Guest post: "We need to ask for help with mental health, before we hit rock bottom"
Laura Darrall struggled with her own mental health for years before launching a campaign to reduce the stigma that stops people from speaking out
Posted on: Fri 29-Jan-16 10:18:27
(95 comments )
I should have sought help for my mental health much earlier than I did. I'd convinced myself for years that I could cope, that I was okay, and that I really was the woman who always had a smile on my face. Last year, when I couldn't get out of bed and the tears refused to stop - I finally reached out.
If you had told me then that today I would be spearheading a campaign to raise mental health awareness, I'd have looked at you bewilderedly, turned over in bed and gone back to my incessant thoughts and seemingly endless tears. But it's true - I have begun something that has drawn people into conversation and allowed me to witness more bravery than I ever dreamed possible.
I have suffered with anxiety, panic attacks and OCD all my life. I had thoughts telling me that the people I loved would die if I didn't do a certain thing, think a certain thought or say a certain prayer. My panic attacks that would make me believe my heart was exploding and made me push away those I loved the most.
Last year, it reached a climax and to put it bluntly, floored me for approximately six to eight months. The problem with mental illness is that it's often only when you hit rock bottom that you seek help and begin to open up about it - because you have no other choice. Roughly one million people per year take their own lives. We have to reach people sooner.
I began the #itaffectsme campaign with the intention of giving people suffering with mental illness, and their friends and family, a voice. The campaign aims to reduce the stigma around mental health - because it does add to people's fear of speaking out. We should all be able to say "I have a mental illness" without being scared of the response.
The first woman to contact me directly told me she was suffering with post-natal depression and that #itaffectsme had allowed her to speak to her husband about it for the first time.
The campaign encourages people to be open and honest. I am asking people to take a selfie with a post-it note on their head which says "#itaffectsme" on it. #itaffectsme is a simple declaration - stating that we have all known or will know mental illness in our lives. It might affect us, or family, or friends, or a stranger in the street. But the selfie puts faces to mental illness - we are not anonymous, and we are not embarrassed. Mental illness has no prejudices about who it affects, so we should have no prejudices about it.
The courage of people speaking out has struck me repeatedly. The first woman to contact me directly told me she was suffering with post-natal depression and that #itaffectsme had allowed her to speak to her husband about it for the first time. If this campaign has helped just one person to reach out then it is worth every single tear I have shed.
The three aims of the campaign are to get people talking, to get mental health education on the curriculum and to make the Prime Minister stick to his £1 billion pledge to mental health services. The government cut funding by £35 million last year, despite promises not to, and it is simply not good enough.
Though sticking a post-it note on your head may seem simple, there is bravery in acknowledging mental illness. But this is just the first step. The second is seeking help and the subsequent steps - accepting help and going through the process - can be very difficult, even with the support of family.
When I was at my lowest, what would have helped was for someone to be there and to say "Me too." That's what #itaffectsme is. It is the "me too" for everyone suffering, a reminder that you're not alone, and that if you speak out and get help it can pass and you can arm yourself for the future. You can be prepared to greet it like an old friend who you have history with but nothing in common any more, accept its presence and then when the time comes - because it will - send it on its way.
None of us are fixed, none of us are perfect but if we speak out we can let the rest of the world know that it is okay to do so. It is okay to not be okay.
#itaffectsme: Help us spread the word!
Text SUPPORT to 70660 to give £3 to Mind.
4 February is Time to Talk day - you can find out more here.
By Laura Darrall
I agree completely with this, I too waited until I hit rock bottom (and for many years) before I managed to reach out for help.
I wonder if schools, colleges and universities (and even workplaces) could all offer one or two annual pastoral sessions / or workplace training sessions for all explaining more about MH conditions and how important it is to seek help when required, as I think it's a lack of awareness of how to find help as well as being scared to that stops many people from going, just something to make people feel less alienated and more aware of what help is out there and to normalise MH issues a bit.
Wouldn't it be great if there was something similar for those of us who do support loved ones with depression but whose lives are also ruined by this horrible illness over which we have no control whatsoever?
It's nice to say. But there is no real help until you do hit rock bottom.
I've been to my gp over and over. I'm not in immediate danger, so I'm left to deal with it.
