Losing It: Our NHS on Mental Health

We all have mental health. We don’t all have a mental illness. we have not all experienced a mental health crisis. Sometimes you hear people talking, especially online, about how they had a crisis and sometimes I wonder if the term “mental health crisis” has become somewhat watered down and overused, much like the term “trauma”. Many now refer to trauma for anything a bit significant and overwhelming. The problem with this is that the reality and severity of trauma and mental health crisis become diluted the more they are overused or, alternatively, used out of context. This is why, although difficult viewing, I was really relieved when I saw ‘Losing It: Our Mental Health Emergency” listed on 4OD.

The show follows patients through a mental health trust in Nottinghamshire and shines a light on the extremes, the harsh, petrifying and heartbreaking reality of a mental health crisis. In episode 1 we met Laura and Briena. Laura was experiencing her first-ever episode of mental ill-health and was detained on Section 2 for post-partum psychosis – her illness nearly cost the lives of her entire family. Laura was super compliant with treatment in order to get better, however, experienced variations in her mood and energy states, which highlighted the subtlety that psychosis can have: the conviction in delusional thoughts, the not wanting to rest and agitation, the deadish eyes in a family photo that in hindsight give Laura a glimpse into how unwell she was, “I don’t particularly like this one behind me because I think you can see in my eyes that I’m still ill”.

Once she is well, she reflects on the experience and she really hit home. Having come out of a crisis and hospital admission, “we will never be the same people as we were before that day because of what I tried to do but it doesn’t make me feel any better by crying over it…I still regret it and I still live with the guilt” Reflecting she recalls how the realisation of how unwell you’ve been once you’ve recovered from an episode can be harder than being ill, “it’s mad how when you’re ill you don’t realise how serious it is, and then when you come out of it, it hits you even harder …it’s crazy how much… its just kind of come back”.

We are also introduced to Briena, an 11-year-old with deeply disturbing suicidal and intrusive thoughts. She sometimes struggles to articulate herself and has panic attacks so severe she looks to be in real agony. It’s heartbreaking and painful to watch. You can’t even imagine how her parents feel watching their daughter in so much pain and being essentially helpless.

The world of mental health has changed dramatically in the last decade, heck it has changed beyond recognition and even in the last 5 years everything just keeps changing. This can make navigating the system and services out there difficult. It can be more difficult when more people ask for help, because all of our campaigning has worked in de-stigmatising mental illness and mental health difficulties. Unfortunately, the system isn’t prepared for this influx of pleas for help, and so it is, in the words of my social worker yesterday, “they’re changing the system to be more streamlined, so people come in and go out very quickly in order to deal with the influx of need”. I’m sceptical; this sounds like a false economy, where people go in to the system at crisis point and come out just as quickly without the longer term input and support that helps people to get and stay well, “gone are the days when we could support someone for years, we just can’t now. We’re really looking at months”

With this new system I haven’t had a care coordinator allocated to me and I’m one of 70 in my team to have a named professional. This is apparently the worst it has ever been. I have now been told that I won’t be allocated someone new and will instead be discharged because I haven’t had a crisis for a while and although I still need medication adjustments and tweaks about twice a year, I am quite frankly not a priority. I understand this, and in hindsight despite being petrified for the future, I am so grateful I got unwell before Tory policies came into effect because a lot of the treatment and support I’ve had, the very treatment and support that has helped me to get to this point of relative stability and resilience is no longer available. So even though we have reduced the stigma of being open about mental health, and in asking for help we still have a lot more work to do in order to make sure the help and support is available to people who need it.

This is no longer a battle. This is a war. People have lost their lives, and more people will – and that’s just not acceptable. No one should be left alone to end it because the support isn’t there. I think the place to make the biggest impact is perhaps to contribute towards the charity sector who are plugging a lot of gaps as best they can – and maybe people of power with a real ability to influence legislation and funding, or perhaps help set up practical services beyond signposting to the Samaritans or an online chat forum would be good. There’s a lot of talking and celebrity endorsement going on, but for the people on the ground without privilege, where are they going to turn when they can’t get the help they need from the NHS? For as well intentioned as it has been , we have perhaps missed the mark in the context of this political fuckery we are currently in.

