Stress and Mental Illness: Are They One And The Same?

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In my previous post I discussed Is Stress A Trigger For Mental Illness? In this post I’m hoping to highlight how stress and severe mental illness are not one and the same.

We all go through periods of stress, where we feel run down, overwhelmed and generally feel like we need a reset button for life. It does have an impact on our mental health, but it isn’t a mental illness.

I have worked with colleagues that have misinterpreted my mental illness as stress, or the more important distinction that I couldn’t handle stress. Comments such as,

“Well, some of us can deal with stress better than others.” and “At least I’m here all the time unlike some people who are always signed off with stress.” Stress was a trigger for my mental illness, bipolar, and yes, I did have to take time off work because of it. It didn’t mean I couldn’t handle stress, it meant I had a severe mental illness that had not been properly diagnosed, or been provided with the proper treatment.

How we effectively deal with stress can be managed through self care techniques and adapting our work/life balance. If someone starts to show signs of mild to moderate depression or anxiety they can seek help such as CBT or other forms of therapy for a short period. Severe mental illness on the other hand, needs much greater intervention. A psychiatrist, hospital admissions, long term medication and therapy. Significant lifestyle changes such as cutting out alcohol may be not advised, but desperately needed. Can you see the difference? Stress in our lives can be managed, if we want to do so; mental illness cannot. Your lifestyle is a choice, mental illness is never chosen. I think it’s important here to highlight one glaringly obvious cause of stress; poverty. This can’t be eradicated by a simple change in lifestyle by the individual. It’s society at large that needs to work towards this. Is there a difference between the stresses of the upper and middle classes and those living in poverty? Yes, I believe there is. Are those in poverty more likely to have a severe mental illness? Again yes. According to the Mental health Foundation,

“Poverty increases the risk of mental health problems and can be both a casual factor and a consequence of mental ill health. Mental health is shaped by the wide-ranging characteristics (including inequalities) of the social, economic and physical environments in which people live.”

Many people with severe mental illnesses also fall into poverty because of being unable to work. This exacerbates already difficult to manage conditions and leaves the individual extremely vulnerable to self medicating, self harm and suicide.

When many people speak up about mental illness, often it’s from their own experiences. That’s fine, but when it’s highlighting stress and lumping it in as a mental health condition, it devalues the impact of severe mental illness. Bipolar, BPD, PTSD, Schizophrenia to name a few are long term, life altering conditions that need psychiatric intervention and expertise to assess, treat and manage. Stress is damaging, physically and mentally I’m not denying that. I feel though that there needs to be more room for conversations surrounding severe mental illness. Too much noise is made around stress, and mild to moderate mental illness. Already sufferers feel marginalised and isolated in society and need more spaces where their voices can be heard.

Talking About Mental Health Is Vital, But It’s Not Enough

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I often find myself saying,

“Talking about mental health is so important.” and “Just be open and honest and you’ll feel so much better!” I have done so many times on this blog.

But in my heart, I know it’s not enough. So many of us are being let down again and again. Services are spread thin and desperately underfunded. Recent reports that young people are being denied care until they’re at crisis point, and receiving little to no help unless they have attempted suicide, is disgraceful.

We do need to talk about mental health. Talking can save lives, but our friends and family are not experts. There is only so much that they can do to help and often unfortunately, it’s not enough. It puts a strain on our relationships which can further the isolation and hopelessness of our situation. I’m lucky enough to have a supportive family and group of friends. I do what I’ve been told helps; to talk. I’ve been talking and reaching out for years, but it’s not always enough.

