World Mental Health Day
It’s World Mental Health Day today the 10th October and a perfect opportunity to talk about a subject that is growing in discussion yet still holds a lot of stigma.
Did you know that mental health problems are one of the main causes of the burden of disease worldwide? In the UK, they are responsible for the largest burden of disease above cancer and heart disease. (Mental Health Foundation 2015).
I didn’t know anything about mental health when I was younger. It wasn’t something taught in school and it wasn’t something talked about at home. I knew my dad battled depression at times but the word was something written in black and white and held no regard in my mind.
I carried ‘the fear’ as I refer to it for years as a child. I was highly sensitive to people and life and although my childhood was mostly happy, I still held a dark place in my stomach that at times, left me sad and low..
My first memorable experience of mental illness was at the age of seventeen. I was at college and became ill with glandular fever. It devoured my immune system for weeks and left me so physically poorly I was admitted into hospital. I was behind with college work, felt low and cried a lot. I was finally taken to the doctors and offered anti-depressants. I think it was explained to me that after a physical illness the trauma can affect you mentally but I wasn’t really listening. I didn’t understand the severity of how I was feeling and said no to any tablets. My mum and I put it down to needing rest and time to recover.
Physical illness can bring on mental illness.
My second experience of being mentally ill was after a terrible car accident at the age of eighteen. I was coming home from meeting my friend in town in the back of a taxi. A speeding car jumped the traffic lights, hit us and span us around. Unfortunately I was thrown from the car into the road and suffered a broken hand, bruising to the body and extensive facial injuries. It was a traumatising life experience which will forever be marked on my life line. For the next four years I went through multiple surgeries as well as a court case and insurance claim. I used to visualise the car accident over and over, had terrible nightmares, felt fear and that crippling feeling of not being able to cope. I went to see a doctor and was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder. I was yet again offered anti-depressants but as ever I didn’t take them seriously. To me they were chalky tablets that said I was weak. I told myself to fight my feelings and get on with life.
Traumatising experiences can bring on mental illness.
I had depressive episodes whilst I was at University. I had moved away to try and distance myself from my struggles but I didn’t understand that you can’t ‘move away’ from mental problems. I remember at one point shutting myself in my room playing the same song that used to make me cry on repeat and not feeling able to take a shower. I was tired of myself, life and felt there was no way out. My friend came to see me and was so concerned she phoned my mum. It wasn’t long before my family had arranged for me to see a counsellor. I turned up to the appointment hiding my facial scars under a cap but after a few weeks found the counselling too tough and never returned. I told myself I could beat the way I felt.
Mental illness can hit at any time, anywhere and it’s not about strength or weakness.
In my mid twenties I started to experience a very dark world that changed me for life. I had family problems, was in a destructive relationship and had moved into a flat by myself. At the same time I was focused on wanting to be a success and therefore working all hours under the sun desperate to feel good enough. As a result I was isolated, stressed, anxious, sad and struggling to cope. Did I know at any point I was in depression? No. I didn’t understand my feelings and I just thought this was life and what I had to put up with. My body’s way of coping was to develop an eating disorder and I starved and made myself sick whilst pounding it at the gym every day. I wanted to regain control of a life that had spun out of control. I became very unwell, malnourished and didn’t sleep.
The end result was a mental breakdown at the age of twenty six and being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
An accumulation of stress in life can severely impact our mental health.
I think the main thing to consider here is that mental illness can be brought on by so many different factors in life including physical illness, trauma and stress. We cannot run nor hide from mental illness but we can help to prevent and manage it. I wished I had understood more so I could have spotted signs and symptoms and realised that the broken girl I felt was not ‘Fliss’ but an illness that wasn’t my fault. If I had learnt better ways to cope maybe I could have prevented my final mental breakdown?
We know that mental health issues are so common no one need ever feel alone. Every time I speak about my mental health it’s amazing who opens up. I even spoke to a man in a bank the other day who once he heard I did guest speaking on my experiences said he was currently struggling with depression. We all need to make sure we are walking around with open minds, hearts and ears with the understanding that anyone deserves support.
If you are struggling to cope, talk to someone you trust and who you know will take you seriously. Read up on things on the internet (see recommended websites below), connect with others and get some tips on how you can manage yourself. Most importantly visit a doctor, ask for talking therapy and pick up the phone to the Samaritans (call 116 123, UK) ……just do something small that I promise you will make the world of difference. Coming from someone who knows, help yourself by admitting to yourself you need help and reach out for support.
Mental illness can be recoverable. We don’t need to suffer in silence.
For mental health issues first port of call is speaking to your GP and don’t be afraid to ask for talking therapy. For more information use the following websites – there is lots of support out there I promise!
http://www.youngminds.org.uk/ – For young people with parent helpline.
The Samaritans are a non-judgemental ear where you can talk confidentially about anything
Here is a fantastic carers package if you are supporting someone with mental health problems:
Visit my blog for more mental health chat. firstname.lastname@example.org
By Fliss Baker