Tag Archives: anxiety

Woman looking out the window calmly

Should we be normalising mental illness?

Awareness around mental illness is certainly getting better, reducing stigma and discrimination is important but are we doing the general population a disservice?

1 in 4 mental health awareness. 4 silhouettes, 3 are blue and 1 is has words such as “there’s too much to do” and “why does it always happen to me?”

The figure is 1 in 4 people will suffer with a mental illness at some point in their lives. There are also statistics out there about how many anti-depressants are prescribed each year or the number of sick days mental illness costs companies. Some say “mental illness is on the rise”, perhaps due to the state of our economy, social media or life stresses from other sources.

But, perhaps we need to stop and think. Not coping is different from mental illness.

Talking recently to someone working in Child and Adolscent Mental Health, she said she is seeing a rise in children being referred to her service but this is not due to a rise in mental illness, she is seeing a rise in children not coping and a decrease in resilience.

This seems to be the same across all sector of the population.

The phrase “panic attack” has become synonymous with feeling anxious. Now, I do not want to diminish anyone’s anxiety but if you’re stood in a queue in the supermarket “having a panic attack” but you “kept it in” – you did not have a panic attack. You may have experienced extreme anxiety, and I’m not saying that is ok, you may need to learn some techniques to manage feeling anxious but please do not use a medical phrase for a normal emotion.

An outline head and shoulders with thought bubbles saying, “worry”, “anxiety”, “fear”, “tension” and “panic”.

The language around mental illness is diffciult because they’re standard English words. You can feel depressed without being diagnosed with depression, you can feel paranoid without suffering panaroia (a symptom of mental illness), you can feel anxious without having a diagnosis of anxiety. By raising awareness, we’re making all these words more accessible and they’re falling into common use. But bandying medical words around in common parlance diminishes their meaning in the context of illness.

If you suffer severe fluctuations in emotions that feel uncomfortable, please do talk to someone, you are allowed support, I do not want to take that away from you. After all, apparently Socrates said “The unexamined life is not worth living”. You do not have to be ill to access support, explore yourself and your life and to develop better coping strategies. Nor do you need to justify your struggles by using medical terminology.

I started training to be a counsellor because I want to help people diagnosed with mental illness but the more I learn, the more I see how incredibly helpful it can be for people who’re struggling with life’s ups and downs. It’s ok to seek counselling or other support when things just don’t feel right.

Words on a rainy back ground, “it is perfectly okay to admit you’re not okay”

It’s great that people are getting more comfortable in talking about their emotions but we need to be able to differentiate between people who’re struggling and people who’re ill. It’s ok to say “I’m having a bit of a tough time” or “I’m not feeling so great today” – the #hashtag #itsoknottobeok is falling into common use and this is helpful for everyone’s mental and emotional wellbeing.

If you’d sprained your ankle, you wouldn’t say you’d fractured it, put it in a cast and use crutches would you? A sprained ankle needs appropriate support. If I had a sprained ankle but I acted as though it was broken and treated it as such, i.e. immobilised it etc, it would get worse, not better.

By normalising mental illness and by normalising the language, we risk normal struggles being treated as illness. Since recovering from mental illness, I’m not immune from normal life struggles but I’m acutely aware they are just that.

By raising awareness of mental illness, we need to be careful we don’t label all emotional struggles as “illness”. We need to make sure we’re also raising awareness of the differences between illness and not coping.

Quote “The unexamined life is not worth living” accredited to Socrates. On a black and White Sea scape background

World Mental Health Day: Young people in a changing world

Young people today face very different pressures to the ones I experienced. I cannot say whether it is better or worse to be a teen these days without experiencing them both first hand. I think the biggest difference is technology and it’s having a great impact on everyone, not just our young people.
It’s social media in particular that has revolutionised the way we interact with each other and the world at large. I can barely keep up with the number of platforms from Facebook and Twitter to LinkedIn and Aloqa to various online dating sites! My grandmother, bless her, even tried to “Facemail” me the other day, I’m assuming that was a mistake, not another networking platform!

YouTube wasn’t even a thing as I grew up, now we have someone whose identity is as a ‘YouTuber’ appearing as a ‘celebrity’ on Strictly Come Dancing (I think he’s amazing and might actually win!)

Anyone in the public eye and how the media portray them, influence young people as they grapple with issues such as identity, morals, ethics and personal boundaries. If you want to be successful and ‘liked’ there is a certain body shape we should have, a certain way to dress and a specific way to talk and behave – most of this for the average Jo is unobtainable. While these ‘ideals’ have always been there, perhaps with a different emphasis, they are now more accessible and almost invade our lives in a way never experienced before.

The speed of technological change is such that instead of us designing technology to meet a particular need, technological advances are now telling us what we need! As a young person, growing up, never did I think “I wish I had a device in my pocket that alerted me the minute a [insert reality TV star] goes up or down a dress size”!

Questioning the amount of screen time a young person should or shouldn’t have is just the tip of the iceberg. How their real relationships are impacted by their virtual relationships is complicated.

