Category Archives: Mental health

Question mark

4 essential questions that could literally change your life

No matter where you are in the world, we’ve all been through some sort of lockdown as the Covid-19 pandemic hit and these measures are now being lifted. Are you someone who’s desperate to “get back to normal” or did you appreciate lockdown more than you expected?

There’s no doubt about it (unless you’re a conspiracy theorist) we needed the lockdown measures to keep us physically safe from the virus spreading through the population. Some people found the extended period of rest had a positive impact on their mental health while others struggled with loneliness, isolation and increased anxiety.

Everyone had a unique experience – it’s important to remember that and value it. Whether you found it easy or hard, you can’t compare your experience to the next person’s because their set of experiences, no matter how similar they appeared from the outside, were unique.

My lockdown involved experiencing discrimination at work despite me (unusually) finding my voice to explain what I needed. But because of this, I had to look for the positives! Of course I missed my family and friends but I’m an introvert so I loved having some space to do my own thing and I’ve even developed some new skills!

So this brings me to the 4 important questions:

What did we gain during lockdown that we want to keep?

Woman in yoga pose with candles

I’m not talking about any material thing, it’s more likely to be something you spent time doing. What did you allow yourself to do that you didn’t previously? I started practicing yoga regularly and I couldn’t believe how much it benefitted my mental and physical health.

Strangers were more considerate, communities worked together, our church had to start doing a lot of things differently – this wasn’t such a bad thing! We learnt a lot! We started to appreciate the little things in life – we can’t hold onto some of this…

It would be all too easy to “go back to normal” and lose the good that lockdown brought us. Think about the positives that it brought and try to incorporate them into a new normal.

What did we gain during lockdown that we want to lose?

There may be all sorts of things that unexpectedly occurred that we’re hoping to discard now, this may be easier said than done. Some may have had to work from home and want to return to the office (we may not have a say) or home schooled children may be busting to get back to the classroom!

Young woman in glasses, greyscale photograph

There may be more subtle changes that crept in, that you might not have even noticed at the time. With a lack of fresh air, exercise and variety many struggled with unwelcome insomnia. Perhaps anxiety, low mood or other difficult feelings have been problematic. We all have a preferred coping mechanism when things get tough such as eating more, drinking more or have you found yourself surfing unsavoury websites? Some coping mechanisms may be more accepted by society but that doesn’t mean they’re ok – only you can decide if your behaviour is something you want to change.

What did we lose during lockdown that we want back?

Young child being hugged

Obviously we all lost our freedom and we’re getting this back but what else did you struggle without? Most people will want to hug their friends and family as soon as it’s permitted.

Isn’t it amazing how much more we value something once it’s taken away?! If there’s something you now appreciate more than you did before, make sure you don’t take it for granted again!

What did we lose during lockdown that we don’t want back?

Lockdown was imposed on us but there’s no reason why we can’t take advantage of a bad situation! Something I was very glad to lose was the crowded supermarket! I was very happy to queue outside for a short time if it meant the atmosphere inside was quieter and calmer. (Unfortunately, I have no say over this now and the consideration I used to see has all but disappeared.)

Crowded train station

The planet certainly breathed a sigh of relief as we travelled less, any driving I did as a keyworker was easier with fewer idiot drivers on the road – wouldn’t it be great if we could all learn from this and continue in this vein?!

Perhaps homing working has helped you realise that you hated commuting? Or did our I forced shut-down show you that you were doing too much and you need to cut back on your commitments? Do you need to put yourself first a bit more?

Perhaps lockdown has taken its toll on your mental health, as it has done for 80% of the population. If you need help coming to terms with anything that’s happened, help is available – it’s really important to talk. Some people find talking to friends or family really helpful while others need to talk to a professional.

Rememeber, you are not alone, there’s aways someone who can help.

Reaching my audience, owning my responsibilities and asking a favour

This blog has been on my mind for a while as I struggle to reach my intended audience; I have to consider what to write for the audience I want to reach as well as the needs of audience I actually reach.

You may, or may not know, my main aim is to raise awareness of mental health issues. Ideally, I would reach an audience totally unaware of mental illness. But of course, this is very difficult! Writing blogs and sending them off into the ether, the people who read them are, of course, people who are already interested in mental health related issues.

