What if we treated physical illness the same way as mental health?

Following on from yesterdays post hoping for a greater understanding of mental illness; last night I came this wonderful and thought-provoking item, posted by @Nikkitita69 . The point being ‘What if physical illness was treated in the same way as mental illness’.

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I think that this brilliantly illustrates the lack of understanding and education that surrounds mental illness and those who suffer from it; both in silence or those receiving help. Changing attitudes and perceptions is vital; even something as small as copying this graphic and posting it on Twitter (or heaven forbid Facebook). Personally, I would love as many people as possible to see this, so feel free to share EVERYWHERE.

 

*Huge thanks to @Nikkitita69 for bringing this to my attention.

‘Seeing’ Mental Illness

As the sad departure of Jonathan Trott from the England Ashes tour in Australia has shown us over the past few weeks,  we humans have a remarkable, if ill-advised way of ‘living’ with mental illness; of ‘dealing with it’. There is a popular misconception amongst some who feel that those who suffer from mental illness, specifically various forms of depression, should be able to ‘snap out of it’ or ‘pull themselves together’.

Of course, unlike other medical conditions, let’s say for example, a broken leg; depression / mental illness can not easily be seen – those affected will often find it hard to talk about how they feel or the problems they find even completing the most basic of day-to-day tasks that other people take for granted. It can be extremely hard to articulate ones feelings with regards to this; partly because of the stigma still attached to these conditions or due to embarrassment – feeling as if it’s not a ‘real’ illness.

It is – depression is no less an illness than developing pneumonia and is more common and widespread than many of us think. In 2010/11 the number of reported cases of depression in the UK fell just below 5 Million. This obviously doesn’t include the number of individuals who for various reasons either refuse or lack the ability or courage to seek treatment; or indeed those who do not in fact realise that they are in fact suffering from a form of mental illness.

Mental illness is a huge problem in the UK – it’s an illness that doesn’t discriminate; it can debilitate anyone, young or old; and despite the still popular misconceptions, succumbing to depression is not a sign of weakness or a flaw in an individual’s character. As Jonathan Trott has shown; here is a man attempting to live with a serious illness whilst still attempting to maintain a high level of performance as one of England’s leading batsmen. Of course, anyone attempting to lead a ‘normal’ life whilst attempting to keep their condition hidden or under control will face problems. Therefore the more we can do to highlight mental illness and to show support and understanding to those, like myself, who suffer, the sooner we can begin to break down the misguided barriers that help to contribute to making people’s basic every day survival potentially much harder than it really should be.

Depression can show itself in many forms, quite often the symptoms will be physical as well mental, as these examples show:

  • Tiredness and loss of energy
  • Persistent sadness
  • Loss of self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Not being able to enjoy things that are usually pleasurable or interesting
  • Undue feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
  • Sleeping problems – difficulties in getting off to sleep or waking up much earlier than usual
  • Avoiding other people, sometimes even your close friends
  • Finding it hard to function at work/college/school
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of sex drive and/ or sexual problems
  • Physical aches and pains
  • Thinking about suicide and death
  • Self-harm

Of course there is no particular pattern to this and no two people will suffer from the same combination of symptoms. I was finally forced to admit to and face my own problems recently after and during a severe bout of insomnia that lasted almost a month. To put that into perspective, during those four weeks I probably averaged about 1 to 2 hours sleep a night – as a general rule those periods of sleep came at the beginning of the night – the rest of the time was spent awake. I have suffered from mental illness for twenty years and whilst I don’t intend to go into the reasons or triggers for that here, I can confirm that for the majority of that time I have gone without both medication or therapy.

So, just for moment try to imagine the mindset and internal pressure of someone attempting to cope with mental illness, knowing full well that they have a problem, yet trying and failing to live a ‘normal’ life. I’ll be the first to admit that one becomes rather adept at covering up any traces of illness – during the whole of past twenty years I can honestly count on one hand the number of people who I have discussed my situation with and that includes doctors. Obviously I would urge anyone showing any of the above symptoms to contact their doctor immediately or at the very least try to discuss their problems with someone close to them. Of course, it is very, very easy for me to say this, after all I have become extremely skillful at NOT discussing my problems with ANYONE, and to be honest I couldn’t give you a good reason why. Again, I don’t intend to make this too personal, but what I will say is that by not seeking help a long time ago for this illness I have built a wall around myself that is so impenetrable that even I, now at the age of forty, almost fail to recognise myself.

If I could give one small piece of advice to anyone it would be ‘ don’t become isolated’. I have driven people away and ruined most of my close or meaningful relationships due to what at the time was my inability to confront or admit to myself that I had a problem – let’s put it down to my upbringing, stiff upper lip and all that other bullshit.

Should you be in that position – seek help. Talk to your doctor – I’m very lucky in that I’ve discovered that in fact I have the most wonderful doctor, who in the past month or so has made a huge difference to my life and has helped me to see a way forward and a way of not just coping, not just managing, but living a better and hopefully more meaningful life.

SSRIs are not for everyone, and after a painful and very frightening time taking Seroxat in my late twenties, I was very unwilling to go down that particular route again. However, I believe it is possible for the right combination to be prescribed although it might take some time to find the right medication for you, (if at all).

