How are we still comparing the reasons?

Look, I’m going to be honest with you. I hate that I am going to have to write this. I hate that it has wound me up this much. But, most of all, I hate that in this day and age we are still comparing mental illness backgrounds to basically see if someone is justified with having their illness.

I was unfortunate enough to overhear a conversation recently in which a person’s anxiety was being discussed. During this conversation, they actually laughed at the reason he suffers anxiety, and tried to say that the person didn’t need the treatment.

Normally, I would have just walked away. Normally, I would have decided that their ignorance wasn’t worth me wasting my breath. This time though, I decided to act. If we all turn away and don’t confront these idiots, then how will anything change?

And, as expected, I was in the wrong. I didn’t understand what they meant. According to them, the things that made him anxious were nothing in comparison to the things happening around us.

I couldn’t believe it. They actually felt it acceptable to compare everyone’s life situation and judge who, in their limited mind set and opinion, deserved to have a mental health condition.

As I argued, and found myself getting more and more frustrated, I realised something. We cannot end the stigma around mental health simply by talking about it. That’s what these people were doing. They were talking mental health. Yet, in their way of doing it, they were actually adding to the stigma around people have.

Let’s be honest. If someone suffering anxiety, questioning it in their own mind and comparing it to others, over heard this, what would they think? I doubt, somehow, that they would be willing to step up and defend their selves. More than likely, it would add to the self examination and further add to the feeling of their condition not being valid.

I wish I could give words of optimism and hope, but, on this occasion I can’t. Instead, all I will say is this. Yes, conversation around mental health is needed. Yes, talking about can help more people feel that they are not going to be pushed away by those closest to them. But, please, do everyone a favour. Think about what you say. Think about the effect it could have on someone else. Ask yourself whether it is constructive. If you doubt 100% that it will be helpful and positive, do everyone a favour, and don’t say it!

Advertisements

Just a little light bulb

I haven’t written much for this blog in a while, and for that I apologise. The main reason is I have decided to spend time in reflection. Not about my current situation, but rather the journey I have made to get here.

I know it sounds cliché, but life most definitely is a roller coaster. It throws you around at high speed, with only the smallest safety bar to keep you in place. It’s a great ride whilst you are out in the open sun, feeling the wind in your air. And then, before you realise it, you can be plunged into darkness; struggling to see an exit whilst feeling as though you are free falling.

One piece of text I always remember, which has a lot of meaning behind it, was written by J. K. Rowling, through her character Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter. “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

Whilst it can be taken for the usual understanding of there is a light at the end of the tunnel, or to find that one thing in your life which is good and to cling onto it, I personally have a different way of thinking about it.

Scrolling through Tumblr (see my previous posts on this toxic website), there are hundreds, even thousands, of sketches associated with hanging. Whether black and white photos of nooses, or hand drawn sketches, in my own mind, I add the smallest of details to change it.

Take the hand drawn noose. They are normally pretty basic with a straight line leading to an oval at the bottom. By simply adding an additional line from the top of the oval to half way into it, in my own mind, I have changed that depressive image, into a light bulb, full of light, warmth and energy.

And that’s the thing that people struggle to do in their own heads. They cannot see the light when they are at the darkest. And that is where you, as friend and family, come into it. You need to help them turn that noose into a light bulb. You need to turn the blade into a hand written note from you to them. Turn the gun into a cup of coffee.

The most important thing though, above anything else, is to be patient with the person. There are times we will be frustrating. Times we will be infuriating. Times we will make you cry. But it is not done against you. It’s not deliberate. It is because, at times, we don’t know how else to be, or what else to say or do.

But, we will forever be grateful. Friendship, family, having that by our side, it means we can, in years to come, reflect back. And that, between you and me, can be the difference between everything and nothing.

What the General Election could mean for mental health

Theresa May has taken the somewhat surprising step of calling a general election only two years into the current Governments term. Whilst the reasons for doing so will be discussed for many years to come in history books, there is a very real question which must be answered. What does a general election mean for the mental health services.

In 2015, every main political party was talking mental health. They knew it was a topic that people cared about, and wanted to be seen as being willing to act on it. Going into this election, each party must maintain this desire to help and, most importantly, ensure it is key in the actions of the next government.

Whoever wins the election must, without any shadow of a doubt, enforce and deliver the promises that were made within the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health (the national plan to improve mental health). If they really want to act correctly on mental health however, they need to go beyond this to ensure that mental health is treated on an equal footing with physical health.

The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health was a landmark moment. It set out the details on a plan to invest £1 billion into mental health services, and improve care by 2021. All national bodies, including the NHS, who deliver services and support agreed to do their role in ensuring its delivery.

