Dealing with mental illness - I asked people what their experiences were...

Yesterday was World Mental Health Day which aims to raise awareness of mental illness and encourage open and honest conversation on the subject. I asked a few people to share their real life experiences of managing mental illness and here’s what came back…

 

Suzie – “Three and a half years ago I was diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder – I’m so much better now but I still have to take daily medication.  I am a strong believer in medical help but you also have to help yourself.  I did a life coaching programme, went for counselling and did some work with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy techniques.

I’m quite open about it and don’t mind sharing – it was awful when I was first diagnosed so if it can help anyone else. The life coaching programme was fantastic. Main issue is you feel like everything has spiralled out of your control which causes the anxiety and led to bad panic attacks – but having that time with my life coach to focus on specific things was great. He also taught me quite a few coping techniques – I still use the image of a “coping coat” in my head.”

 

 

Karen – “I have been diagnosed with clinical depression since 1997, having experienced bereavement, miscarriage and domestic abuse (amongst other gloomy incidents) and considering suicide at the age of 31, which is when I realised I needed to seek help.

 

Luckily, I had a fantastic doctor and have had therapy (very American!) and been taking anti-depressants of one sort or another since then. Probably some people will be surprised about that, since I generally present a cheerful face, but I’ve learned how to cope with my “down” days by keeping busy (either at work or home), talking about it with someone I feel comfortable with, and one tip I got from a motivational speaker was not to watch the news or sad TV programmes etc. while I am in that mood. Watching a comedy or cooking programme or similar alternative works instead, plus having a laugh helps enormously, hence my humour at work!! Thankfully now my moods are never as low as before, and my self-confidence has nearly returned, but generally you cannot do this alone.

I have been quite open about my past and my depression in recent years, as I’ve found that it helps others to realise that having mental health issues is just like having a skin condition or similar physical ailment – if managed correctly and if you accept help where needed, it does not have to be life-limiting and you can still achieve what you want, and be a person that others want to be around! I have had some negative comments from ignorant people over the years (“pull yourself together”, and “you’re boring now”) by people who are no longer friends, but thanks to the encouragement of real friends, I started an Open University degree course in Forensic Psychology at the age of 49, which I am thoroughly enjoying, and I am joining a choir again tonight for the first time in 30 years!”

 

 

Wendy – “My sister-in-law committed suicide a few years ago and so [my husband] and I have quite a bit of experience of dealing with mental health. I also have a close member of my family who is suffering from depression so have quite a lot of experience of supporting people through something difficult like this.

The Close member of my family that is ill just now has actually been signed off work – which in some ways takes the pressure off not having to work – but in other ways it can mean isolation! She lives by herself and there is always the worry that she would sit at home, worrying and thinking too much rather than getting out and about. So some of the things that she is doing are:

 

  • Get the right help from the GP – these things have such a stigma attached to them still – and most people are afraid of anti-depressant medication – but I can wholeheartedly say that it does work – because mental illness or depression is often caused by a chemical imbalance in people’s bodies.  It is so important that person sees a GP. With my sister in law, she had stopped taking her medication and we didn’t know until it was too late. They sometimes suggest Psychologist involvement too - which can be of great support – but it isn’t for everyone.
  • Counselling – now this doesn’t always mean a fully paid up counsellor but someone that the person can speak to that isn’t emotionally involved - to work through any root cause issues. Befrienders services are good for this too – just for someone to listen to what the person is going through.
  • Not lying in bed all day – there is the temptation to sleep all the time, particularly if you are mentally tired.
  • Making sure to get out and about at least once per day – she joined the local walking group through Paths for All – there are some of these across the country and they do accessible walking groups too for those who are perhaps in wheelchairs or scooters
  • We have a local centre in our village that does different volunteer groups – so craft groups, painting – so getting involved with other people
  • Rely on close friends and family – as a family we have to make more of an effort to check that person is doing OK regularly – texting, popping in, doing something different to take their minds off their issues.”

 

 

Thank you to all who came forward to share. And then there’s me…

 

For my own part, I was recently diagnosed with depression and anxiety. It built up to a crescendo until I was experiencing extremely low moods and full blown panic attacks were hitting me randomly. And in case you don’t know, panic attacks are every bit as horrible as they sound. I’m slowly improving but in the past year I will admit I had some very unproductive days at work because my main goal for the day was to not crack up at my desk and make a scene. (No weakness!!! It’s not allowed!!!) Had I sought help sooner I might have spared myself a lot of anguish.

So what can I share about managing mental illness? I started a course in mindfulness about a month ago which is interesting and I think it’s starting to pay dividends. The theory is, loosely speaking, that you can train your mind to simply observe thoughts and emotions without engaging with them and learn to look more objectively at them. Ultimately you’re aiming for a state of peaceful awareness without judgement. It sounds like hippy BS but is strongly supported by modern neuroscience and the NHS advocates it as a complimentary therapy.

Other than that I find that the best thing is to do the opposite of whatever the illness is telling you to and to live as “normal” a life as possible. When your illness is telling you that going out to see friends is too hard, that you’ll have a panic attack in public, and generally ‘what’s the point of doing your usual activities?’ It’s working against you. Challenge it. And try to accept that what will happen will happen and so be it. I know that it’s rarely that easy in practise but it gets easier. Listening to your illness, while easier in the moment, will only make you feel worse about yourself. And crucially, if you’re really struggling, seek professional help. There are countless different therapies and while nothing works for everyone, everything works for someone. There is strength in openly acknowledging vulnerability.

Look after yourselves people.

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Hi, Paul, well done on being so open about this, you certainly hide it well, panic attacks are not to be dismissed as something and nothing, I have been there and its the worst feeling.

I so admire the work you do and your ability to do it so well while dealing with your other issues is amazing, keep up the good work.

Take care

Anne

Thank you Anne for your kind words. I think all who contributed to the above can't have found it easy but it's important I feel to be more open about these matters. It's the only way to take the stigma out of mental illness. 

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