I’ve sought professional help when I’ve contemplated suicide. I was given a number for the crisis team if ever I needed them. I was told they were available 24 hours a day and would help. I’ve had very different experiences to what I was told I would have. After the phone call I wished I’d never picked up the phone. Firstly, I was given the wrong extension number, and then when I finally got through to speak to someone they simply said,

“Carry on taking your medication and you’ll start to feel better soon.” I talk more about this in the post My Experiences of Mental Health Crises Care

GP’s need more training to identify severe mental illnesses and provide the correct referrals. I like many others with bipolar were misdiagnosed countless times, and it took 12 years for me to be diagnosed. Therapy needs to be far more accessible and not just a one size fits all solution on the NHS. Talking therapies is not always provided by a trained psychologist. In my experience it was a counsellor, who had been trained in basic techniques in order to provide talking therapies. It wasn’t enough and he wasn’t prepared to deal with the symptoms I was displaying. Specialist, long term therapy is still out of reach for many. The price tag attached is as if it’s marketed as a luxury rather than a necessity for those with severe mental illness.

Mental health has had budget increases, but they’re far smaller than budgets for physical health. It’s been five years since the government pledged to create “parity of esteem” between NHS mental and physical health services. People are suffering and we demand better. We need to recognise the role of poverty and discrimination in determining access to formal mental health services. We need to address the reasons why so many people from ethnic minorities, the LGBT+ community and those with disabilities suffer from mental ill health. There are still disgustingly long waiting lists. Having an assessment due in eighteen months when you’re suicidal is not only callous, but negligent. Still we’re seeing mental health services strained to their limits. Still people are told,

“You’re not ill enough” and “Come back when you’ve attempted suicide” Change is desperately needed right now.

In the end investment, not rhetoric, is needed to save lives.

 

Is Stress A Trigger For Mental Illness?

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For me, the answer is yes. However, it’s not the cause of my mental illness but a trigger for an episode of bipolar mania or depression. It’s usually coupled with other triggers such as; a lack of sleep, drinking alcohol, or not taking medication.

I’ve been through many occasions where stress has had an impact on my mental illness. When the pressures of work have become too much, I find myself spiralling. The most likely repercussion is an episode of mania. The stress will disappear and I will become a whirlwind of energy and activity. Misdirected this energy can lead to reckless behaviour and I’ll find myself in dangerous situations. Mania also leads to obsession. Either with my work, with colleagues I dislike, or on projects in my personal life. I talk about one example in detail in the post Unhealthy Obsession

Often I don’t realise I’m stressed until I start showing signs of mania and then at that point I don’t care that stress has caused me to feel so euphoric. Of course with bipolar, being so hyperactive and full of relentless energy, I have to come down sooner or later. I talk about this feeling in the post The Mania Hangover . Then the stress I’m under really hits me, as I fall into a depressive state. There have been many times when for whatever reason I am already manic or depressed when a stressful situation pops into my life. Depending on the type of episode I’m experiencing, my reactions and ways of coping will differ dramatically.

Although stress can make us feel ill, a mental health condition has to already be there, whether it’s known to you or not, to trigger a mental illness. We all go through times of stress where we feel run down, lacking energy and generally feel overwhelmed by life. If you’re susceptible to depression or anxiety, the stresses of life can definitely trigger these. I find with bipolar disorder, which I continually live with, stress exacerbates the condition. I’ve learnt that I have to manage the stressors in my life and face up to the causes. Whether that be my job, a relationship, or money worries I need to assess the impact they are having to my stress levels, and ultimately my mental health.

Workplaces in particular need to work with individuals to create an environment that eases daily pressures. Society needs to be more compassionate and provide aid to those struggling for money and living in poverty. I grew up in a household where both my parents worked, yet we struggled financially. I know firsthand as a child and then as an adult how much stress is caused every month when bills are overdue and you have no way of paying them.

If you go through stressful situations but don’t have a mental illness that’s great! But don’t judge those that do. It doesn’t make the person weak or less resilient because stress triggers their mental illness. In times of extreme stress those with mental illnesses suffer; it’s unavoidable.

 

How to Approach Your Doctor If You Think You May Have Bipolar Disorder

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Bipolar disorder takes a notoriously long time to diagnose, on average ten years in fact. Add to this that people with bipolar disorder are misdiagnosed three times on average, it can feel to many like a hard slog to finally receive a diagnosis. This happened to me, where it took twelve years to be diagnosed and I was misdiagnosed with depression several times. I don’t want to see anyone else go through this unnecessarily, so I’ve listed below what you can do before and during meeting with a GP.

