Mental health over Christmas

For a lot of people, Christmas is full of love, happiness and festivities. For many others, however, it is a time when they struggle. Many can be at risk of violence or aggression, either as part of a continued cycle that they live in, or through people excessively drinking. Many, young and old, are at risk of abuse and neglect this Christmas time. And all ages are facing the daily wrestle with their mental health problems.

It can be an extremely difficult time. Media tells us we should be happy, joyful, and excited for the festivities. However, when you already struggle to feel happy, this added pressure can make you feel worse.

I will always remember something the late Robin Williams once said

“I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel all alone.”

Now, I am not saying for a moment that the people around us act in a way to make us feel worse. For many, they will not even be aware of how you are feeling, unless you have opened to them. However, when those around you are celebrating and enjoying the festivities, if you struggle to involve yourself in this, then you can end up feeling isolated and apart from the crowd.

So what can be done?

For those of you getting involved in a big get together, maybe with the extended family and friends, just remember there may be one person in your group who doesn’t want to get excessively drunk and sing at the top of their voice. Rather than telling them to get in the spirit, or stop being grumpy, just take 5 minutes out to join them on the couch, or by the food, and just give them the chance to say hi. Be there, and it might just make their day.

Also, and I cannot stress this enough, if you see someone being physically or verbally abused, please speak up. Do not shrug it off as simply a drunken domestic, or the stress of Christmas. Yes, it might be a one off, but it could be a lot more. Just saying something can often be all that is needed. Of course, if it requires it, please contact the local authority in your area, and don’t get involved in being physical yourself.

Finally, remember the elderly in your area. I am not saying you have to invite them for lunch, or spend all day with them. But, if you know who they are, and think that they may not have had any family come round, then take them that last mince pie, or slice of cake. Offer to have a sherry with them. Just make sure they see someone. You never know, you may end up finding they have lived in the same area and knew your parents or grandparents as well.

For those of you in need, please seek help. A number of charities will still be open and happy to talk and listen. Rather than sit her and list every single charity that can help, please click here and it will give the main charities in your area.

I would like to wish all of you the best, and look forward to hearing from you in 2018.


Stay strong. Stay you



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.

Depression – a ready made excuse

Urgh. Stop with the depression crap. I was actually on the receiving end of these words, after failing to be able to leave my house to go out with someone, until that moment, I called a friend. I am sure that, had I been in bed with the flu, or on crutches after sustaining an injury, that they would have been more understanding and not worried about it. Yet, because I was in a state which meant I didn’t want to leave the safety of my flat, I was apparently playing the depression card.

Stop being so boring. Wanting to stay indoors, watching a film, ordering domino’s with friends should sound like a great night to many. And for me, it was. Unfortunately, for some of my friends, this was dull. They wanted to go out, get wasted, and end up in a night club. Brilliant. I get to be around hundreds of strangers, all intoxicated, trying to keep my anxiety at bay. Put yourself in that place. Surrounded by drunken strangers. Some being overly kind, others clearly looking for a fight. Your breathing is short and shallow, palms sweaty, blurred vision. Yeah, now tell me I’m being boring. Unfortunately, they did, and said I should stop hiding behind the anxiety. Yeah, because it’s a shield right?

You don’t have depression. One of the hardest things I have ever had to do is tell my friends and family of my illness. The reactions, on the whole, were as expected. I was supported, and not treated any differently. However, for some people, they couldn’t react in a worse way. “Oh, isn’t that one of the cool illnesses everyone has currently?” “Your aren’t depressed, you just need to cheer up.” Or, my favourite one, “How can you be depressed? You’ve got a job and friends.” Damn, if only it was that easy people.

Maybe we should stop talking. Now this was a classic. This one is almost a line out of a break up. Yet, that’s what it felt like. Telling someone how I was feeling, the treatment I was taking, and that it was all just too much. Their reaction? To look at me with fear in their eyes, like I was about to turn around and turn into some sort of deranged lunatic. Although, I suspect this person thought I was. I guess that’s the problem when you struggle to spell the medication. I mean, if they called them sunflower pills or happy hoppers, I’m sure people wouldn’t react the same way.