We can speak out until we are blue in the face. The help isn't there.
madamehooch yes. I have a blog, I started it just as a way of keeping track of DH's bipolar, and it's a great release for me. Of course, it's not as bad as being ill yourself, but as you say, it can ruin lives and his illness and breakdowns have been extremely tough going for all of us.
And DH has been suicidal, at A&E, and still sent home the same night despite being at rock bottom.
It's a disgrace.
There is no help.
Are you expecting the Government to do anything? I think you will be disappointed.
Agree with pps. There is no point asking for help if there is none.
The more I think about this campaign the more irritated I get. It totally implies that the reason we don't get treatment is because we are too ashamed or scared to ask for help. It completely ignores the fact that many of us ask for help way before we hit rock bottom and get let down by our doctors or the nhs system.
I'm all for getting people talking but not impressed with the blame for not getting help being on people with mental health issues rather than the doctors or nhs system that doesn't help those people.
So many people just write it off as having a tough day, week, month... Explaining to people that it is more than that is difficult because I feel that they think it's just making a fuss. It needs to be taken more seriously by everyone! Just because there aren't (some of the time) physical symptoms, people can be dismissed as faking it. It's only when you hit rock bottom that a lot of people actually take it seriously.
I suffer from recurring depressive depression sometimes severe. I have to say I have an excellent service, brilliant GP but in secondary so have a CPN who is so kind and helpful and psychiatrists who I see once a month, most of whom are thorough and do their best to help BUT none of the pills or combinations of pills make much difference. It has been 7 years now and I despair, so sometimes even if the services are there, it doesn't bring relief. Oh and on the NHS I have had around 30 sessions of therapy.
I agree with others that official help isn't there until you reach breaking point, however asking for help need not mean GP or 111. Support is available in different forms (family, friends, forums, helplines, whatever) but the stigma around mental ill health often prevents people admitting to any kind of problem.
Help is definitely available if you have the money to go private. I sometimes forget how blessed I have been to be able to get the help I needed from the right person at the right time - only because I could stump up the money.
Just another area of life in this country were poverty is killing.
my friend presented at a&e, terrified and suicidal. because he'd had a drink, they basically bollocked him and sent him home (a long history of mental illness in his notes).
he's dead now. he went home and killed himself. his funeral was 3 days before Christmas. with respect, post-it notes aren't going to help in a country where mental health provision has been cut to the bone.
people are dying. I love stationery as much as the next mentally ill person but it won't get me any therapy.
For me, there wasn't really a question of being afraid to speak out or ask for help as it wasn't a decision I made - I was sectioned after a very public breakdown, and through that I got access to all kinds of mental health services - inpatient treatment, intensive individual psychotherapy, weekly CPN, psychiatrist, referral for specialist housing. I think people are encouraged to go for help, but having been in the mental health system for 20 years, it doesn't really offer much and often doesn't make much difference. There are definitely NHS services available but limited to the most severe - all those I see in my local clinic and mental health wards are very extreme cases.
Yet I am still severely depressed and anxious, self harming and suicidal. I can't manage to get out of bed or wash most days, and I've had social services on my back for not managing to maintain housework or take my dc to school. Neighbours have complained about the state of my garden as I can barely face getting up in the morning, let alone the hard work involved in gardening. I've not been in work for 18 years and in the past I've had a lot of hassle from the jobcentre expecting me to be able to work (although I get the highest rates now). Lots of prejudice but no help at all. There is a huge stigma but a lot of the campaigns for mental health often show a much more presentable side of mental illness - not the unkempt, dirty, unwashed, self-medicating, unemployed and neglectful parent living in a hovel.
There is no help unless you hit rock bottom, and even then, I was basically still unable to get help (except drugs from my GP) because the service I needed was overstretched and concentrated their provision in deprived areas of desparate need. The condition I am dealing with was acknowledged but I was basically told because of my job (and therefore) income, they could not see me as they had to prioritise people in a different social situation
At that point, a third of my salary was going on childcare - I don't actually earn a lot and am a single parent - so private treatment was out of the question. About a year later, after breaking down, I am signed off work and have got limited private treatment, which I am paying for and is invaluable.
I have been at rock bottom, admitted to hospital and got the help.
I have also been on the path to rock bottom and been left to deal with it alone. I have been to my gp, given tablets and then when I had a bad reaction to those tablets told to 'just look at her (dd) when you feel a bit sad'. I was not offered an alternative, I was never offered talking therapy. The problem is, until you are at rock bottom and a danger to yourself or others, no one gives a flying fuck about you.