Technology has advanced before we’ve decided what we want and, as with any change, it’s open to abuse. Social media is great at enabling us to make positive connections, it’s also there if people want to make negative connection such as cyber-bullying and trolling.

Cyber-bullying has been named as a key factor in young people dying by suicide. Being bullied at school is bad enough, but when it flows beyond the school gates and into the private space of the individual, being told “you’re different and that’s a problem” would take its toll on anyone, there is no escape. People are trying to develop tech to tackle this problem, to support young people when they’re targeted but as one solution is found, a different problem will occur, we’re running to keep up!

Rates of self harm, depression, anxiety and eating disorders in young people are all on the rise – this is very worrying and mental health services are not able to keep up with demand. The government target is for any young person presenting with mental health symptoms to be seen within 4 weeks, this target just isn’t being met. Listen to BBC Radio Berkshire on Monday at 7am for more on this!

I did, however, have a very positive experience with social media while on the road to recovery. Berkshire Eating Disorders Service piloted a Support, Hope and Recovery Online Network (SHaRON) – an internet based forum for people suffering with eating disorders and their affected family members. Anonymous online support could never replace the important face-to-face therapy necessary to re-build a life destroyed by illness. However, the forum was very well designed and I would not have managed the multiple challenges I faced during recovery, if I hadn’t had the incredible support I received from fellow sufferers and professionals day and night at the touch of a button.

Young people these days do not have an easy job navigating changes as they happen. We all have a responsibility to support each other.

Myth#3 Bipolar is more serious than depression and it’s preferable to have anorexia over bulimia

Welcome to part 3 of my mental health myth busting series.
In this one I want to address the unwritten, but most definitely alive and kicking, mental illness hierarchy!
All mental illnesses can be mild or severe, at the severe end, any mental illness can lead to suicide.
It depends how you’re measuring severity so making comparisons is unhelpful.
On a number of occasions I have been in conversation with people who make the distinctions and imply that one illness is ‘worse’ than another. For example, I was in a conversation about recovery and someone said ‘but I’ve got bipolar so, of course, I’ll be on medication for life’, I didn’t want to dismiss her statement about being on medication for life, as it may be true but there’s no ‘of course’ about it.
I’ve known people with schizophrenia and bi-polar come off medication and manage the condition (which has seen them into multiple hospital admissions with life risking behaviour) with diet, exercise and lifestyle choices that benefit their well being.
Equally, I’ve seen people (including myself) try coming of medication (for the perceived ‘lesser’ diagnosis of depression or anxiety) but it’s not been possible. Despite putting every therapy skill and lifestyle technique into action.
Whether a condition is managed with medication for life or by other means, anyone who’s been ill will need to vigilant for symptoms returning or getting worse. Some people will need to manage their symptoms constantly, others may be symptom free; this is independent of diagnosis.
Some illnesses are more common than others, this does not make them less severe.
Some illnesses lead to people behaving more outside the norm e.g. responding to unseen stimuli in psychosis, but that does not mean they are more unwell than someone who experiences symptoms that are more relatable, such as low mood.
An elated, high, manic or psychotic person may or may not put their life at risk. Someone experiencing extreme low mood or generalized anxiety may experience suicidal thoughts daily.
Some people judge mental illnesses by what causes them. This is unhelpful as some are reactive, caused by stress or childhood trauma where others are unrelated to life events – neither is worse than the other, the brain is complicated.
Anorexia is perceived as ‘the one where you’re in control’ and bulimia and binge eating disorder (BED) considered ‘the ones where you’re out of control’. Neither of these statements is true but it doesn’t stop people with bulimia or BED wishing they had anorexia. At times when I’ve binged and purged I’ve worried I’m not ‘doing anorexia right’ and I didn’t think I should be getting treatment. The truth is, all eating disorders are life threatening illnesses, none is more or less severe or concerning than the others. People can die from chemical imbalances caused by binging and/or purging, just as people die from malnutrition caused by restriction.
Holding onto inaccurate beliefs leads people to believe they’re not ‘ill enough’ or deserving of treatment, this is dangerous – early intervention is the most important factor in recovery from any mental illness.
It seems that as awareness is raised about mental illness, some seem to be more ‘acceptable’ than others. For example, someone is more likely to ‘come out’ as having depression, anxiety, bipolar or anorexia than they are about having schizoaffective disorder, emotional unstable personality disorder or binge eating disorder.
The mental health world is indebted to people in the public eye who’ve shared their experiences. We just need a few celebs to speak about their experience of depersonalization, avoidant personality disorder or pre-mensural dysphoric disorder and we’ll start talking about these, no more or less serious but, rarer illnesses.
Our aim must continue to be to make all mental illness understandable and as easy to talk about as any physical illness. It wasn’t long ago that people talked about ‘The Big C” as though saying cancer out loud was taboo and dangerous for some reason. People started to be able to say the word ‘cancer’ and now, there are people making a living out of discussing the most taboo of the all – bowel cancer!
So, there’s hope, we will get there!