Sometimes I write about other things on my mind, with the hope these blogs will reach people not specifically interested in mental health and they may, then, have a little look around my site! Other than this, the only thing I can do is share my mental health blogs as far and wide as possible!

While I’d like to write hard hitting mental health blogs with the intent to shock and wake people out of their ignorant stupor, I have to consider my sensitive audience, that is, the people who are already very aware of the disturbing truths and don’t need rousing into action.

For example, I may want to get through to the MPs who aren't giving mental health services enough funding and give them graphic detail about my hospital stays that haven't gone well because there haven't been enough staff to support me to keep safe, but the people who'll actually read that will be my fellow in-patients who had equally rough stays and, may benefit to hear that they weren't alone, or relatives of fellow inpatients who may be interested in what it was like but equally may be upset by such gory details.

Of course I have a basic responsibility to keep things factually accurate. A blog about mental health often shares opinions and experiences where it’s a fine balancing act between saying “this is how it is” and “this is how I experience it”. I’m always clear to state when writing about an experience; the feedback I’ve had is that a factual blog (drawn from my professional background) peppered with experiences, is most readable.

"It felt as though the psychiatrist was deliberately provoking me to self harm" is a valid experience - it's how I felt at the time, when I was feeling paranoid; how, it's important to state that it's an experience because if people think there are psychiatrists out there who do actually deliberately provoke patients, this will prevent them from seeking support when they need it. It's important to be aware, while my experience was fact, I may not be stating the situation factually.

If I’m writing about another individual who could be identified, I always check that they’re prepared for this information to be public. A popular blog was an interview with my husband, on my to-do list is another interview, watch this space!

I also have a responsibility to myself. As someone recovering from severe mental illness, currently in therapy, I never publish something unless I’m feeling in a robust enough position to deal with any fallout. No matter how small the topic, this rule remains the same. I’ve published articles on all sorts of revealing topics in national newspapers and spoken on national TV about topics that left me feeling quite exposed. No one’s guided me through this. No one else will know when I’m ready. It’s been tough but incredibly rewarding.

Your responsibility

While I’m taking my responsibilities seriously, could I ask you to do the same? If you’re reading my blogs, am I right to assume you’re interested in mental health and therefore have an interest in reducing stigma and discrimination etc? So, what do you do with what you read? I’m incredibly grateful when I get feedback from people saying that I’ve helped them feel less alone or enabled them to understand what it’s like for their friend or relative. If you find it interesting, someone else might too.

80% people during lockdown, said their mental health deteriorated. That means 80% of the UK population could personally benefit from reading something of what I’ve written and the other 20% will know someone from the 80% therefore they could read what I’ve written and support someone who’s struggling.

Great things are happening – I cannot express my gratitude enough to the people who share my blogs. There are too many people in this world completely lacking in knowledge about mental health and I’m just trying to do my little bit towards educating them. Building this platform has led to all sorts of interviews and other work, I just hope this continues.

But if no one new shares my blogs, I'll continue writing into an echo chamber where everyone agrees, I've had some difficult experiences and I'm making some good points about things that need to change. Each year Mental Health Awareness Week comes around and the same people are aware of the same issues and nothing changes.

Analytics enable me to see a fair amount about my audience, this helps me see who is reading what and for how long but I don’t necessarily know why…?! I don’t know if people are liking it or not liking it! I get some comments – I approve all comments (except the obvious) so I’m happy if you disagree with what I’ve written or want to query something, I welcome respectful differences of opinion.

I’ll admit I make mistakes, not every blog is spot on and I struggle to produce regular content, I live with chronic illness, it’s not an excuse, it’s a reason. But I’d really love it if I kept up my side of the bargain, I’ll produce responsible content:

If you don’t like it, please comment – tell me why

If you do like it, (you can comment if you like but) please share it – I’d love it if you shared the link on social media but even if you just sent the link to one person in a text or an email, you never know what a difference this could make to them and this would seriously make my day!

The online world

While many may be revelling in being more connected than ever through Facebook, Instagram, WhatApp, TikTok, email, Zoom, text, Hangouts or Slack. I’m reflecting on how it must feel if this is a hostile world for you.

No escape

Bullying used to be a thing that only happened in the playground, the streets or the work-place, as wrong as these types of bullying are, at least the victim can go home and retreat to a place of safety. As our world gradually shutdown we turned to the online world to keep our society going. What if you’re a victim of cyber-bullying, there’s no escape, you bully follows you around in your pocket.

