1 in 4 of us experience mental ill health at any time. So statistically, if you are stood with three of your mates, one of you is going to be struggling. But remember, these stats are only based on those that have been diagnosed. How many of us fight through symptoms of depression without treatment? Instead of recognising we are unwell and in need of help, we blame ourselves, disliking our negative transformation. The stats therefore are likely to be higher. Ouch.
I remember always feeling different and battling a tight knot of fear in my stomach. I was eighteen years old when I went through my first real episode of depression. I was on my way home from a night out when a car jumped a red light at speed and ploughed into the car in which I sat. Whilst recovering from injuries, I lost the ability to cope mentally and my GP offered me anti-depressants. I said no, I didn’t need the pills and was adamant I could overcome my seemingly weak mind. Whilst at University I shut myself in my room for three days listening to the same music track on repeat, uncontrollably sobbing. My curtains stayed shut and I hadn’t even showered. My family got me counselling but I stopped going after eight sessions, it felt too painful. My adulthood had an undercurrent of sadness, fear and anger. My hormones felt all over the place and I visited my GP many times yet I didn’t take the pills offered to me. Why would I? As much as I felt a failure, I still believed I wasn’t trying hard enough.
It was a two year stretch of prolonged stress from the age of twenty four that led me to the day I pleaded for help. My workload was stressful, a family relationship had broken down and the man I loved didn’t love me back. I over-exercised, restricted my diet and binged on drugs at the weekend to escape. After convincing myself I needed to be sectioned I phoned my friends and they took me to the GP. I was so desperate I said yes to everything they offered me. Even though this led me to my diagnosis of bipolar, it was in fact, my first step to recovery. My friends and family openly admit that there were many signs but they didn’t put them all together. I was a handful and we all know what it’s like to avoid a situation so as not to ‘rock the boat’. Most importantly, I believe they loved me so much it was impossible for them to accept the truth of what was happening. They didn’t see it coming and neither did I.
There are many warning signs of mental health problems. In terms of depression, our sleep is affected, our appetite, we are irritable, irrational, we are late for work or never seem to leave work, we cry, we are sombre, our libido changes, we lose our purpose, we can’t express love, we feel physical pain, we are tired, we become withdrawn, we feel grief, we feel anxiety and at times, no longer want to live. Yes, we can identify with many of these individually but when we group a few together, the flag should be up. My work place identified my weight loss, agitation, over productivity and irritability but admittedly ‘left me to it’ for fear of aggravating the situation.
Expect the ‘I’m fine’ response. However, act on what you see and hear. If that person is defensive they may need your help more than ever. No one is expecting a super hero and taking someone on alone is stressful and unrealistic, however, you CAN signpost them to someone that can help. Offer to phone their GP and go with them for support. Research what therapy is available in your area. IAPT (Improved access to psychological therapies) are a service that you can refer someone to or they can self-refer for different therapies (google IAPT in your area). I found cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) instrumental in conquering my negative thought process, charitable websites supportive with lots of information and helplines non-judgemental, allowing me to talk through any problem. www.livinglifetothefull.com is an online CBT website anyone can use. Visit charitable websites such as www.mind.org.uk for information. If the person needs a non-judgemental ear, the Samaritans are a brilliant service www.samaritans.org. With all the information and resource available, we can get help and we can support. The quicker we can access treatment, the better chance of recovery. Spot the signs and take action. Let’s help prevent the crisis.
Further support resources
www.youngminds.org.uk – for children/young adults with parent helpline numbers
https://www.rethink.org/carers-family-friends/caring-for-yourself-guide – fantastic guides to help those with mental health issues and for carers, family and friends