Keep a Mood Diary

This is the number one thing I wish I’d done before seeing my GP. Keeping a mood diary for a few months, will give them a picture of how much you are struggling and the stark contrast in your moods. It can be difficult to explain how much your moods are impacting your life and keeping a diary of them is a definitive way to show them this. You may be thinking three months is a long time to wait before seeing a doctor, but believe me three months is better than waiting another three years or longer for a diagnosis. Entires don’t have to be long, you can make bullet points explaining you mood that day. Bullet points will make it easier for the doctor to read through.

Ask For a Double Appointment

Most doctor’s surgeries will have the option of making a double appointment. These are reserved for people with more than one ailment to discuss, or those with more complex needs. An average appointment is only ten minutes and can go by in a flash if you’re feeling mentally unwell and struggling to explain yourself. You may feel rushed and forget what you wanted to say and giving a clear picture of your moods is a vital step in receiving a diagnosis.

Write Down What You want to Say

As I’ve already said, feeling mentally unwell can make us forgetful and/or anxious, stopping us from explaining ourselves fully. You can’t show a doctor a mental illness; unfortunately we can only rely on what we say. Write down what you’re going to tell your doctor before the appointment. It will make it clearer in your mind what you need to explain and highlight important points. Take it with you and refer to it if you can’t remember what exactly you were going to say. If you’re feeling extremely anxious or upset and feel you can’t speak clearly enough, give your notes for the doctor to read themselves.

Take Someone With You

Taking a partner, family member or close friend will take the pressure off you during the appointment. Someone that knows you well and what you’re struggling with, not only provides you with much needed support, but can corroborate your symptoms. A doctor will be more likely to take your concerns seriously if someone with you is agreeing that they have witnessed your extreme moods and unusual behaviours. Their insights may provide information that you can’t, such as how your moods and behaviours are affecting those around you.

Be Assertive

This is a difficult one, but something I feel is important. You know how you’re feeling and how your symptoms are affecting you and you need to make this clear. Often those with bipolar disorder before they are diagnosed are misdiagnosed by doctors with depression and anxiety. In a short appointment a doctor may assess you as having depression as it’s the most obvious answer and much more common. If you feel something else is happening, and you’re struggling with manic, psychotic or other symptoms, you need to tell the doctor. Being assertive doesn’t mean you have to be aggressive or confrontational, only making your points confidently and articulately.

A good doctor will take the time to speak to you, and check your medical history. Your medical history may highlight patterns of earlier mental illness that link to signs of bipolar disorder. If your GP agrees with you this will lead to a referral for a psychiatric assessment. The assessment will be much more in depth with a psychiatrist and will give you a clear answer as to whether you have bipolar disorder or not.

When Speaking About Mental Health, Language Matters

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Why does language matter? What is the difference between describing someone as ‘Is Bipolar’ or ‘Has Bipolar’?

Firstly, language is a powerful tool of expression. We tell stories with language and these stories conjure up images and ideas in the listener. We can impact the way people think or perceive the world around them with the language we use. Language can change people’s opinions of others and more importantly when it comes to mental health, themselves.

When we say someone ‘is’ their mental health diagnosis people immediately jump to their preconceived notion of the illness. They see what their experience of it is; what they have heard and seen in the media. It causes us to stereotype without really realising that’s what we’re doing. When someone says to me I ‘am’ bipolar it makes me feel that this diagnosis defines me. That my personality and the essence of what makes me who I am has been dwindled down to a mental illness. All that I am is bipolar, and this is all anyone ever sees. It impacts my self esteem in a significant way. It is limiting and dehumanising. It takes away our individuality to be spoken about in this way. Although I believe labels are important and a tool to receive treatment and provides answers to behaviours, being seen as just a label can be damaging.

When you say that someone ‘has’ a mental illness it has a completely different impact. I feel like I can be seen as a person and individual. It shows to me that the person understands mental illness and how it affects me. They understand that I might be struggling and need support.