You aren’t trying hard enough. This was something I told myself every day. Each time I didn’t go out. Each time I spent the day on the sofa. Each time I cried. Over and over, I would tell myself I wasn’t doing the right thing, I wasn’t trying to get better. It’s one thing when you say it to yourself. It’s completely different when your manager says it. Especially after they know you’ve just been discharged from hospital. Still, I guess in this day and age, a hospital stay followed by some medication, and I should be doing party tricks every minute of the day. Apologies I wasn’t.

Mental illnesses suck. Frankly, yes they do. The effort that goes into getting up each day and being a functioning human is huge. The knowledge that stepping outside your front door could lead to all sorts of terrifying events is not an exaggeration – but a standard day. Yes, we manage. We get by through pumping ourselves full or artificial mood stabilisers. We carry emergency rations in our pockets to bring our anxiety levels down. We try to take these tablets each day without being seen, to prevent the questions, and then the judgemental looks that people have. It isn’t easy. And damn, it isn’t fun. Nor, as a certain commentator recently put it, is it a fad that people want to join in with.

Depression isn’t an excuse. Pretty much what each and every case example about is saying. Anyone with a physical illness can use it as an explanation as to why they may not be able to go out, or spend as much time doing what they want to, or having to take time off work. Yet, when the illness is mental, when it is something that cannot be seen, people become a lot less tolerant; trying to convince you instead that it is your fault that you are how you are. The thing is though, when you suffer with depression, or any other mental illness for that matter, the sufferer isn’t using it as an excuse. They aren’t deliberately being difficult, or causing plans to be changed. It is part of who they are, and something they want to be able to control. Sometimes though, they will have days where it isn’t possible. And, on those days, support them. Do not berate them. Most of all, think before you speak.

Stay Strong People. Stay You.

Yes, I have a illness. No, I am not weak

There is nothing more infuriating than someone treating you as weak. When you tell them you are suffering from a mental health illness, the attitude is very much you are fragile, weak, child like. People being to walk around you on egg shells, not sure what they can and cannot say.

Well, let me say this, for everyone out there that has ever been diagnosed with a mental health illness. Yes, it is a part of me. Yes, I will have days where I want nothing more than to curl up with a tub of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream watching TV. Yes, I will talk about it. But, do not treat me with kid gloves, for I am not a child. Do not talked to me in hushed voices, for I am not on deaths door. Do not consider me weak, for I have a strength inside me you know not.

Fighting a mental illness is not the same as fighting a cold, or mending a broken leg. It involves a lot of work, every single day. You learn skills in order to keep your mind healthy and functioning. It is hard work sometimes, yes. But, that doesn’t mean I am any different to you or others you know.

The next time someone opens up to you, do not look at them as though they should be locked away. Do not tell them to not talk, for talking often helps as part of their coping strategy. Do not treat them any differently. If they opened to you, its because they trusted you. So respect that, and be grateful. Opening up is never easy, so consider yourself privileged that the person can confide in you.

And, to those of you suffering, do not suffer in silence. Do not let those who treat you differently put you off speaking up and speaking out. For every person who does that, I promise you, there are 10 times as many who will treat you exactly the same way as before you spoke to them. And they will do so for one very simple reason. They are your friends and your family. They are the people who will love you no matter what you tell them. They will be there in your darkest moment, and there to celebrate your best.

No matter what, do not let the small minority force you into hiding. Shout from the roof tops. I have a mental illness. But it does not define me!

Stay Strong. Stay You

Tumblr, the damage, and my campaign

Just over a month ago, I wrote a piece on internet safety. In particular, I highlighted the social media platform Tumblr, owned by Yahoo! and, currently, seeing 555 monthly visitors. It is easy to access, with blogs simple to set up, which can then be managed either any computer, or through mobile phones and a downloadable app.

