Category Archives: Mental health

Hands reaching out

108 million people affected, what can we do?

World Health Organisation logo

According to statistics published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) someone dies by suicide every 40 seconds. They estimate that suicide accounts for 800,000 deaths each year, after each death, about 135 people experience intense grief or are profoundly impacted in some other way. That means, every year 108 million people are affected by suicide (that’s double the urban population of the UK).

World Mental Health Day (WMHD) this year is focusing on suicide prevention. Mental illness does not discriminate on race, class, gender or age – suicidal thoughts are a symptom of mental illness, just like chest pain is a symptom of heart disease. Suicidal thoughts, can lead to suicidal behaviour which can result in death by suicide.

If your mate doubled over in pain, clutching their chest, struggling to breath, and they appeared clammy, you’d call for an ambulance who would (aim to) arrive within 8 minutes. What if your mate, struggled to give you eye contact, is withdrawn and said things like “no one would miss me if I disappeared” or “I’m not sure I’m needed around here” – would you know what to say or do?

There’s also a large proportion of the suicidal population who do an incredible job of hiding their symptoms, through confusion, fear of stigma or shame. How do we help them?

Lady walking on her own down a railway track

When I was severely ill with anorexia and depression, the illness told me my family would be better off without me; the emotional pain I felt was so severe that I couldn’t see any option other than suicide. Despite being in psychiatric care, signs were missed on multiple occasions, maybe I was hiding them, maybe there was an element of negligence or under resourcing. Having lost a friend to suicide, I’m one of the 135 affected by her death. If I had died by suicide, my number would be added to the statistic.

The International Associate for Suicide Prevention says “No single organisation, intervention, discipline or person can solve the complex issue of suicide.” 38 countries report to have a suicide prevention strategy and various organisation are doing their bit to raise awareness or put mechanisms in place to try and prevent suicides. In particular, work is needed in countries where suicide remains a criminal offence, where people don’t seek help through fear of stigma and discrimination and accurate statistics are impossible to gather.

But we can do our bit too, here are a few simple things to get started:

  • When someone says they’re fine, sometimes they feel angry, sad, ignored, all sorts of thingsWhen you ask your friends or colleagues how they are, mean it, don’t accept “fine” as the answer. If someone asks you how you are, cultivate a culture of honesty and give them a sincere, genuine answer. If necessary, be prepared to give someone 5-10 minutes of your time. Even if you’re in a rush, if someone needs to off load, this short time could make all the difference to them. If you’re not sure what to say, have a look at the Time to Change campaign for tips.
  • Send someone a text or email, just letting them know you’re thinking about them – mental ill health can be isolating, letting someone know that you care can mean they feel less alone.
  • If you realise someone is struggling, offer support, advise them to see their GP, as you would if they found a suspicious lump or had an unusual pain. Some people find it difficult to talk about mental health symptoms so offer to go with them to their GP if that would help. This guide from Mind offers suggestions about what to say.
  • Look into Mental Health First Aid – could this be something you could introduce to your workplace? Or could you do it as an individual, so you know what to do in a crisis?
  • Not just on WMHD but anytime, share posts on social media about suicide prevention (and mental health in general) to raise awareness. If the mental health world just talks to itself we’ll never get anywhere, everyone needs to do their bit to reach a wider audience. Decreasing stigma and discrimination will make for a healthier society.
Pulling someone out of a hole

If it’s taken you 2-3 minutes to read this article, another 3-4 people have died by suicide – these could have been prevented.

If each person who read this did just 1 of the suggestions above, we could make a difference to hundreds of people’s lives.

Running through Bath tunnel

An introvert’s dream come true!

Being an extreme introvert, preferring long periods of time in my own company or with very few people, it can be difficult to conform to societal expectation to be sociable. Living with depression for a large portion of my life, I was often told that getting out and seeing people would be “best” for me…! When most ill and lacking energy, seeing people would sap more energy, I would put my mask on to “act normal” (without which, I wouldn’t be able to interact with anyone) but the resulting exhausted spiral would lead to me feeling even more of a failure.

Then I discovered running! It was something I could do that has a multitude of benefits!

Any form of exercise, if done regularly, can:

  • Improve mood
  • Improve bone density
  • Increase muscle strength
  • Increase energy levels
  • Reduce risk of chronic disease
  • Help with weight management
  • Improve skin health
  • Aid relaxation and sleep

I was “getting out” as I was told would benefit me, but I didn’t have the down sides of being exhausted by people!

But, even the most extreme introverts, require some contact with humans (occasionally)! This is where entering events comes in handy!

Over the years, I’ve done a few 5km, 10km and half marathons but for various reason I’ve not been able to put in the hours to train for the ultimate goal to run a marathon. But I was finally able to put in the hard work, see this blog, I wrote a few days before I was due to attempt my dream.

And that’s what I did, on Sunday 18th August 2019, in Bath, I actually did it, I ran 26.2 miles, all in one go, on the same day, without stopping, I ran a whole marathon!! I cannot tell you how overwhelmed I feel to say I finally achieved my dream! I did not set myself a time target, all I wanted to do as a) run the whole thing and b) enjoy it – I well and truly did both!

I’m still an extreme introvert but, funnily enough, I don’t think I could have achieved the enjoyment aspect without entering an event that involved other people. Lots of people enter with a running club, but I was not alone entering on my own; many individuals gather on the start line but we all set off together with a unified goal in mind – to finish!

Obviously you get the ones that race off, that’s fine, whatever works for them! But the rest of us settled into a steady rhythm with people shuffling up and down the pack gently. For a while I had the pleasure of settling in behind an incredibly tall girl who made each stride look so easy.

