It’s time to talk. It’s Mental Health Awareness Week!
So where do we start? Quite simply I’d say, with the question how are you today?
How often do we really stop and listen to someone’s answers when we ask how they are? How many of us take the time to read someone’s body language and take note of their expression as they answer? Do some of us simply avoid the question because we’re so bogged down with our own lives we don’t have the time to think of anyone else? I think we’re all guilty of doing these things at some point.
Maybe now is the time to change.
I didn’t know I was struggling with mental health issues back in 2006. My life had spiralled out of control through working long hours and striving for a career where I felt I had to be a success. In addition to this I was having problems with my family, namely my dad drinking too much and my relationship with a man I loved broke down. I had bought a flat by myself but instead of being proud, I just beat myself up about life and felt lonely. I threw myself into the gym and became obsessed with exercising and losing weight. I convinced myself life would be better and I would love myself if I was skinny. An eating disorder soon developed and it wasn’t long before I was overexercising, starving myself, making myself sick and focused only on food and weight. I distanced myself further from friends and family, swallowing any emotional pain that I felt.
I don’t remember telling anyone that I had mental health issues because I didn’t realise that I had! I had no understanding of depression or other diagnoses and felt they were simply things you had to pull yourself out of. I do remember, however, saying things and behaving in ways that were abnormal for me.
When I used to see my old friends I used to cry a lot, especially when they left me. In the lead up to my breakdown I told one of them something terrible might happen but I didn’t know what. They saw that I was losing a lot of weight and suspected I had an eating disorder but didn’t approach me. I don’t blame them. They didn’t fully understand my problems.
Interestingly, in my workplace I was extremely productive. I hit all my targets and made them a lot of profit but I knew I wasn’t myself. It was only after I became ill did people put the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together. Management said they could see after I moved to my own office how isolated I became. They said I stopped joining in with things, going for meals, was emotional and snapped at anyone who approached me. However, I was excelling in my role so I was left to my own devices.
It is only now, when people look back they say they wished they had sat me down and said ‘Fliss, how are you? You don’t seem yourself, are you ok? Such simple questions may not have stopped the deterioration of my health but it could have curtailed my path of destruction and encouraged me to get help earlier.
In 2008 I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I thought I was going to be carted away in a white van and straight suit. I felt completely mad. I didn’t eat, sleep, my moods were changing all the time from an energetic, euphoric mania to a suicidal depression. The last nine years have been a steep learning curve for my family and friends and they have had to support me unconditionally. I have been in and out of psychiatric hospitals and spent a lot of time recovering inbetween. I take a cocktail of medication every day and my career aspirations and life goals have radically changed. I jumped from working in branding and marketing to volunteering, guest speaking and writing on mental health issues. If I can make one person’s moment a little better I feel I’m doing more value than I was before.
So here is my advice. Never be afraid to speak to someone, even if they look agitated or unapproachable. Maybe they are having a difficult time? No one is expecting you to ‘fix’ someone through simple conversation but it is a way of finding out if someone needs a bit of support. That person might need a friend to talk through their problems or be encouraged to speak to their manager to relieve work stresses. You might feel they need signposting to their gp or local talking therapies available (read about IAPT below).
Please remember that WE ALL HAVE MENTAL HEALTH. It is not just about illness. We can help to prevent mental health problems through opening up, talking about it and educating ourselves on how to deal with ourselves and others who may be struggling. If you want to learn more about mental health go to www.mind.org.uk.
On the 7th February stop someone and ask how they really are. Take note of their reaction, listen to them and talk to them. We should never be afraid to talk about our mental health. We are getting better at it but lets keep pushing forward. Lets help each other to prevent mental illness!
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!
Google IAPT (Improved Access to Psychological Therapies) – local therapy sessions are run by the NHS, which you can refer yourself or others to. There is a waiting list but it is an excellent service.