For most people, Tumblr is simply a way to share and discuss interests and hobbies. It enables people to search for key words and see all similar posts and blogs. For most, it is completely innocent and harmless.

Unfortunately, as with any multimedia platform, there is a darker side. For their part, Tumblr have put in place measures to prevent people coming across NSFW content, such as adult blogs. However, this relies on people marking their blogs as such, and people searching to have their Safe Mode turned on. Having a cursory look, there is no age verification performed when selecting to turn the Safe Mode off, meaning anyone, regardless of age, can access this.

However, campaigns regarding access to adult material are well established. The media have taken to this as expected – it is a subject people recognise as having a negative impact on lives, particularly those who are young, and, therefore, no one questions these campaigns.

Unfortunately, there is also a darker side to Tumblr – one that does not require a Safe Mode to be deactivated in order to access it. There is an epidemic happening on Tumblr, and one they do not seem to wish to acknowledge.

I am, of course, referring to the sharing of images and text. Whilst many will argue that they are sharing posts in solidarity to show support, to people in need, they can actually be seen to create a warped, almost romanticised narrative, leading not to help, but instead to further self harm and, potentially, suicide.

In 2012, British teenager Tallulah Wilson committed suicide, after posting self-harm images to Tumblr. It was also reported than she was sent an image of a noose with the message “here is your new necklace, try it on.” The UK Government called on Tumblr to remove toxic content. Tumblr responded advising that they wanted to protect freedom of expression, but users could report blogs that promoted self harm.

In America, the Washington Post reported a number of cases where teenagers uploaded their suicide letter to Tumblr, before committing the act. Leelah Alcorn, 17. Zander Mahaffey, 15. Damien Strum, 13, attempted this, but his letter was found and family were alerted before he could go through with his plans.

Unfortunately, the letters that were posted were then shared multiple times. On all these occasions, people were not saying they supported suicide, but were trying to show solidarity with those in need.

And there, unfortunately, lies the problem. The way these images are being shared, the way letters are being shared, all have the impact of showing self harm and suicide in a positive light. Tumblr, in wanting to protect free speech, is actually allowing this to go ahead.

I understand the want for people to talk, and feel part of a community. I understand the need to feel as though you are not alone, and that other people understand. I get why teenagers go to these platforms. They can remain anonymous, yet talk about their feelings. Unfortunately, by being anonymous, so are the people they talk to. At best, it means there are teenagers going without help who need it. At worst, it means they are talking to people who do not have their best interests at heart, and are looking at prey on their vulnerability.

Tumblr reported that they would introduce a page which, when searching specific key words, would direct people to resources to get help. Unfortunately, this no longer seems to work. Even when it did, there was still the option allowing people to proceed to the content.

I get the need to protect freedom of speech and expression. But with that comes responsibility. If people were promoting defamatory material, it wouldn’t be allowed. The platform has even shut down those looking to promote material from ISIS and associated groups. In fact, the only thing it doesn’t seem to want to do, is put measures in place to protect the vulnerable.

Right now, mental health has become the ‘elephant in the room’ again. No one seems to want to talk about it. Media have become focused on the dangers of internet predators. Celebrities, once openly talking about mental health, are now focussing their energy on Donald Trump and Brexit. Mental health is, once again, being pushed into a corner, with no one wanting to do anything.

Given you are here, reading this blog, I can hope that you are not that person. I can hope that you want to be someone who wants to make a difference. To be someone who will stand up and speak out for those who need help.

Please, if you do just one thing today to help those who are being affected by the images they see on Tumblr, please sign my petition. This will be delivered to both elected officials and Tumblr in order to put pressure on them to take real action, and not just words. Once you have signed it, please share it. Show you want to help. The more this is shared, the more people will sit up and listen and do their bit.