More recently i have told every health professional I have seen that my mental health is suffering because of chronic back pain. I have told them that I am fearing for my sanity and ability to cope much longer with the pain. I still can't get the physio team to refer me on for more help, and at points have been refused pain medication because 'you will become an addicted person'. (These are direct quotes.) Luckily I saw a different doctor who is helping manage my pain. I still can't get adequate help in solving the problem though.
Even when the cause is a physical problem, they still don't care that your mental health is declining. There really is no help available until you hit rock bottom.
I do hope this campaign does get people talking about MH a bit more.
Unfortunately, as PPs have said, unless you are at rock bottom then there isn't much help available. I am lucky that I have a great CPN now. However before I moved house he mental health team I was under were terrible. It also took them 4 months to arrange a meeting to transfer my care over to the new community mental health team.
I'd like to take an #itaffectsme selfie, but my house is in disarray and I have no idea where my post it notes are
I applaud anyone's work in helping people with mental illness and for that I wish to thank OP.
However I am truly sick of hearing about the so called stigma surrounding it. There is no stigma unless people keep going on about the stigma !!
And bashing the NHS doesn't help. I have had wonderful support over the years from every single healthcare professional I have reached out to. If that has not been your experience you can't just conclude the NHS is crap. It's not. It's bloody wonderful.
" everyone loves a selfie " isn't really true is it !
Where are we meant to post the selfies ? Is it a Facebook thing ?
Last week at the local school parents' eve there was a big display board about mental health and mental illness. 6th year girls were stopping all the parents and giving a small talk about it and handing out literature. It was fab !
I have had wonderful support over the years from every single healthcare professional I have reached out to. If that has not been your experience you can't just conclude the NHS is crap.
I have had terrible support over the years from many healthcare professionals that I have reached out to. If that has not been your experience you can't just conclude the NHS is wonderful.
It works both ways you know. why is your experience the only one that is valid?
What help is there?
My therapist said if I mentioned 'the S word' I'd be sectioned, so I didn't.
There's drugs, I guess, but I am depressed/suicidal due to circumstance. I want to circumstance to end; drugs won't make that happen. No one can make that happen. It is what it is. Dying is the only way out. That or running away, and no one runs away for long. Surviving is cheery option 3.
I'd love to 'get help', but what help is there?
I agree the problem isn't people not talking about it - as in the public and sufferers and supporters - its the govt not only doing fuck all but actively working AGAINST those of us with mental illness!
The hoops we have to jump through, the battles just to get a sympathetic gp, get a cpn AT ALL let alone counselling! Then there's getting financial support. I receive ESA and DLA now but when I first became unemployed as a result of being ill I was deliberately misinformed by the DWP (know because she was stupid enough to make an ignorant comment about this that I overheard to a colleague of hers) that I wasn't entitled to these (because the illness was mental and not physical). Then the forms are skewed towards the physically ill (just to be clear I have no problem with the physically disabled but the mentally ill shouldn't be ignored), then I discover that all initial ESA claims for mental illness are automatically rejected and you have to appeal as are DLA.
I've now been unable to work for almost 8 years and don't know when I'll be able to return to work. That then means a huge unexplainable gap in my CV or I explain it and am rejected as most long term sick people are (despite discrimination laws, employers of course give other reasons they're not stupid, but also there are legitimate reasons why it's difficult to return to work after such a long break - out of date skills, lack of confidence, lack of up to date qualifications etc).
As for the OP another reason people with mental illness don't ask for help is because they perhaps don't know they're ill! Some mental illnesses work that way, in fact I think a lot of them do. In hindsight I can see that I've had depression anxiety and ocd most of my life but I wasn't diagnosed until I was 32 and suffering a very full on breakdown with hallucinations, paranoia and manic anxiety.
In addition I was terrified of losing my daughter as a result. Partly the illness, partly media hype of the 'social workers take your kids for no reason' type and partly fear of the stigma of people I knew knowing I had social services and mental health services involvement. This is still a very common fear for mothers especially.
While the government itself is still so prejudiced against people with mental illness there's no chance! The fact that we were among the first targeted for cuts says it all. We don't matter because we rarely vote and don't kick up a stink (we've enough to deal with!).
I'm so depressed at the moment and trying not to self hard. No one knows