Losing It is a great documentary opening the doors to providing a platform for people in crisis talk about what they’re going through, but without real action and funding, it seems you have to nearly die or kill someone to get help – and if you ask me, that’s just too risky a system. I don’t have the answers, I’m just a bit petrified for my own situation and for those who have it much worse than me any time from 2017 and into the foreseeable future. We’re talking, but the conversation is bleak.

Beating the January Blues

January is well and truly underway halfway point of peak wintriness (definitely!). With lengthier stints of creepy darkness consuming our hours, it’s a very natural feeling to want to hibernate a bit. I think the bears have the right idea with this one. Unfortunately, we are not bears and the world does not stop for 6 months a year for us to hibernate; the show must push on.

My Mum looking wintery AF in The Lakes

Winter would not be complete without a mention of our aptly named friend, SAD. SAD is actually an acronym for ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’, which is characterised by depression that occurs recurrently and seasonally, most often during winter months. A small number of people do experience symptoms during summer months, however. There are a few contributors to the development of SAD, including affected circadian rhythms (a pattern of rhythms and motions that control and affect our sleep/wake cycles), reduced sunlight exposure meaning a reduced exposure to Vitamin D, and therefore absorption. Vitamin D, particularly D3 is very important for mood maintenance and overall happiness. It is now recommended that everyone takes a supplement during the winter months because as the winter progresses in the northern hemisphere most people become deficient of this vital and unique micronutrient and hormone precursor.

Even for those of us who aren’t experiencing SAD right now, January is still a bit of a funny month. The festive shenanigans are over, which can be a relief. For others, this means there’s nothing to look forward to for a while (debatable). Perhaps something terrible happened at Christmas because usually in someone’s life something terrible happens at Christmas (not an official statistical fact). To top it off, January hosts Blue Monday – an idea that the third Monday in January is the bluest of them all, and although I very much disagree with the sentiment that you can feel depressed for a day or a week only, the fact that the idea of Blue Monday took off indicates that January is just a bit of a shit time of year – which is kind of funny considering we start it off with the biggest bang of all the months; while being the number one most hated month (a very quick and brief google search confirms this if that’s the level of evidence we’re accepting now).

With all of this in mind, I thought it might be helpful to think of some ways to cope this January if you are feeling a bit off keel. Maybe you’re skint and want a holiday – Oh HI THERE!?! Maybe you’re feeling a bit crappy because Christmas happened and that can be a bit shit for a lot of people. Maybe you’re feeling fat but that crazy restrictive diet you started and swore would change your life hasn’t lived up to your hopes, or you didn’t stick to it (I don’t blame ya!) and the thought that having a specific quantification of your gravitational force on Earth is maybe, just maybe, not the answer to all your problems (spoiler alert, this is almost guaranteed!!) And maybe you can’t put your finger on a reason, and that’s OK too! So without further ado, I present to you the catchiest list title ever…

Things Maybe, perhaps, Worth a try This January if and when You Feel a Bit Shit

(also recommended for when it’s not January and these are not January specific suggestions – you can do them any time of year, any place, where ever and whenever you want)
Exercise
Even just getting out for a walk in the park, preferably during daylight hours if you can, will help; fresh air, trees, and a punch of nature. If you’re in the countryside, then go submerge yourself in real nature for a stroll instead of the man-made catastrophes we love in London so much.
Eat your fruit and veg
This isn’t the same as dieting, but eating a varied and colourful diet can really make sure you’re getting all those vitamins and minerals that play a vital role in maintaining your well-being. Also, the fibre and whatnot will help your gut microbiome be healthy – which is super important for maintaining your mood and mental wellbeing. Speaking of gut health.

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Don’t be a sad pumpkin, like this fella!

Take a probiotic if you can
Look for one that is general all-rounder, or perhaps more specific to what you might need. I’m currently taking one for my immune system because *cough cough splutter* need I say more?