Thank you for taking your time to read this. Only together will we be able to take the necessary steps to get people talking about Mental Health, and put measures in place to protect and support those in need.


Stay strong. Stay you.


The ‘S’ word

I am a survivor. Not of cancer, nor of an injury. But of mental health. More specifically, I am a survivor of an attempted suicide. Today, I have a beautiful family, and am planning my wedding. Yet, a few years ago, I couldn’t plan what I was doing at the end of the week. For me, I had no want to get to the end of the week. Sometimes, I just didn’t want to get to the morning. But things changed, and changed for the better.

If you are sitting watching television tonight, I can be certain of one thing. You will see an advert telling you how many people are diagnosed with, or survive, cancer. You may even see adverts regarding heart conditions.

What you will not see, however, are the facts around suicide, or, the S word.

I call it the S word for a simple reason. No one talks about it. Like cancer for a long time, it is to be kept behind closed doors. One of those things people know is there, but don’t want to acknowledge due to the pain.

Yet, by not talking about it, we are doing a massive injustice to those out there who are fighting an illness just as hard. Those who are on the long journey to recovery, worrying about potential relapse. It isn’t an easy journey. But, by not talking about it, we aren’t showing our friends, our family, our loved ones, that they can turn to us when they want to open up.

In 2014, there were 6122 suicides in the UK. To compare, there were 11,433 deaths to breast cancer. In the bigger picture, this is not a huge difference (only 8 more deaths per 100,000). Alternatively, it equates to one death by suicide every two hours. Yet, the other unpublicised fact is this – every 12 minutes, someone in the UK attempted to commit suicide. Just let that sink in for a moment.

So, given this, why do we not talk about suicide, and in turn mental health, anywhere near as much as we do cancer? Why do we only have one day a year where the media, celebs and other individuals decide that the focus should be on mental health, when there is constant awareness, talking and fundraising for cancer services and investigations.

I want to make it clear, I am in no way saying we should be taking away from cancer suffers or research initiatives. Instead, I am saying we should utilise the same techniques that organisations and charities have used to raise awareness, and funds, and even workplace and school conversations.

Cake sales, charity sport days, sponsored challenges. All of these are utilised by campaigns for other medical conditions. Yet, some how, mental health doesn’t get the same push.

So, I call to you all. Are you planning on doing a sponsored walk? Maybe even a silence? Or, as in many offices, a cake sale? Has the charity already been set? Are you in discussion with your team about who the next charity should be that you fund raise for? If so, look online to find your local mental health charity. Perhaps there is a local centre that opens its doors for people to attend and talk. Or even just be in a reflective atmosphere. Perhaps a friend or relative has told you they have sought the help of a organisation and used their services? Maybe you yourself have found yourself browsing a charity webpage just to look at some information.

If so, then use this as a chance to talk about mental health. Use this as a way to shout out. Tell people everywhere that you are wanting to help those whose illness cannot be seen. Let those who are suffering know you are there for them, and will support them through their recovery. Even if some do not feel able to approach you, just knowing you are there and willing, can be the crutch they need.

Champion the change where you are. If you are in a school, college or university, petition those who are there for your welfare. Ask them to push mental health awareness, whether it be in conversation in form groups, or a campaign by your student union. They are there to represent you, so get them doing what you want them to do. If you are at work, speak to whoever organises your charity of the year. Speak to your floor manager to see how you can organise something. No matter how small, it is all going to help.

But, most of all, take time for yourself. Take the time to ask yourself how you are. If you need someone to talk to, then ask your friend for a coffee. Maybe go for lunch with a family member. Just remember, as much as you want to be there for others, so will they want to be there for you.

You can help others, and will. It doesn’t take anything big. The way to look at it is this. A building, when trying to break it down, looks impossible. But, if you take just a few bricks away from one of the corners, the whole thing eventually tumbles. Together, we can do this regarding the stigma of mental health.

Stay strong. Stay you.