There is still a huge discrepency between how we use language for physical and mental illness. Whereas physical illness sufferers are seen as fighters, those with mental illnesses are seen as weak. If you have a physical illness you’re often seen as blameless, it’s ‘just one of those things.’ With mental illness you’re seen as a failure and ‘you could be doing more to help yourself.’ Mental illnesses are biological, we have a genetic susceptibility and they are often coupled with environmental factors. It isn’t a weakness or failure on our part, but the misuse of language continues to contribute to the stigma.

It’s important that we use language delicately and with care when discussing mental illness. Think about how much impact your words have and how they can shape a person’s self worth.

 

I Gave Up Alcohol For My Mental Health

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My last psychiatry appointment was a tough one – I was told with certainty that I should, no, needed to give up alcohol. My response was a hopeful one, surely half a bottle of wine on a Saturday night was alright? The answer was a definitive no, even that amount of alcohol was far too much. We agreed that I should go sober, and I agreed reticently. I left feeling dejected, grumpy and silently cursing my psychiatrist. Although I felt fed up, I had known before my appointment that this change needed to happen.

Why go sober? 

My psychiatrist explained that alcohol reduces the effectiveness of many medications. Alcohol is a depressant, and pretty much cancels out the work my mental health medication does. In other words, I might as well not bother taking my medication every time I drink. If I have three days in a row of drinking, then that’s three days without medication. For me that can cause the beginning of withdrawal symptoms, that feel like having the flu. Or, more seriously, it can cause a bipolar episode of severe depression or mania.

The mental and physical effects

After a heavy weekend, or a number of days in a row of a ‘few’ drinks in the evening to help me unwind and relax I start feeling the negative effects of alcohol. I’ve noticed a correlation between heavy drinking and heart palpitations, that often leads to a full blown panic attack. Panic attacks are a debilitating and exhausting experience, and I’ll feel drained for days afterwards. Another experience I’ve had after drinking is psychosis. Earlier this year I drank heavily over my birthday weekend and at the end of it began to hear voices. I wrote about the experience in this post, My Hearing Voices Journal Alcohol free, I wouldn’t have gone through these experiences, and would have stayed mentally well and stable.

How I did it

I literally just stopped! Seriously though, it’s been tough, especially on nights out and at family celebrations. I’ve been drinking since I was fourteen, so to just suddenly go completely sober was a massive challenge. I was open about it with everyone, and my partner, family and friends have all been extremely supportive. I reached out to the twitter community and was given heaps of advice and tips on non alcoholic drinks so I wouldn’t feel like I was missing out on nights out. Soda and lime cordial has been my saviour when I’m out at a bar, along with flavoured sparkling water when I’m having a night in. It’s taken a terrific amount of self determination and will power, but I knew it was something I had to do for my mental health.

How I’m feeling now

Two months later and I feel fantastic! I’m clear headed, have more energy and haven’t had any palpitations or panic attacks. I’ve been stable and haven’t experienced psychosis or any depressive or manic episodes. I feel physically healthier and I’ve lost weight. I know my medications are working as they should be now, and that’s given me the impetus to stay sober.

I may have left my psychiatric appointment with a feeling of dread and wondering how the hell I was going to go sober, but I’m so glad I stuck with my decision.

The Journey To A Bipolar Diagnosis

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Today is world bipolar day, a day to raise awareness of this complex and long term mental health condition. Here’s a few facts about bipolar disorder;

  • More than 1 million people in the UK have bipolar.
  • It can take on average 10.5 years to receive a correct diagnosis.
  • People with bipolar are misdiagnosed on average 3.5 times.

Just think about that. Think about 10 years of your life or more not understanding your own behaviours. Believing there is something intrinsically flawed with you. Living constantly trapped in a cycle of extreme moods. Months of euphoria and elation, where you rarely sleep and hardly eat. But during those months that euphoric feeling is replaced with something ugly and vicious, an intense anger you can’t satiate. You begin to experience delusions that puts yourself and others in danger.

