Don’t let the Worry of Being Ill Ruin A Holiday

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Living with mental illness is tricky. It’s a sneaky bastard that creeps up on you when you least expect it. Often when we relax, mental illness barges its way into our lives and tries to take over. A prime example of this is when we go on holiday. We can’t always be 100% sure we will be well when we plan and book a holiday, it’s a risk anyone with mental illness takes. We can plan meticulously but still have a mental health crises. Or like me, forget something vital to staying mentally well.

Last year my husband and I went on holiday to Devon. It started off well, with us going to the beach and going for long walks in the woods around where we were staying. We’d relaxed and spent long evenings drinking, chatting and enjoying each others company. Three days in, I started feeling strange. I felt rundown, almost like I was coming down with the flu. I realised I’d run out of medication. Not only that, but it dawned on me I hadn’t taken medication at all since we’d been in Devon.

Shit, shit, shit was my initial reaction. The damage had already been done, and I knew by the time I’d organised emergency meds the holiday would be pretty much over. I had the shakes, a temperature, I felt nauseous constantly and felt dizzy and exhausted. I spent the rest of our trip in bed or under a blanket on the sofa, far too ill to do anything else. I felt incredibly guilty, like I’d let down my partner and ruined our time away together. It was our only holiday away, our only week just us together and supposed to be a week where we could totally relax.

This was when it all went wrong, and I let my anxieties about not enjoying my holiday ruin it for me. I have coped better, I’ve planned better and I was annoyed at myself. Being mentally unwell on holiday doesn’t mean it’s totally ruined. If you plan well and go in with a realistic outlook, you can still have a great time.

A few years ago we went to Croatia for a week away. We were staying near Dubrovnik, on a tiny island called Kolocep. I had been struggling with a persistent depressive mood leading up to the holiday. I was nervous, on edge. What if i was too ill to do anything I’d planned? Before leaving, I told myself so what if I’m ill? I’m there ultimately to relax. If I have a difficult day there’s nothing wrong with taking a break from our plans. I hadn’t scheduled to go somewhere or activities every single day. There were days when I wanted to just lay on the beach or sit by the pool and read. Trips could be moved. Personally I like to plan a trip myself, rather than be led by a tour guide. This gives me the freedom to see how I feel each morning and decide what we’re going to do there and then.

It ended up being one of the most memorable holidays I’ve ever been on. I didn’t allow the expectation that I must be on top form and enjoying myself every single minute of every day ruin my time away. I was depressed, but I still managed to explore the old city of Dubrovnik, go kayaking and discover hidden coves around the islands. I accepted the fact that I would have bad days, and there were a couple of afternoons when I went back to my room and went to bed or simply just sat and had much needed time alone. I didn’t feel guilty for doing. Most importantly, it didn’t ruin my holiday.

In a couple of weeks, I’m heading off to Cape Verde, for some much needed relaxation. This time I’m going with a much more positive frame of mind.

 

 

My Hearing Voices Journal Entry 2

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Yesterday I had a an episode of psychosis. It came in the form of auditory hallucinations, as it does with me. I’ve journaled my experiences before in the post My Hearing Voices Journal and felt as I sat in bed last night trying to sleep, but too anxious to do so, it was time to journal my feelings once again. It started as I finished my shift at work. I could hear a murmuring coming from all around me. These are my initial thoughts on the experience.

Hearing murmurs is something I experience often with psychosis. It’s frustrating more than anything. It’s like sitting in a busy restaurant or bar. As I’m a people watcher and yes, very nosy, I like to listen to snippets of people’s conversations. I find it fascinating listening to how people interact with one another. These murmurs are like not quite catching the conversation of the people at the table next to you. even with your best efforts to strain to hear what is being said. All you can hear is a low murmur.

It’s a constant background noise, like the hiss of an untuned radio, but I can’t turn it off or find another station. I’m stuck with the same incessant, nonsense sounds. The noise/murmuring follows me; it doesn’t dissipate if I move. That’s how I know it isn’t real,  that it isn’t coming from an outside source, but from inside my own mind. Trying to ‘turn off’ the noise makes me feel like I’m losing my mind. I’ll try to convince myself it isn’t a hallucination, pacing back and forth with more and more urgency looking for the source of the sounds. I begin to talk to myself, to firstly come up with a logical conclusion and secondly to calm down. It doesn’t work and I can feel the frustration rising. Why is this happening to me? Is it too much to ask for to just be normal, whatever that is. The noise after an hour or so, disappears, without my noticing. I’d grown accustomed to it and over the years during an episode I’ve learnt to carry on as normal when I’m out in public as much as I can.

Now it’s gone I feel on edge. I know I’ll feel this way for the next few days. What if a more sinister voice presents itself? What if it happens when I’m alone and there’s no one to comfort me and help me through it?

