Tag Archives: suicide

World Mental Health Day–Mental Health for All

The theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day, October 10th 2020 is “Mental Health for All”. This is a great subject for this year as so many people are struggling with the current pandemic for all sorts of reasons.

The subject means something special for me as I’ve spent my life feeling like I’m different, I don’t fit in, I don’t know how to do the stuff other people do so easily and I don’t know why.

A little while ago, we realised why – I’m autistic.

This may come as a surprise to some who know me, or it may make perfect sense to others! To me, it’s really helped things fall into place.

Previous to this, lots of things didn’t make sense, I’d had long periods of mental illness and while I’d managed to carve a recovered life (with lots of support, medication and various therapies) I still really struggled with general life and it was difficult to understand why. Below are just a few examples of things I struggle with that are now explained by autistic traits. It’s important to remember that this is my experience and that this will not be typical for everyone on the spectrum.

  • I’m incredibly sensitive to sounds but had been putting this down to being “highly sensitive” and an extreme introvert. These labels helped to some extent but didn’t quite explain why I would find a noisy environment completely exhausting. My sense of smell and touch are also extraordinarily sensitive.
  • I have a very small number of close friends because I struggle to make and keep friends. A lot of people see a more “socially acceptable version” of me because I feel they would judge the real me.
  • I’m easy overwhelmed by misunderstandings and confused by unexpected situations. I know I have intelligence but sometimes feel I lack common sense–this isn’t true, it’s just how it feels. It’s been awful not knowing why I can’t see things the way other do.
  • Things sometimes get stuck on a loop in my head. Hyper-focus and an eye for detail can be seen as a positive thing but it’s felt negative when other people can move on. It’s not that I’m deliberately holding a grudge, it’s that things affect me more deeply than they do other people.Stone brain breaking apart with cogs inside
  • I’ve always understood that there are unwritten social rules but I’ve struggled to know what they are. As I’ve grown up I’ve managed to hide the fact that I don’t understand and I “laugh along” but I’m hiding (masking) a huge amount of confusion and anxiety.

As I came to terms with the diagnosis, I realised I’m actually not odd, weird or wrong, I’m just neurodivergent.

All this time, I’ve been desperately trying to be “normal” and I’ve suddenly discovered that I am!

However, learning that I’m on the spectrum has been a mixed blessing!

The downside of the diagnosis is that it comes with discrimination and stigma.

[People with] autism spectrum disorder…are more likely to experience mental health problems than the general population.

This can be because there are fewer resources…more negative life events, and [they] face stigma and discrimination from people and services… Biology and genetics may also increase the likelihood of developing a mental health problem.

Mind

If you read my most recent blog you will have seen that I experienced horrendous discrimination at the hands of an ex-employer. This was because I disclosed to my employer the difficulties I was having in relation to being autistic, particularly in relation to the social side of things. I liked to keep my work and social life separate. You won’t find me gossiping around the water cooler or taking an extended lunch break while I chat about my weekend with colleagues.

I can understand the theory behind those “water cooler moments”. I know bonding with work colleagues is important. Unfortunately, I’ve never liked doing it and now I’ve found out I’m autistic, I know why. I find these moments excruciatingly awkward and fatiguing and I simple don’t benefit from trying to socialise with my colleagues!

There were numerous ways they discriminated against me and the fact that I’m covered under the Equality Act made no difference to my ex-employer. When just getting up and going to work every day takes every ounce every energy you have, finding energy to fight for my rights was impossible.

Autistic adults who do not have a learning disability are 9 times more likely to die from suicide.

Autistica

As well as reasons in line with the general population such as difficult life events, feelings of hopelessness and physical or mental health conditions, people with autism also have additional difficulties that could lead to suicidal feelings:

  • Delays in receiving a diagnosis–from personal experience, struggling with feeling there’s something “wrong” but not knowing what it is feels incredibly difficult.
  • Difficulties accessing support–as with mental health services, poor resourcing means that adults with autism aren’t receiving the support they need.
  • High levels of unemployment–it’s very common for people with autism to be over-educated and under-employed, as I am.

People with autism are vulnerable because the way they communicate and interact with other people is different. They have difficulty communicating their thoughts and feelings and may not be able to communicate their suicidal thoughts in a way that someone else can understand. They may not even know that what’s going on inside them is “suicidal thoughts”. I spent years in mental health services being judged for “acting out” because I didn’t have the words to explain my feelings–it now makes sense, why it took me years to find the words.

I need to remember that no matter what label or diagnosis I may have, I’m still me and that will never change. Self-acceptance is an incredibly powerful gift. If you know me, don’t worry about treating me differently. With all our similarities and differences, something we all have in common is that we’re human and we’re all stumbling through life as best we can—this is something genuinely beautiful we can connect over no matter what else is going on in our lives.

A few things you might find interesting:

  • You say “autism” to most people and they think of “Rainman”, however the experience of autism is unique to every individual–Anthony Hopkins was diagnosed with autism in his 70s.”Anthony Hopkins
  • It is no longer thought to be “an extension of the male brain”–this is out-dated thinking.
  • We are not “all on the spectrum” or “all a little bit autistic”–some people may be able to relate to some of the traits but the spectrum is not linear with non-autistic (neuro-typical) at one end and seriously autistic at the other. Check out this video or this comic strip to learn a new way of thinking about the spectrum.
  • Functioning labels are unhelpful–you may observe people as high functioning because they can communicate verbally and may have “low” support needs but it is unhelpful to make a judgment about what their life is like behind closed doors.
  • Autism isn’t being over diagnosed–some people with autism (especially females) are particularly good at masking therefore are more likely to go undiagnosed. These people are now being recognised.

