he thought of the way I think, this that and the other. I explained the speed that my mind worked and how I love it. For this, I have my mum to thank. She protected me from harm for fear that I, her baby, would be hurt. She could not bear to see me hurt and that was born out of her unconditional love for me as her son. So despite the many negative aspects to her somewhat overprotection of me, there were some positives.

What does this have to do with living with a parent with a mental health issue? Well it needs saying that my mother loves me & I love her, regardless of what may be said in this blog, on my twitter or elsewhere. Love is there, and it will always remain, but we are at each other constantly.

The sheer bloody mindedness of us both creates conflict, and our inability to channel our stress and emotions in a positive way is a recipe for disaster. We both struggle. When you have a bad day and get in a bad mood, what happens? Often you become snappy, aggressive and somewhat withdrawn. Try living like that every day, and combine with it two people who refuse to give in. The 19 year old admits some wrongdoing begrudgingly to keep the peace, but the mother is blinded by her own problems, seeing things only from one perspective.

This blog entry does not appear on the surface to explain what it is like to live with a parent who has a mental health issue, it just shows conflict between parent and child, but deep down there is much more than that. The devil is in the detail.

What is hardest is to see the impact I have on her. The conflict that already penetrates my mind every second of my life is further exacerbated by the frustration at the suffocation of me as a child, but the realisation that the actions were out of love. The love is therefore repaid albeit not very clearly. How? Well when I see my mum struggling with her emotions, breaking down and crying, getting angry for (seemingly) no reason, my heart sinks a bit. I don’t want her hurting, regardless of the fighting we have. I love her, but she feels suicidal, she is depressed, low and somewhat alone. Solemnity, sorrow, scared. She’s scared, I’m scared and we both know it. Yet there is a silent acceptance of each others’ desire not to discuss it, that being my fault as such, my way of relucantly punishing her for her previous actions, for I cannot break the chains which are held tight due to the fear and embarrassment of the past.

Living with someone who has a mental health issue is difficult, but it shows your strength, their strength, the power of love and hope & the rays of light that shine through every now and then. Don’t be afraid, just show your love, because love is most powerful, moreso than hatred, loathing, of hopelessness.

Matt