The only way we can ensure that this will happen is by targeting each and every candidate standing in your constituency. Get them to answer the question. Will they ensure that the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health is honoured and acted upon? You can either do this by attending a local hustings session, where you can put forward your question to be answered, or in writing either on social media or e-mail/post. However you do it, make sure it is done in a way where the answers can be recorded and shared, or where those who refuse to answer are publically seen to be shying away from it.

And, the most important thing you can do this election is to vote. If you are over 18, make sure you have your say. Do not believe people when they tell you that your vote won’t matter. As we have seen recently, in elections all over, votes do matter. If you haven’t registered to vote, then all you have to do is click here and put in your details.

Remember, only by working together can we ensure a better future for those with mental health.

Romanticising Mental Illness must end today

I would apologise, and say this isn’t my normal piece offering hope and words of advice. But, this piece cannot come with an apology. It needs to be said. People need to listen; to understand. If everyone does not listen, we face a bigger problem than the stigma originally around mental health.

Logging into many websites, and I will once again use Tumblr as an example, following the same key words as you will find this post under will bring up an array of posts. Black and white images, accompanied by subtitles. Hand written statements, talking of low self-esteem. Posts from one person talking about emotional well-being, with thousands of notes attached to it, each person adding their apparent caring.

I will say this, and without holding back. Yes, mental illness and low self-esteem requires the breaking of barriers and stigma. But, today, that message has got lost, and, instead, we are faced with a movement which, for want of a better word, romanticises these conditions. And this, in itself, is dangerous.

I’ve been treated for mental health illnesses since I was about fourteen. I have been on numerous medications, had all types of out-patient treatment, and also in patient care. I have been diagnosed, and treated for, depressions, anxiety, PTSD and a few more besides. I was lucky. I was able to get treatment relatively quickly, initially as a paediatric patient on the NHS, and then privately through insurance. However, I recognise that most young people today are not this fortunate. Many will wait firstly for the primary carer to believe what they are saying, and then for a referral to see a professions which seems to never materialise. This is why online support must be appropriate and responsibility must be taken by those who publish material in the public domain.

Look, lets be honest, there is still a stigma around mental health. Yes, it is slowly disappearing. Those in the public eye are willing to use their past in order to break down the barriers, and get people talking. The build up to this years London marathon saw that, culminating in Prince Harry discussing his history with mental health. Yet, there is still the stigma. When I first started dating my now fiancée, I had to work out when the right time was to open up and tell her. I couldn’t do it too soon for fear of scaring her away. Yet, I couldn’t leave it too long for fear of being accused of letting them in without full awareness. So, in that sense, a stigma still survives.

To put it in a nutshell, people on both sides want to break down these barriers and make talking about mental health as normal as talking about the weather. Unfortunately, when people go onto the internet, they lose the real world safety nets. Namely, professionals, friends and family. Once online, and I now talk from personal experience, shutting off the pain of having a mental illness is easy. When you know you are surrounded by people of a similar mindset, then change is not needed. And, it is in this setting, that ideals are formed, and the condition becomes romanticised through art.

Logging into a platform such as Tumblr, when suffering from a mental illness, seeing a page full of others suffering, is not a help, but a danger. And it is a danger which goes unchallenged. You see, there is a culture which has now grown up causing people to idolise mental illness. It encourages self-harm, self-medication and, at the extreme end, suicide with the belief of immortality as a lost soul. I am not for a minute saying that every person who logs onto sites like this and sees this images will go onto commit suicide, but the risk is there. It can suck people in, to make them believe that being part of this community is far better than going through the pain that is therapy. Somehow, it convinces people that through embracing mental illness, glorifying it as a tragedy, and staying within these isolated communities where people do not encourage you to get the help and live aside from your mental illness, is somehow the answer.

Well, let me tell you, it isn’t. Locking yourself away, inside an online community which feeds on those in need, in the hope that you do not seek help from those who can provide it, is not the answer. I met people on Tumblr which, at the time, I considered friends. When my account became inactive, on the advice of my doctor, I started getting messages asking me to come back, to be part of the group. And this highlighted it to me. They do not want people to get better. They want their isolated pocket, where people feed off each other, to remain.

Sites such as Tumblr have a responsibility. They need to step up, and see what is actually going on within their platforms. Within their online site, a small message pops up asking if people wish to continue to be able to see these images. On their app, there isn’t even this. And this is completely unacceptable. Sites are right now clambering to show that they are willing to do all it takes to prevent certain users from sharing information or images, in order to comply not only with laws, but public image. Now is the time for them to step forward, and truly show their want to protect people and do the right thing.