A report in 2017 showed, of young people who experienced cyber-bullying:

  • 23% turned to self harming behaviours such as cutting
  • 24% had suicidal thoughts
  • 10% attempted to take their own lives

Just imagine being a victim of cyber-bullying, being told to stay at home. The only way to connect with your friends or colleagues is via technology but this is how the bullies reach you. There’s no escape, so how do you build a support network?

Multiple connections

The online world, for some people, is a daunting one. Being connected 24/7 isn’t comfortable for everyone. How many apps do we have connecting us? These notifications pinging multiple times a day! Is this really a positive thing? If you’re an introvert, a little energy is sapped with every app notification, this can be exhausting!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly grateful that I’m more in contact with the people that matter to me but do I really need to be a member of 9 WhatApp groups? The fact there are multiple people asking questions online such as “how do I see a message without marking it as “read”?” should make us realise many people are anxious or at least ambivalent about being connected!

A barrier can make you confident

Having a screen as a barrier can make some people feel more confident and they may say things they wouldn’t ordinarily say face-to-face; this could be used for good, perhaps online counselling has worked positively for some people – I’ve certainly found it easier than I thought I would!

However, recently my mental health has been knocked by how I was treated on a Zoom call. Perhaps the screen helped the other person feel more confident, whereas the screen exaggerated my discomfort and I felt I could’t stand up for myself. I wondered if I’d over reacted but the facts speak for themselves, I suffered online harassment. Now I question the safety of this space.

THINK before you post

When you post something on social media do you always stop and THINK about why you’re doing it? Is it to share something that’s:

  • True
  • Helpful
  • Inspiring
  • Necessary
  • Kind

Although I make sure the things I post fit these categories, I’m not going to deny, “likes” give me a bit of a buzz! But it’s important, we don’t translate that “like” into “that means someone likes me“, because it therefore means, if no one likes your post, no one likes you and this simply isn’t true, it’s all about the social media algorithm! We cannot use the online world to boost our self esteem or self confidence!

Remember if you post anything, it will be there forever, no matter if you make it private or delete it later, it’s still there, if someone wants to find it, they will.

Accessibility

People have been asking for the work place to be made accessible for years. In March, when the governments asked for everyone to work from home, IT departments across the world worked day and night to make this happen and it did! Now, people with various disabilities can work remotely and access the work place like never before, this is fantastic! Why did is take a global pandemic for this to happen?!

Use the right technology

We do need to be careful that we’re not just using technology for the sake of it. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean we have to! There’s so much choice, it’s sometimes a case of using what’s right! For example, WhatApp is a communication tool, for chatting and sharing snaps, nothing else. Equally Facebook is not the place to go for accurate news. Share photos and catch up with your friends on social media, gather accurate up to the minute news from trusted media outlets such as the BBC or directly from the World Health Organisation.

I’ve loved being involved in a couple of virtual orchestras, putting together my own multi-track musical arrangements and seeing other people doing all sorts of combined musical extravaganzas – it’s simply remarkable the time, effort and expertise that’s gone into these wonderful creations!!

But in our race to survive and stay “connected” and we shouldn’t forget the history we’re laying down. For example, YouTube provides us with extensive public library that could be studied in generations to come. Just imagine the assignment for teenagers in 2030 “Compare and contrast Jewish and Christian Services posted on YouTube May-June 2020”. They’re all there for everyone to see! (I’m not saying don’t do it, just saying, take time to do it well.)

It’s ok to say “no”

Fear-of-missing-out (FOMO) can be a real anxiety, I’ve been caught out. I go along with the crowd, even though I know it’s not good for me or things aren’t being done as well as they could be but I struggle to speak up. Sometimes, however, it’s best just to have a break. Turning off our devises, turning off notifications or muting the apps can bring a sense of relief. By managing the time spent with our devises we’re managing our well-being.

I’m only scratching the surface of this massive topic as everyone’s experience is different. I’ve just been aware we’re using technology because it’s been invented rather than technology being invented because we need it. Just because the latest apps are available, doesn’t mean you need to use them! I love technology, don’t get me wrong but we need to think about how we use it in order to manage our mental health.