Thank you so much for reading this! It feels huge to be sharing. It’s hard to open up about something like this; having shared with a few people, I’ve had a very mixed reaction, from blatant discrimination to acceptance and loyalty.

I hope this will be the first of many blogs that walk the cross-over between mental health and autism.

What is safety?

TW – Trigger warning for detailed content about suicide and suicidal feelings. Please considering moving onto a different blog if you may feel particularly distressed reading about these subjects. It’s important to practice self care and only read content on the internet that will benefit you.

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While Covid-19 is spreading through our society, we’re being asked to stay at home to keep safe. But this is only keeping us physically safe from a virus. I do understand that this virus is especially contagious and virulent therefore physical safety at this time is a priority but I want to spend a few moments reflecting on the meaning of safety and it’s different forms.

A feeling of safety can be captured through routines and familiarity, this is why people so often struggle with change. Nearly all of us are coping with huge upheaval as Covid-19 is sweeping across our nations. Working from home, not working at all, stopping social activities, home schooling our children, doing more or fewer activities than previously – some of these may have positives, negatives or a mixture of both but change is always hard.

Cortisol is our stress hormone. Usually it is released to help us cope with a peak in stress and it aids managing the stressful situation. However at times of long term stress, cortisol being released over a prolonged period leads to all sorts of side effects such as fatigue, irritability, headaches, intestinal problems, anxiety, depression, weight gain, increased blood pressure, low libido and erectile dysfunction.

Lots of people are being brought to our attention as people who need care/support: the elderly, those living with an abuser, the unemployed, the homeless, people with chronic illnesses and many others – each group has its spokes people. But I fear for those we don’t hear about – who’s helping the people we don’t know about?

There have been many occasions in my life when I’ve felt unsafe and it’s been my own thoughts that have been working against me. Mental health crisis is hard to explain, trying to explain what it’s like being suicidal is like trying to describe colour to someone who’s been blind from birth.

Being suicidal feels like all your senses have been taken away included your senses of dignity, perspective and reality, it feels like one by one everyone is giving up on you and this makes sense because the situation is completely hopeless; you’re a worthless human being with nothing to live for, gradually the grey numbness you’ve been feeling for a while turns to an active hot feeling of desperation – “whatever this is, it is unbearable and it just has to end.” Eventually calmness and serenity is felt once a plan to end the suffering is in place. (At least, this is what it was like for me.)

So, this lockdown (in whatever form it’s taking in the country you’re in) is designed to prevent the spread of a virus but at what cost? I‘m definitely not saying we shouldn’t be following government advice – I’m the first to do as I’m told! What I am saying is we need to ensure we look after our physical and our mental safety.

Specific links about how to look after our mental health during the lock down can be found at the bottom of the page.

A “place of safety” is somewhere designed to help an individual through a mental health crisis, to support them while they’re feeling suicidal, to prevent them carrying out any plans they may have made to end their life. Usually this is a specialist mental health unit but it can be A&E or a police station. Unfortunately I have been detained in a police cell; I was scared, yes, but realising I was too unwell to make decisions about my care myself, it was a relief that they took over responsibility for my safety when I couldn’t do it myself.

I recently returned to therapy because my mental health has been challenged. For me, the therapists room is a place of safety because it’s somewhere I can be myself. Most people are different versions of themselves in different environments but when suffering with mental illness most people are familiar with the feeling of putting on a mask. Most of the time this mask ensure the world has no idea what’s going on underneath. At work I’m professional, competent Frances; socially I’m friendly, pleasant Frances etc. In the therapy room, my therapist doesn’t judge me for being anxious, confused, angry, annoyed – it’s safe to take my mask off.

As the weeks of this pandemic drag on, people start to talk about cabin fever or “going stir crazy”. These phrases refer to feelings of being cooped up too long. This place that was meant to be keeping us safe has become a prison! This is exactly why most lockdowns include being permitted to go out for exercise and it’s vital to take advantage of this if possible. If it’s not possible, sitting in the garden or by an open window as often as possible is really important.

So, if you’re doing as the government has asked and you’re staying at home, thank you for keeping your community safe from the virus. But it’s really important to spend some time thinking about what makes you feel mentally and emotionally safe:

  • Keeping busy? – try learning something new
  • Seeing friends and family regularly? – connect with them however you can.
  • Having time and space to yourself? – timetable 15-20 “me time” in a separate room and let other people in your household know that’s what you’re doing.
  • Keeping familiarity and routine? – build some habits into your day to build a new routine.
  • Having freedom to move around? – use the permission to exercise daily if possible.
  • A hug? – whether it’s someone you live with, a pet or a cuddly toy it’s ok to to give it a really good squish everyday!
  • Having autonomy and control? – focus on what you can control not what you can’t. I find the serenity prayer helpful!

If you’re feeling unsafe or uneasy, can you work out what’s missing? Whether it’s about feeling empowered and in control or being allowed to be vulnerable and looked after for a short time. Perhaps at the moment it’s not easy to get exactly what we need but can you simulate it? Maybe we don’t have freedom to move around but how about planning a holiday for when it’s over because, this is going to end. We don’t know when, but it will.

It may also be important to take things out of your daily routine that is harmful to your mental and emotional safety. These links provide really good hints and tips for looking after your wellbeing during this time of uncertainty.

Specific links:

  • Mind – a wide variety of information including managing wellbeing, work, anxiety and social care rights
  • Beat Eating Disorders – really good specific questions related to managing eating disorders and recovery
  • Mental Health Foundation – information including mental health tips, relationships, finances and talking to children

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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.