Think about experiencing a crash where you’re left physically and emotionally drained, that ultimately leads to a severe depression. The depression won’t lift no matter what you try. You can’t do anything but sleep and lie on the sofa staring blankly at the wall. You have changed so utterly and completely  it bewilders friends and family. Some of them distance themselves from you, unable to deal with the duality of your moods. Suicide begins to feel like the only option left and you start to make plans.

Suddenly, you feel stable but, living in fear that the cycle will begin again at any moment. Living in fear that you’ll be alone forever as relationships break down. Living in denial over the psychosis you’ve experienced, though of course you don’t label it as that out of fear.

I first became ill at 14, and wasn’t diagnosed until I was 26. I spent 12 years living with a condition I didn’t know I had. I felt I’d missed out on so much from being constantly unwell. I was incredibly angry when I was diagnosed. Not because of the actual diagnosis, but because it had taken so long to get the help I had desperately needed.

I had been misdiagnosed so many times I’ve lost count. GP appointments always went the same way; you’re depressed, here’s a prescription, here’s a sick note for work and come back in 2 weeks if you’re not feeling any better. There was no dialogue between us about why I was depressed. Why did I keep coming back? Why was it always every 2 -3 months that I found myself depressed again? If just one doctor over those years had taken the time to ask one simple question,

“Do you ever feel elated and full of energy for long periods of time?”

I would have answered yes! That’s all it would’ve taken to start a new conversation. That’s what eventually happened when I was 26, and I will always be grateful to that GP who took the time to look at my (extensive) notes and question why I kept being mentally unwell. That maybe there was something else hidden beneath the surface of depression I was displaying.

Those of us with a diagnosis of bipolar have been through a long, difficult journey, much of it spent feeling alone and confused. Take some time to listen to our stories and learn more about this mental illness.

The Mania Hangover

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The Best Feeling Ever!

When I’m in the grips of mania, I love Bipolar. The euphoria I feel is like no other drug. The feeling is addictive and I never want it to end. The mania is unbelievably epic, like I’m living in a blockbuster movie and I’m the star. The whole universe revolves around me. Continually going through my head are thoughts that instil an enormous, gratifying confidence: ‘I’m the best at everything!’ ‘I can do anything, be anyone!’ ‘Nothing can touch me. I’m invincible!’ It’s a feeling like no other and yes, when it ends I do miss it. Because of course, like any good thing, it has to end. I talk more about mania in this post Mania is…

Here Comes The Hangover

What I hate about Bipolar, above anything else, is what I call my mania hangover. First of all, I realise I’ve spent far too much. Imagine having a big weekend when you’re suddenly buying everyone shots, but that weekend stretches on for months. Or that clothes and shoes binge you’re on when you spend an evening sat in your pyjamas on the internet, but imagine it lasting weeks. I’ve found myself in crippling debt more than once, the first time meaning I had to move back home with my parents. I felt terribly embarrassed and an absolute failure for having to go back to live with mum and dad. Luckily I had that option.

Next, the realisation of my actions set in. I start to see with clarity and I realise I’ve done things that I’ll regret for years to come. I cheated on my ex, whilst I was away traveling in Japan. When I was feeling stable again the memory rushed toward me and I felt dizzy and sick over what I had done. It was completely out of character, and I was remembering it through a haze, as if I had been drunk. I see how much stress I put family and friends through with my unpredictable, sometimes rageful emotions. I’ve made family and friends cry with vicious words that cut them to pieces. I’ve done so many embarrassing, ugly things I regret over the years I can’t fit them into one blog post.

From constantly being full of energy and unable to sleep, now I’ve become emotionally and physically exhausted. I’ve been running on empty for weeks and not even noticed. All I want to do is to become a hermit, hide from the world in bed and eat junk food.

