This is a heart-felt piece that includes true life stories of people I met in mental health hospitals with reference to self-harm and suicide. This is done with sensitivity but please take this into consideration before reading.
What do you visualise when you think of a person battling mental health issues? At one end of the spectrum we have the Stephen Fry’s who are associated with intelligence and perceived as an inspiration and at the other end we have those in poverty, possibly homeless or misusing substances. If we imagine they are both experiencing depression, their symptoms will be the same. They will feel low, tired, irritable, isolated and sad, which will impact their lifestyle, relationships and ability to work.
Mental ill health touches anyone in the same way as other medical conditions including diabetes and cancer. It is not about being ‘weak minded’. We can of course do things to minimise our risk of mental health problems but they are dependent upon our genetic predisposition and all we need is a trigger which could be our lifestyle, relationships, work, stress load and so on. Your stress capacity is different to mine. No one in this world looks exactly the same, not even identical twins, therefore how can we expect other people to cope with life as we do? How often do we automatically think ‘well if I can do it, so can they?’ We must be mindful that we are all different needing help and support in different ways.
I want to share a few stories about the wonderful people I have met as an inpatient in both private and NHS psychiatric hospitals. I was first admitted a number of times back in 2008 when I was initially diagnosed with bipolar but was also admitted in 2013 where I received ECT (electro convulsive therapy) for my depression. All names have been changed.
He was in his late thirties and looked out for me. It was his first episode of bipolar. Sometimes the nurses ran in and his door was shut for a long time. We knew he self-harmed and used to post notes under the door to ask if he was ok. He had been abused in a children’s home and had got into drugs. His sister had taken her life a few years before. He is now a talented artist who has exhibited work all around the country but is currently in back in hospital after relapsing. He is a great friend.
She was a young nurse with diagnoses of depression and personality disorder. She made an attempt on her life prior to admittance. She regularly self-harmed and her symptoms were extreme due to medication side effects. Her mum struggled to cope. She is back at work now and manages well.
He was a soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder and used to have terrible nightmares. He was admitted after jumping through a shop window in response to a firework. I used to sit with him outside on the bench. He told me once about some of the things he’d experienced and I will forever be honoured to have met him.
He was a successful journalist with clinical depression and had left his wife after having an affair. He was on the addiction ward due to alcohol misuse and had to be detoxed before treatment.
A young mum of two with a diagnosis of bipolar. When she was high she was promiscuous and it had affected her marital relationship. She used to fling from high to low moods. Her frustration was evident and she used to bruise herself. She is now on stable medication and has completed a college qualification with distinction.
He was a young Asian man with depression but unfortunately he didn’t receive many visits because we were told that his cultural belief perceived mental health as a weakness and he was seemingly discriminated against because of this.
A lady in her early forties, who had been an inpatient for 18 months. Her father had died and it had triggered bipolar. She was experiencing psychosis* and hallucinations and used to sing to cheer me up. She is now in supported housing, rebuilding her relationship with her children. I see her often and support her as much as I can.
I appreciate this article may be hard hitting but it’s important we open our eyes to the reality of mental health. I believe we all need to be more aware and considerate and remember that it doesn’t matter what race or sex we are nor our financial stature, class or personality – we all have mental health, we can all experience symptoms of mental ill health but most importantly we do recover and manage well.
Don’t grin and bear it. Share it.
*Psychosis is an altered perception of reality including hallucinations, hearing voices and unusual beliefs. Go to http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/psychosis for more information.