Currently running at the moment is a very important and interesting campaign called Time to Change, advocating the speaking up on the issues of mental health. Trending from time to time on twitter has been #timetochange and you may well have seen billboards, adverts on television and posters in doctors surgeries. Don't ignore this campaign.
You can add a 'pledge' by clicking the link above - and make your committment to change
I have had mental health issues. It's much harder to say than you think! I actually really dislike the phrase "MENTAL health" because it has no positive conotations or associations whatsoever. Herein lies much of the battle this camapaign is facing. And whilst I applaud the tenecity, I must follow suit and lead by (small and insignificant) example.
As soon as someone mentions mental health we have sad images, negative assumptions, immediate questions and often JUDGEMENT.
In all honesty it took me over 18 months to even realise I had a mental health problem. I was roughly 19 - I had been faced with an unspeakably difficuly time forced upon me by two very bad parents. As the eldest sibling I felt duty bound to shoulder the responsibilties my mother had walked away from and watched on as my father sank into more and more despairing and crazy bahaviour.
Looking back it was a harrowing time, culminating in some very bad problems that eventually landed me in the hospital, weak, sleep deprived, broken and extremely ill. Thats mental health really at its worse, when it almost breaks your spirit as well as your body.
Stark moments pop out in my memories that resolved over the following years, one of them being, "I think I need some help" sobbing and yelling and broken holding my car steering wheel so tightly I thought I might break it off.
Another was the first time I filled my prescription after having been offered Fluoxitine from a locum GP, after taking the first terrifying step in seeking some 'help'.
It wasn't a long appointment, I had to go alone and spoke very little indeed - I was asked to complete a 10 question form that roughly assessed how close I was to suicidal thoughts or any act of harm or violence. Other than that form, I'm sad to say, for the next 6 months that was the only 'help' I got.
It took me a further 2 weeks to take the first tablet - why? Because no one had explained what they were, what would happen to me or why I was taking them. At this stage in the road I still didn't know I was suffering with accute depression.
I wanted to sleep day and night, not eat, (my appetite drops, but some people experience the opposite), my hair began falling out and I was having extremely upsetting yet seemingly unrealted physical responses to stress. Heart palpitations or panic attacks, (2 of which lead to a trip to the hospital) and complete amenorhea, (loss of or irregular menstrual cycle) - and along with the hair loss, ovarian cysts and kidney infections- my body was shutting down.
After the 3 months of tablets ran out I was no closer to knowing why or what was happening and unfortunately I was grossly lacking the support that is vital to anyone with mental health issues.
This episode or "cycle" lasted roughly the next 2 years, during which I became unreliable, irratic, full of anger and rage, exhausted, confused, and somewhat a danger to myself by drinking, smoking and putting myself in dangerous or precarious situations without any thought for my saftey or future. It was a self-desructive period. There is no fight or flight response - typically, its a gross succumbing and acceptence of complete failure in many cases. Resulting in a narrowing, downward spiral, with loss of control over the mundane and the neccessary normal aspects of life for most people.
I know now that this is a relatively common expression of depression if it is left untreated to grow and fester.
I managed (with difficulty) to work and do my job as an actress and a dancer and supplemented my income with a raft of side jobs in department stores, fashion boutiques, cafes, bars and nightclubs. (The last place anyone with mental health issues should be is drinking alcohol in a nightclub!)
By the time I reached 21 my personal life was in tatters, and finally my long-suffering boyfriend ditched me. I can't blame him. Unfortunately relationships ending can be a huge trigger for people with depression and once again the spiral down began. Always the same, exhausted, loss of appetite, loss of all drive, (just getting dressed and brushing your teeth can seem larger than life when depression is in full swing)....
Things began to change when I was swept up by an old school friend who allowed me to convalesce in her home for 3 months without working, then helped me find a very quiet secluded stress-free job in a small luxary clothing boutique. This was a turning moment, I began taking the time to shop, eat healthy food, spend time IN, in the evenings, relaxing, taking care of myself and learning how to "be".
I went back to the GP once more and sorry to say the second round of medication came with no further instructions than the first - no follow up help, no secondary point of call or alternative therapies. But this time the internet was becoming more readily available. I began taking the time to research mental health.
Learning you are not alone and not "going mad" (which I actually thought I was), understanding that it is just a phase and it WILL pass, realising that its not your fault per se, and that you can help yourself, became what has since become a passionate hobby of mine- learning and understanding mood disorders and the depressive scale. It was another defining moment.
By now I had an excellent new boyfriend who despite fighting in Iraq at the time with the Army, was whole-heartedly supportive to my struggle, my plight and at the same time very 'british' - stiff-upper lip, dont wallow, you have a choice, "do whats neccessary, do whats possible and before you know it you're doing the impossible" That person was a gift that came from nowhere, a chance obscure meeting - sometimes it only takes one person to help you turn a corner.
Having someone who has nothing but high hopes for your recovery is paramount to a speedy recovery. And someone who is strong enough to listen and take on board what may sound like absurd emotions and silliness, is imperative.
Its not hard - if you suspect someone you know is acting out of sorts, they may not neccessarily be incredibly down or crying, however they may be very typical in this way, some younger people tend to hide their mental health problems with drinking, and promiscious behaviour and drugs or even unpredictable violence - all of these thigns can indicate mental health problems, anxiety, stress, depression or even response to trauma.
Reaching out and calming them is easier than you think, making them as safe as you possibly can, offer them somewhere to stay if you think they aren't managing where they are, some home cooking, fresh towels, clean bed and cup of tea can really work wonders. Then.... they may begin to talk. They may however not want to or even know how to. Present them with some ideas, some preliminary solutions; seeing a GP, going to a therapist or counsellor, reading a particular book or article online - all of which you can assist someone in many ways.
Pick up their laundry for them, help them with their to-do list, accompany them to any apppointments they may need (keeping and making a schedule can be particularily impossible task when mental health issues are present) - if their problems are OCD or phobia based, be gentle and just understand - you CANNOT understand and accept them, for now.
Phobias are often the result of emotional trauma, we want to protect our world that has made us afraid or hurt us in some way - whether its agrophobia or needing to wash your hands 300 times a day - never tell anyone to just, "get over it".
No one chooses to have mental health issues and least of all WHEN to have them. I've had a major breakdown that has come out of the blue whilst it was snowing in Central Park, New York - I was in a strange city, alone and seemingly enjoying myself, but emotional issues can strike like lightening with no regard for when and where they hit. I folded like a napkin that afternoon, and sat crying into the snow, in public. This was another broken moment.
I hope this makes someone talk to their friend, child, neighbour or collegue today, offer them a cup of tea, pay them a compliement, invite them someowhere or offer to help them with a small and menial task - inside they may be crying for help, you may be their wonderful new turning point. Be calm, smile, and let them feel safe to tell you what they are experiencing. Don't judge. Mental health can strike anyone at anytime, NO ONE is protected.
This post is dedicated to a dear friend Alex Holland, who committed suicide following his battle with dpression 1st April 2010. Alex - I, like many others, miss you.