I’ve gone to bed, but I can’t sleep. I feel too emotional to sleep. I could burst into tears at any moment. I can feel my heart beating in my chest. Sharp pains streak across my chest, which suggests the beginning of a panic attack. All of this because I heard some murmuring. Psychosis fucks with your head in so many ways. It’s not just the actual experience, but the anxiety and the real fear that follows. I feel tense and uneasy like something or someone unknown is watching me, ready to shout and attack. I don’t like the dark. I was never afraid of the dark when I was younger, in fact I was a pretty fearless child. When you begin to hear auditory hallucinations, especially when you hear that first voice come out of nowhere in pitch darkness it is unbelievably terrifying. The fear I feel, the total vulnerability leaves me in a state of shock. Now I’m afraid of the dark. What if, just if, that voice is real this time. That there really is someone in my room whispering in my ear “I see you.” I will hear voices from what feels like all around me and for all I know they are very real. Surrounded by a wall of voices it’s easy to start to imagine what they look like. Eyes open, they start to adjust to the low light and play tricks on me. That shadow in the corner starts to form into the shape of a person, towering over where I lay.

All of this is circling my mind, so how could I possibly sleep? I know what I need to do. I need to get up out of bed and out into the light.

As I’ve made clear before in the post I’ll Keep Talking About Psychosis Whether It’s Relatable Or Not I won’t stop writing about my experiences of auditory hallucinations. It’s cathartic and journalling my experiences helps me make sense of them. If you know someone who is struggling with hearing voices, my post How to Help Someone When They’re Hearing Voices could be helpful. There’s also plenty of information out there, and I personally found MIND’s website to be full of helpful information.

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.

 

How I Learnt to Deal With Nighttime Panic Attacks

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I wake up with an intense nausea that floods my system. Running to the bathroom I’m convinced I’m going to be sick, but I’m not. Then comes the pain. It stabs at my chest and upper back to the point I can hardly breathe. I went to bed feeling relaxed and contented, but now I’m pacing the house, my heart pounding terrified I’m having a heart attack. The reality of panic attacks is the physical pain that cuts through you in great swathes. Having a panic attack at nighttime is very different to having one during the day. At night everything feels more intense, the atmosphere changes to one that is ethereal and other worldly. People that you count on to talk you through the experience are asleep and unavailable. You feel alone and desperate and not sure if you can get through the night. I’ve learnt some techniques to help me cope over the years, that have quelled the panic attack before it becomes too difficult to manage.

Thinking Logically

I know this is a panic attack. I know it’s painful but it won’t kill me. Twice I have been taken to hospital by ambulance because of the unrelenting pain I was in. Twice I’ve spent hours having multiple tests to find what was wrong, for everything to come back clear. What I know now is that although I have found myself in a great deal of pain, it won’t turn into anything sinister. I will talk myself through the situation by repeatedly telling myself this. I have to say it with conviction, to convince myself it will be okay.

Getting Out of Bed

Lying in the dark in bed during a panic attack is the worst possible thing I could do. The pain is all the more intense as I lie there, with nothing else to distract my mind. All the worst scenarios run through my head and all I achieve is making myself more and more anxious. I force myself to get up, go into another room and turn the light on. I force myself to have a drink of water and to do something, anything, rather than staying in bed worrying.

Therapy

I had CBT (Cognitive behavioural therapy) to manage my panic attacks, and to understand why I was having them so frequently. Therapy helped me to realise that I wasn’t dealing with stressors in my life, and that my worries and anxieties were manifesting as panic attacks. I learnt to face what was causing me stress in a situation and to deal with it there and then. Panic attacks for me often occurred after a stressful event. Once my body and mind were relaxed again, like going to bed on a Friday night after a difficult week, I would wake up in the middle of the night with a panic attack. It became vital to realise when I was going through a stressful time, so when that stress had disappeared I wouldn’t end up having yet another nighttime panic attack. I was taught breathing techniques to calm myself, which I still use today

Distraction

If thinking logically doesn’t work on its own and I’m up and out of bed, I’ll try and distract my mind. It might be watching a favourite tv show, something light and entertaining that I’ve seen before. I might sketch or get out a colouring book, that keeps my hands busy and forces me to focus. I love to play video games so I might turn on the console and try and figure out that Zelda puzzle that’s been bugging me. If I occupy my mind effectively and for long enough, I won’t even realise the pain and panic has gone.

Using these techniques has cut down the amount of nighttime panic attacks I have drastically; I haven’t had a serious one in a year and a half. What I’ve leant in therapy often preempts an attack completely. Changing the way I manage stressful situations and work through them has had a significant positive impact on my life.

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.