Hello Depression

Then, inevitably depression sets in. I hate the depression, and it’s usually part of the whole mania hangover. The juxtaposition between the mania and depression is ridiculous. I’ve heard the description of ‘it’s like living on a rollercoaster’ but it’s too simplistic a description. Rollercoasters for me are fun, and the lows of acute depression are far from fairground ride fun and games. Depression, just like mania, takes complete hold of you, and won’t let go. I can no longer function like the average person. I stop going outside, I have to force myself to shower and brush my teeth. Everything is an unbelievable effort.

My Hangover Cures

Ultimately, I would not want to be manic in the first place! To do this I check The Warning Signs of a Manic Episode that I have identified over the years. Even though at times it can be a tempting prospect to go back to that feeling of constant elation, it’s not worth the adverse effects. Taking my medication is the surest way to stop this from happening. If I do find myself with a mania hangover, I take the time to look after myself. I’ll take some time away from work and socialising. I’ll keep an eye on my mood and check for the warning signs of depression.

My Hearing Voices Journal

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Last week I had an episode of psychosis, where I suffered from auditory hallucinations, or hearing sounds and voices. To help me through it, I journalled the experience in a notebook. Some parts are written during the episode, and some are written directly afterwards. It helped me make sense of what I was hearing and to ground me in reality and to help me deal with the shock when it had stopped.

“I think I’ve found the worst combination ever of physical and mental illness. Migraine, room spinning and doubting my sanity as I hear voices whilst sat in bed. I’m feeling very vulnerable and scared. I’ve felt physically ill all day today. We went out for a meal with friends but had to cut it short because I thought I was going to pass out or fall over from being so dizzy. This week has been an emotional rollercoaster with my moods all over the place. I’ve been ecstatically happy and hyperactive, busy working away on new projects. In a startling contrast I’ve felt hopeless, useless and deeply lost.

Now I’m home, and sat in bed. The noises have started. I can hear creaking. It sounds like it’s coming from the bed, but I’m not moving. It won’t stop. I’ve turned on my laptop and found the easiest, light hearted programme I can find, Friends. It reminds me of my childhood, before the voices started. I remember when it was first aired on a Friday night and I was allowed to stay up and watch it. If I can focus on this maybe the voices will leave me alone.

It isn’t working. Now the creaking has turned into banging on the bedroom window. The banging is urgent, fast and incredibly loud as if a fist is pounding on the window. The blinds are closed and I’m paranoid now that the banging is real and someone is playing a joke on me. Should I get up and check? I really should. I’ve been to open the blinds and there was nothing there. It’s windy outside, and all I could see were the bushes and trees swaying. The unpredictable and forcible wind today is mirroring my state of mind. The banging is making me really uncomfortable. I’ll turn the volume up on the laptop to try and drown out the noise. It’s not working, Fuck. What is my mind trying to tell me? How can I rationalise this or tell it to stop?

It’s suddenly stopped, thank fuck for that. I can breathe again. The cat has leapt up on the bed and has curled up next to me. It’s like she knows something is wrong. Stroking her and listening to her gentle purr is calming me down. I’ve just realised it’s getting dark outside and I’m sitting in the bedroom with no lights on. But I don’t want to get up because right now sitting here I’m not hearing anything scary or confusing. I don’t want to jinx it.

Now it’s dark and I’m still sitting in the bedroom, still too afraid to get up and turn the lights on. I can hear footsteps coming into the room, it must be my husband. I hear the bed creak as he sits down on it next to me. He says to me “Do you want any carrots? I think we need some more carrots for next week.” I’m confused. Why is he talking about carrots? I respond, “Yeah ok, I’ll put carrots on the shopping list next week.” I hear him get up and walk out the room. I’m not sure if that conversation was real. It was weird and random and now I feel really muddled and confused. I’ve turned the light on now so I could write this down.

Oh yay, hear comes the shouting. I close my eyes and try and focus my mind. All I can hear is “Fuck! Fuck!” “Get the fuck out!” Can’t take this anymore. I’m getting up. I realise I’m trembling and I feel as if I’ve been shaken roughly by someone much stronger than me. I sit down next to my husband on the sofa. I ask him, “Did you come in the bedroom earlier?” He replies “No, I’ve been in here the whole time, why?” I can’t be bothered to explain what’s been happening. I’m still feeling overwhelmed by voices. I’m asking him about his game. He’s playing Elite. I love how passionate he is about this game and the idea of space travel. I make myself listen to him intently, and the shouting starts to fade.