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can also help. Keeping your feelings to oneself is the worst thing that you can do – there has to be an outlet, a way to let of steam, to release the pressure. Again, this might not be for everyone, but I am finding this to be a massive help. It can be very painful, however I feel that the benefits will pay off over the long-term.

Talk to people, friends, family and fellow sufferers – learn about your illness. It can be a long battle and you need to be as prepared and well equipped as possible. Know your enemy.There are plenty of support groups out there, full of people going through the same thing, seek them out.

Finally – this is NOT an illness to be embarrassed or ashamed about. It’s a real illness with millions of sufferers, many of whom are fighting the double battle of both mental illness and the stigma attached to it and to themselves.

http://www.depressionalliance.org/help-and-information/what-is-depression.php

http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Cognitive-behavioural-therapy/Pages/Introduction.aspx

http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/ssris-(selective-serotonin-reuptake-inhibitors)/Pages/Introduction.aspx

High Anxiety

There has been a lot of coverage in the past week about England cricketer, Michael Yardy taking the decision to leave the world cup early to return home due to suffering from severe depression. The reports of this have been mixed; thankfully though, we live in a time where there is a greater acceptance of depression as a serious illness, however there are still those who hold the view that sufferers of mental illness are simply ‘unhappy’, or a ‘bit down’. These are the people who look at a sportsman like Yardy and generally think that he should be grateful for the fortunate position that he has found himself in, and that perhaps he should just stop moaning.

I think it takes a great deal of courage to admit and be open about depression, even in these enlightened times; after all, even though you might be able to talk about it, no one really knows the pain and suffering that a person goes through during these times.

During most of my twenties, I myself went through several bouts of serious depression and panic attacks. These episodes became so serious, that at one point during the mid 1990’s, I went through what could probably be considered a complete nervous breakdown. It’s very difficult for me to describe to you how this felt; at the time I certainly felt unable to talk about it; I was embarrassed, almost ashamed, and considered myself to be very, very weak. Throughout this whole period, I struggled to maintain a normal life; including holding down a full-time job. I became very withdrawn, and although I’ve always been a very sociable man, I quite often felt like shutting myself away from the world. Panic attacks added to the pain; I occasionally would be unable to set foot in a shop if too many people were there, I would become a nervous wreck if someone as much as spoke to me. There was one incident where I ran out of a hairdressers half way through a haircut; I simply felt unable to be around people, or any amount of pressure. Sporadically, I also started to drink a lot; a hell of a lot.

The root cause of my problems was the sudden and unexpected death of my Mother in 1993. I had no idea how to deal with this at the time, so I shut it out; I almost pretended it hadn’t happened. The last thing I would have been able to do at the time would have been to talk about it; that just didn’t seem to be an option, and of course, over the next few years, the pressure of this continued to build up inside me to the point where my behaviour began to become increasingly unpredictable and self-destructive.

I don’t think I can begin to describe just how dark these times were; there are periods that remain firmly locked away in my head; to be honest they will probably always stay there, and this blog is certainly not the place to relive them. This is down to self-protection;  I’ve tried very hard to maintain an image of being very thick-skinned; however, this is only partly true. I have become fairly tough over the years, I’ve had to, there wasn’t really any other option. It was, and sometimes still is, just a question of surviving, of getting through the day, and of waking up the next morning.

Days, months and years soon pass, and I left it too long before deciding to try to get help. I have untold amounts of respect for anyone finding themselves in that position. The first step is always the biggest and hardest; even before you feel able to discuss your problems, you have the far harder task of coming to terms with it yourself. This took me a long time to do, and I often wish that I’d been able to take that great leap of faith far sooner than I did; after all, my illness took its toll not only on me, but also on those around me, and especially upon those closest to me. It is one of the greatest regrets of my life that I hurt those I loved due to my inability to talk or express my feelings; even now this still crops up from time to time, it has prevented me from allowing people to become too close to me; this has always been a great sadness in my life, and I’ve often felt that I’ve missed out on a lot of living.

Receiving treatment can be a long and painful process; I went through a very tough period whilst taking prescribed antidepressants. At the time it didn’t feel as if they were actually doing anything to help me. Of course, realistically, you don’t start taking these and suddenly wake up a week later feeling and acting like Mr Happy and on top of the world. They simply help to provide balance in your life, they level you out; although, in my case the side effects were horrendous. I found therapy to be of much greater use; the beauty of this is that they don’t actually say that much too you, they leave you to talk, to release everything that you’ve storing up over the years.

I found that over time I was able to discuss not only my Mothers death, but also her in general. I was able to go back to my childhood, talk about my parents divorce, address a lot of issues that I’d long kept buried. It was a long and very rocky path, taking probably the best part of a year to even myself out. However, there is no magic cure, only acceptance, and an ability to recognise the signs of oncoming depression. What I managed to learn was how to deal with depression when it comes knocking on my door; for example, these days I only really suffer during the winter months, and I find the Christmas period very hard to deal with. I now know the signs though, and I deal with it accordingly. It’s been eight years since I last visited the doctor, or took medication for depression, and touch wood, I’ll never have to again for the remainder of my life.

We shouldn’t judge those who suffer from this illness. It can and does take over your life, dramatically changes your personality, and can leave one feeling totally helpless and useless. What we need is more acceptance, understanding and empathy for those people who are undoubtably going through the fight of their lives.