Connect with people
See your friends. Have a real conversation and turn off the box a little bit. Netflix does not count as hanging out with a friend or partner. If real-life people contact is a bit difficult, go to the park and pet people’s dogs. Dogs love it, usually. You love it, don’t you?

Spend time with your Homies, like this Beau!

Let yourself rest
I get it, January is prime life overhauling time. You want to train for a spring marathon, you want to lose weight, you want to work towards that promotion – and go for it if you really want to – but don’t forget to rest. There’s no use pushing for goals and burning yourself out in the process because you are more likely to either fail or achieve your goals injured, battered and unable to really enjoy the glory of your hard work and suffering. Chill with a cup of tea, have a bath, read a book, watch some TV.And remember, if you’re marathon training – you really really do need more sleep in order for your body to recover from training and lay down the training gains in muscle reparation. Thisall happens mostly when you’re asleep. Early bedtime calling your name? Yeah same, I love an early bedtime!

Salem’s got the right idea about sleeping and chilling; he does nothing else!

Be Balanced in your approach
Even if you are wanting to lose weight or change your diet completely, a piece of cake won’t ruin everything. Whatever your goals, we need to move away from the all-or-nothing mentality. Have a piece of cake if you really want it, a cake can be a perfectly fine and healthy complement to our lives. Believe it or not, there are situations where eating a piece of cake is a sign of healthier behaviour – moderation is your mentor!

Rugby
If you’re feeling really radical, maybe try a new sport: Rugby England are currently doing their Inner Warrior Campaign for womens rugby, or maybe there’s a sport club near you offering try-out sessions to have a go and have some fun? Rugby is great fun (I may be slightly biased but, if you’re feeling brave enough give it a try! YOLO and faces can be restructured by plastic surgeons really well now so that’s not an excuse!)

Inner Warrior for Beckenham Ladies RFC

I hope these are some helpful ideas. If you’re really struggling and think you might actually be depressed or suffering way more than what you think you should be, then book an appointment with your GP and talk to them about how you’re feeling. They can assess you a little bit and figure out what the right steps might be for you.

The Importance of Talking About Mental Health

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Heavy with lead through every morsel of torso and limb she tries to carry herself tall. Heaving an impossible weight and pushing on she gets by, dragging what may fall behind along the way. A fog has descended and thickened, clouding her vision, judgement and perception. A thick rain cloud of anger hangs over her head, a relentless thrashing of her senses persists. Hearing anything clearly becomes impossible and coping with daily life is an overwhelming task. Her thoughts are foreign to her previous self, morbid, dark and terrifying. Through her diminishing abilities she becomes frustrated and deflated, hopeless and surrendering. She is vulnerable, but not weak. This is no personal flaw and through no personal fault of her own; she is experiencing an invisible illness, a mental illness.

“Mental health problems affect the way you think, feel and behave. They are problems that can be diagnosed by a doctor, not personal weaknesses” – The Mental Health Foundation.

Those around her, loved ones, colleagues and friends may notice a change. Maybe she’s withdrawn, quiet, short-tempered or tearful and they may not understand, or perhaps they fear the unknown. Frustrations can rise, “she’s just not making an effort”, “she’s no fun anymore” and “you just have to get on with it” are all too easy a response, but ask yourself, is it the right response?

As tempers turn into turmoil, frustrations grate and ties wear thin she may start erupting into sky-high emotions, hearing voices or facing difficulties with food. What do you say then? Is she a psycho? Does she need to go to the loony bin and get out of your hair? Or is it just all in her fucked up head and she just needs to sort it the fuck out and stop it, this instant, right now? Believe it or not, these are the nature of responses I have received throughout my own journey and experiences with mental health difficulties. Dare I ask it, would this have happened had my illness’ been physical? I doubt it.

It is an abhorrent suggestion of absurdity to march into a cancer ward and demand that this has to stop, they have to stop their tumours and bodies from being affected by the illness, they must stop making a fuss of it, and they must stop dying from it – and that if they really must continue with this being ill from cancer thing they’ve got going on, could they please do it quietly, out of sight and act as if nothing is happening?

