To mark World Mental Health Day, two bloggers with experience of mental health issues share their thoughts on action. Here, campaigner Lol Butterfield writes about the fine line between “a bad day” and something more serious, while below, youth mental health campaigner Carrie Holroyd shares her 10-point wish list to boost youth mental health.
We all have mental health as well as physical health. They both work in correlation, two sides of the same coin. It’s World Mental Health Day today and I wanted to explore the question of when our mental health become mental ill health? When does having a bad day become a living nightmare? If our having a ‘bad day’ becomes more frequent, as sure as night follows day, we have reached what I call “my dark place”, clinical depression. It is a fine line between having the “blues” and clinical depression but once you have crossed that emotional line, you know where you are.
My own experience of depression seven years ago would have been not different to many other people’s experiences. Maybe the difference was that I was in denial for most of my decline into severe depression? With the benefit of hindsight now I was probably no different from many other men in that aspect, denial was my coping mechanism, I masked my symptoms thinking it would all go away. If only (it’s worth pointing out though, that often people do of course seek help when they experience the initial symptoms, men included).
There are a range of common symptoms associated with depression such as difficulty sleeping, poor concentration, not eating regularly or over eating (comfort eating) Our thoughts become very negative, we feel guilty over our words and our actions, we worry unecessarily. With depression the world around us becomes very dark and seeing the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ as the cliché goes is far from easy. In fact it is nigh on impossible to see any light when you have reached the stage of severe depression, darkness is everywhere. The world feels like a dangerous place, it gives no quarter and does not take prisoners.
If you experience the above symptoms, or others such as becoming over emotional, irritable, having panic attacks, then seek help. Thoughts of self harm, or even suicide, will set alarm bells ringing louder than St Paul’s Cathedral. These are warning signs that help is required – and required quickly. Unfortunately when it comes to mental health men have a tendency for self denial.
As a consequence we have twice as many women then men visiting their GPs for mental health concerns even though both experience the same problems. With men it is often the outdated and totally ludicrous “big boys don’t” cry attitude. If more men had cried, and sought help sooner, we would have fewer cases of male depression. And frankly men would now be living meaningful lives instead of dying without hope as a consequence of taking their own lives, particularly young men. This is the tragedy.
So where do men seek help? The GPs surgery, as has been well-documented, is not frequented as much by men as women so we have to be creative in seeking alternatives. There are many different projects looking at mens health in particular around the country, these are usually organised and run by Primary Care Trusts. These will focus on “wellness” and “wellbeing” and promote eating a healthy diet and exercise, alongside checking blood pressures and weight. Again the important link between good physical health and mental health is being recognised.
Locally where I live on Teesside we have a Mens Health Day once a month at the Riverside stadium, home of Middlesbrough football club. These sessions are free. Men are more likely to go to an environment they feel comfortable with such as a football club, or even a social club, to discuss mental health issues because of the shame, fear and stigma.
As for me, part of my recovery involved attending my local gym. This is something I would recommend to anyone. The exercise combined with the social aspect of meeting friends and talking significantly lifted my mood and confidence level.
I would liken acknowledging you have depression to carrying an umbrella in a rainstorm. By acknowledging you have this problem you are prepared and protecting yourself from its effects. You are accepting it is there and needs to be addressed. You are proactively dealing with the problem. There are certain things we can all do to protect ourselves from poor mental health such as eating healthily, having a good regular sleep pattern, social contacts with friends, and physical exercise. These are all protecting factors against depression. And what I would see as probably the most important is sharing our worries, our feelings, with others close to us.
As the old adage goes “A problem shared is a problem halved” – in the case of depression this cannot be reinforced enough. I have survived to tell the tale, but sadly many others don’t.
My 10 wishes for youth mental health, by Carrie Holroyd
1. The government should increase access to and availability of psychological therapy for young people with mental health problems. Prescribing psychiatric medication may be a quick and cheaper solution but doesn’t always help young people with complex problems.
2. More support in schools; with three children in every classroom having a diagnosable mental health problem, I believe there should be more in-school counsellors and training for staff on how to best support young people with mental health problems.
3. Empower us! Being young and having a mental health problem can be very disempowering, involving us in our own mental health care and increasing participation can make a huge difference.
4. Not everything is a symptom. When you have mental health problems everything you say, do, believe in can be inappropriately construed as a symptom of your illness. Having friends, family and professionals scrutinise you constantly can get very frustrating.
5. Don’t lower your expectations. Just because I have a mental health problem doesn’t mean I can’t work, study, socialise and have a fulfilling life. Things may be a bit more difficult for those of us with mental health problems but it doesn’t mean people have to lower their expectations of what we’re capable of. Many of my peers have been told by friends, family and professionals that they can’t pursue a certain career or study because of a mental health problem. Imagine how horrible it is to be told that at a young age.
6. I’d like to see people ‘open up’ about mental health problems. Don’t be so afraid to talk about it, it’s not as scary as the media can make out.
7. Don’t believe everything you hear. There are many myths surrounding mental health problems that are frankly ridiculous and increase stigma. Read up on mental health and educate yourself.
8. Early intervention is important. So many people find they don’t receive adequate support until they reach crisis point, this has to change. Early intervention can cut down on hospital admissions and prevent problems escalating into more severe forms of mental ill health.
9. Bridge the gap between child and adult services. In some parts of the country young people must leave child and adolescent services (CAMHS) at 16 and cannot use adult services (AMHS) until they reach 18.
10 . Treat young people who present at A&E for self-harm with respect and dignity, don’t dismiss them or deem them “attention seeking”.