The Bath marathon is famous for its “Two Tunnels”, totalling 4kms of renovated railway tunnels, this made for a unique running environment, very cool but a little eerie. As we entered the first there was a little excitement from the runners, we called to each other, enjoying the echo!

As the race continued the runners became more strung out. I slotted in behind a couple of men, one of which was running in barefoot running sandals and having read Born To Run by Christopher McDougall, I couldn’t help but admire his beautifully elegant running style and appreciated the lack of stress he was putting through his body. Again, an absolutely pleasure to run with someone who made running look so natural and easy! The other man was running clutching a massive bag of nuts and raisins – at one point, they discussed their fuelling plans – the barefoot runner produced the tinniest energy bar from his rucksack and said he’d have it about half way around. I loved the simplicity of their plans.

So, here I was, an extreme introvert with multiple reasons why this marathon should not be possible, living out my dream! I was with people, gaining all the benefits of being “out and about” but I didn’t have to interact with any of them if I didn’t want to!

My experience is that at big events, the marshals are incredible, this event was no exception! Some of them had the starting list so they could look up your number as you ran towards them, they’d then cheer you on using your name – a massive motivator when things were feeling tough!

At mile 13 (half way) I was feeling strong, perhaps my concentration dipped a bit, I tripped down a slope, a couple of marshals jumped forward but I managed to catch myself before I hit the deck. It was quite shocking and I jarred my knee but it didn’t feel too serious.

The second half was tough, I knew I was slowing down but as the runners became more and more strung out it occurred to me that I was doing something not everyone can do! I’d trained hard for this and as mile 18 then 19 and 20 passed, I spent short periods of time running on my own; I was used to this in training but then I’d spot a fellow runner or a marshal up ahead and I’d feel spurred on again. I passed the odd person who’d resorted to walking – they were still going which I commend, but I was determined to run it all, it was just what I wanted to do!

Having loved running along the river, reentering the town signalled the end was near. Despite my legs feeling heavy, my hips and my back aching, my heart was singing, I knew I was going to finish!

The finishing straight was surrounded by people, spectators and fellow runners, all there for the purpose of celebrating everyone achievements, the atmosphere was a buzz of positivity.

Even as an extreme introvert, I do see the benefits of spending time with people, the community spirit of running events is fantastic. Looking around at the end, I could tell, people were hurting a lot but it didn’t matter, individually and collectively we’d all achieved something great that day!

I’ll be happy when…

  • I’d be happy if I found a new job…
  • I’ll be happy when I get a promotion…
  • I’d be happy if we had a bigger house…
  • I’ll be happy when I retire…
  • I’d be happy if I could get pregnant…
  • I’ll be happy when my family’s complete…
  • I’ll be happy when my children leave home…
  • I’d be happy if I could lose weight…
  • I’d be happy if I found a partner…
  • I’d be happy if I wasn’t chronically ill…

So many of us spend our lives chasing happiness around as though the next big thing will be the answer. Unfortunately, we often find that when we arrive at what we think will produce these magical feelings, we don’t feel happy and we need to set the next goal.

Ambition is good, aiming to achieve the next goal and believing it’s possible is how we better ourselves. However, pinning our hopes of happiness on achieving this next goal doesn’t work!

It’s as though happiness is always over-there-somewhere, this intangible thing. The reason we never quite achieve happiness is because we think happiness comes from something outside ourselves. But happiness must come from within.

Person standing on a very tall ladder reaching into the sky

I spent my teenage years and young adult life thinking I would be happy when I achieved the next stage of becoming a doctor. Unfortunately, each stage was never quite as I imagined and always brought a lot more stress. On top of my faulty belief, I was also depressed. Mental illness requires support and/or treatment from a trained professionals. If you think you, or someone you know is mentally ill, there’s no quick fix, I urge you to seek appropriate help. However, anyone can re-frame the beliefs we have around happiness (thinking it’ll come when some goal is attained) and we can, almost overnight, feel happier.

What if your current situation was ok? What if being: in education, in your current job, single, childless, your current weight, in your current state of health, wasn’t fraught with judgement? It’s what you think about your current situation that’s getting in the way. What if you could find contentment which, in turn, could mean happiness?

People who are unhappy with their weight are generally judging themselves as greedy or lacking in self control. People who are unhappy at work might be judging themselves as underachieving, perhaps comparing themselves to peers. People unhappy with their relationship status judge themselves as unattractive, undesirable, failing in some way. Someone who’s childless may think they’ve failed in some way.

What you’re doing right now, your current situation, is part of your journey, it is shaping you, developing you, strengthening you. Judging ourselves is cruel, unhelpful, unnecessary and only leads to unhappiness!

Person lying on the ground smiling broadly with a dog by their side

Maybe you’re not precisely where you want to be but that’s ok.

Being content is not an excuse for apathy. If changes need to be made or you desperately want something, you can still strive, but if you stop judging your current situation it’s amazing how much more energy you have to fight for what you want!

Most of us have a friend who was single, very “keen” for a relationship… wasn’t it when they stopped behaving so “keenly” that they found love?! And, how many people have got pregnant the moment they stop trying?!

Once we’re ok with being who we are and where we are, we become happier and funnily enough, change becomes more possible!

Some people become stuck in mental illness, often using maladaptive coping strategies over and over. Often they’ll feel angry with themselves for “doing it wrong”. Thoughts such as “if only I could sort myself out” or “if only I was a better person” or “if I had better support” are very common vicious cycles. But what if these could be re-framed as “I’m doing my best” and “I have some support I could use”, the picture looks different. Of course, I know it’s not as simple as that but being ok with who we are and what we’ve got can free us up to see where and how small gradual changes can be made.