The problem with hearing voices is the paranoia afterwards. Is that banging from outside or in my head? Is that whispering in the background of the tv show I’m watching or in my mind? Unknown noises set my teeth on edge. I’m jumpy, full of panic with the fear it will start again.

At least I’m talking about it.”

Still More To Do To Tackle Mental Health Stigma

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For mental illness sufferers, an underfunded NHS, discrimination against benefit claimants and a negative tone from the media is still creating a society that misunderstand and stigmatise.

A lack of funding for mental health and parity of esteem in the NHS reinforces the view that mental illnesses aren’t as important or as serious as physical ailments. It gives the impression that there is a quick fix, with a few sessions of therapy and some medication it will disappear the problem. Many people wait months, even years, to see a therapist with the NHS. The dreadful reality is that for some it comes too late. For complex conditions, the right medication or combination doesn’t always work the first time. It can take patience to find the right medication.

The High Court ruling that changes to PIP (Personal Independence Payments) were ‘blatantly discriminatory’ against people with mental health problems proves the Government aren’t committing to their pledge to end stigma and discrimination. PIP is a benefit for those with disabilities, and that includes mental illness. Anyone with disabilities can apply, if they’re in employment or not. It’s designed to cover the extra costs that come with having a disability. A person applying may not be able to cook a meal for themselves for instance, and need someone to do this for them. People with mental illness often find leaving the house to be an insurmountable task and need support to do so. This is the aspect of PIP (the mobility section) that the government decided to change last year. People who were unable to travel independently on the grounds of psychological distress were not entitled to the enhanced mobility rate of the benefit.

The almost constant barrage of negative views in the media against benefit claimants strengthens public opinion that those with long term, severe mental illnesses are in fact lazy work dodgers. Dare to go on a message board on any well known news website and the vitriol against those with mental illness is clear to see. People proclaim, “There were never this many people with mental health problems when I was young!” To that, there has been a rise in people seeking out help and support in recent years. The ‘chin up’ and ‘keep going no matter what’ British attitude has kept people silent and unwilling to find help for decades. This attitude has ruined and cost lives that could have been saved. Severe mental illnesses such as Bipolar Disorder, are not as common as people believe. Only 2% of the UK population have been diagnosed.

Much of the ‘awareness raising’ centres around depression and anxiety. It’s time to move forward and introduce the general public to illnesses that are extremely damaging and life changing. Personality disorders, Bipolar, Psychosis, Schizophrenia, and PTSD deserve more positive attention. For many people, as soon as the term ‘mental health’ is brought up, what comes to mind is depression and anxiety. In no way am I trying to say that depression and anxiety aren’t important, they can be crippling and severe. The problem here is that so much emphasis is put on these conditions, but we must be speaking up about all mental health issues. There are conditions out there that are seen as less palatable and not as relatable. The general public can relate to depression and anxiety as they are more common and chances are, they themselves or someone they’re close to has suffered from these conditions. It’s easy to forget about a disorder when you have no real life experience of it. These less talked about conditions are also more stigmatised. With a personality disorder you’re seen as manipulative and attention seeking, with psychosis you’re seen as crazy and could snap and murder someone at any moment. Continuing to not pay these conditions any attention leaves sufferers feeling incredibly isolated and alone. We need to raise awareness of all conditions under the mental illness umbrella. Ignoring conditions because the conversation is harder to start will only further alienate sufferers. Allow people to share their story. Their experiences are valid and important.

For someone that struggles daily with a debilitating mental illness, it can feel overwhelming to be faced with such adversity. To deal with a severe illness and to know that there is blatant discrimination embedded into society is exhausting and infuriating. It takes a great deal of strength to keep going everyday knowing this. Having a mental illness, being aware of this and speaking out doesn’t equal weakness, in fact it shows how strong you are.