It is a despicable suggestion; cancer and mental illness alike need care, support and treatment yet mental health remains subject to negative attitudes of stigma, discrimination and invalidation yet the remarkable fact is that we all have mental health just like we all have physical health. Every year 1 in 4 of us will be affected, that’s 25% of the population, a whole quarter. Yet the experience of a mental health illness is often one of isolation and shame. The effects of which can be worse than the illness itself.

The invisibility of the illness does not equate to a lack of debilitating effects such illnesses can have on a person’s life: mental illness costs lives, it can diminish lives to a mere state of existence and make every day functioning a seemingly impossible feat. It can be overcome for many, and many people do recover or learn to manage their conditions whilst living fulfilling lives that are worth living again. There is hope, but in order to achieve that people need support, to be listened to, and acceptance.

This is why it is important that we talk about mental health; it affects every aspect of our lives: in how we function, enjoy and cope from day-to-day, and that instead of meeting these conditions with hatred and hostility, they are met with the care, compassion and support that these individuals need.

 

Good Bye January, Hello Time to Talk Day 2018

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January is over. I never considered January to be too bad of a month but everyone constantly goes on about how it’s a bit of a shit month. This year it was a shit month for me. The weather probably didn’t help but I can’t blame the weather for everything because even in summer, if the mood strikes I can spend days in bed on the most beautiful of days. With this in mind as January became another month of lost days, it is somewhat timely that Time to Talk day is today.

Time to Talk, for anyone who isn’t aware, is a day where talking about mental health is actively campaigned for by Time to Change. Time to Change is a charity that campaigns to try to end mental health discrimination by encouraging conversation to harness positivity in the evolving attitudes towards mental health that we are seeing at the moment. In doing so, the hope I suppose is to move towards one of more balance, openness and create a culture in which everyone can develop a better understanding of mental illness and that one can’t just pull their hypothetical socks up.

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The campaign says there is no wrong place to talk about mental health, at the gym, over coffee, or even on a run. I think sometimes just being accepted and given the space to crack on in any way you know how without judgement can be a very welcome break. Most people in my life know I have mental health difficulties. It’s been somewhat of a long-standing issue for me, and one that I have a somewhat fraught relationship with.

When I’m doing well I can reflect and be grateful for everything my challenges have taught me, and how my path has shaped who I am today. I would almost certainly not be as non-judgmental and open-minded had I not had some of the experiences that I have. When I’m not feeling so chipper and dandy however, I cuss every moment of my life wasted on feeling shit, every lost opportunity because I let anxiety win, and every bad decision I’ve made due to my illness. I generally cuss the fact that mental health even exists a lot of the time, and how so debilitating your mind can become.

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I think being open about our mental health can only be positive. I try to be as honest as possible with those around me when I’m not feeling so great, so they know and can know not to take me being an arsehole personally. Let’s face it, mental health can get very gritty. It gets dark, it gets scary and it gets pretty fucked up at times. I don’t think shying away from this is helpful, however, maybe at the gym isn’t the best place to talk about the darkest parts of our psyche. I do think there are times and places that are more suited to certain conversations because even if you’ve finally accepted that you have or have had a mental health condition, there is still judgement.

I think closer, and more intimate conversations are best for challenging any stigma, prejudice or discrimination that may or may not be happening around us. People judge strangers very quickly, and sometimes you might not want everyone to know about your mental health struggles at first because hey, it’s nice to be known for your personality and not an illness that you have to manage. Kind of just like you might not want everyone to know about your bowel movements or sexual health. That’s ok.

Having said that, I’ll probably end up talking about mental health at some point because of my living and general situation, and that fact that a lot of my life still, unfortunately, remains largely oriented around managing my mental health. It’s not all roses and shortbread and that’s ok, for me, for you and for everyone. We all struggle at some point and I don’t think anyone can get through life without being tried, tested or even tortured by our minds albeit to differing degrees.

So let’s talk. This evening I will be heading to Crystal Palace park for a Time to Talk fun run. There’s some useful lists on their sites:
Events nationwide can be found here
Resources that can be found and used here
Tips on starting a conversation here

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