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THREAD NOW CLOSED How do you feel about talking about mental health?

(103 Posts)
AnnMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 24-Aug-11 09:34:36

Time to Change is "England's biggest ever attempt to end stigma and discrimination towards people with mental health problems". Mumsnet has been asked by Time to Change to find out how you feel about starting a conversation on mental health. The thread is open to everyone, regardless of their experiences with mental health.

Time to Change has released results to a new survey of adults which found that people often talk to their GP (26%) or partner (37%) first before going directly to a close family member, such as a parent or sibling.

They'd like to know what you think and about any experiences you may be able to share. Talking about mental health would include concerns you have about yourself and also about concerns you may have about family and friends.

We have some questions to get you thinking but they would welcome all comments and thoughts.

~ Why do you think it's still so hard for some people to talk openly to families about mental health? Should it be talked about more openly when there is an issue?

~ In your opinion are families the biggest stigmatisers?

~ Who would you speak to first if you were worried about your own mental health?

~ Would you find this difficult? Why?

~ Who would you speak to if you were concerned about the mental health of someone in your family or a friend? Would you find this difficult? Why?

And if you can please do tell us your own experiences of this if you have any.

For more information you can also visit their facebook page.

SHuggett Wed 24-Aug-11 09:53:49

I have Bi Polar Disorder and find it very difficult to talk about it. My family would be the worst stigmatisers. I don't tell them anything. They would not understand or accept it. they would be very judgemental. I talk to my husband and my closest friends. But I don't talk about it much. I bottle a lot of it up. My friends are very supportive. The most support I get is through Family Intensive Support Services who I see because of my disabled son as well as for my own illness. If I was concerned about a family member or friend I would talk to them first.

practicallyimperfect Wed 24-Aug-11 09:57:11

I was diagnosed bipolar last year. My family have always been brilliantly supportive, my mum and sister talk openly to me, ask me questions. My dad not so much, but that is a personality thing. My dad and I generally talk about TV, ds, household things. I know he cares though.

My in-laws however don't know. I can't seem to tell them, and dh hasn't. I think it is partly stigma, I just don't know what they would do with the information. They are lovely people, but I find it hard to communicate with them as it is.

afishcalledmummy Wed 24-Aug-11 10:12:53

I had a breakdown a couple of years ago, following a very stressful period dealing with my very unreasonable mother, and some difficult work issues. I eventually told my mother about it a year later when she was insisting that I was particularly confident and I said I wasn't. Her response was "we'll have to agree to disagree" and then she didn't mention it again. My sister said she was furious that I had "dumped this on her as she had to deal with gypsies on a local common" (what the actual fuck)!! So I didn't speak to my family of origin about my MH issues as they were part of the problem, and they didn't take things seriously.

I think that pretty much everyone still stigmatises mental health. I recently retrained and was talking to a woman on the course and she asked why I'd left my previous role - I responded that I'd had a breakdown and the relief on her face was incredible as she had had one too, and hadn't felt that she could be open about it for worry of being judged. It's still a bit of a dirty little secret, that we can't admit to not being able to cope and having illnesses, whereas we're happy to talk about any physical issues we have.

When I was first ill, I spoke to my sister and DH who are the people I trust the most in the world, and then I spoke to my GP. It was more difficult speaking to my GP than it was talking to my sis and DH as I was telling someone who hadn't seen the spiral downwards, and as much as anything in telling him I was admitting that I had a problem, when talking to DH and sis was more saying that I was feeling a bit blue. He was, however, incredibly helpful and supportive and I am incredibly grateful to him and the team at the surgery for their support and help through that awful time.

If a friend/family member had a problem I would talk to them about it in the first instance - I think that going to talk to another person behind their back is a huge breach of trust over such a sensitive issue. I would probably draw upon my own experiences and tell them of the support there is out there and urge them to get help. I expect that had I sought help sooner, rather than tried to carry on being superwoman my episode would not have been as dramatic and would have been much shorter in duration. It would be difficult as one of the things I recall from being ill was that I hoped nobody could see it (and boy was I kidding myself, pictures from that time show me looking dreadful, detached and vacant) and I probably would have resented being helped.

I find it odd that the survey cites a partner as not being a close family member, whereas a parent or sibling is. Our partners are the people with whom we most closely share our lives, they are closer to us than parents (who may have known us as children, but not as adults) and siblings. Is the research of a younger age demographic?

ByThePowerOfGreyskull Wed 24-Aug-11 10:29:10

I didn't realise the depth of my mental health issues until 3 years ago.

I knew things were getting on top of me, then over the course of 48 hours as a result of a simple comment by a friend, I knew the only possible course of action for the benefit of all around me would be for me to kill myself.
My attempt failed, there was no relief, just sadness that this was another thing that I had failed to do. I was still totally clear that I would need to find a way to die.
It was all totally clearly thought out, calm, logical, no panic, not frantic. Only DH and I knew what was going on, and DH decided he needed support from our GP, who pressed the panic button and the psychiatric unit of the hospital got involved.
I really really didn't understand, what was the fuss about? It as very important for the benefit of my boys that I die and not be in their lives, why couldn't these other people see what was SO clear and true.

My friends and family were not part of the conversation. It was only a couple of months after my initial crisis that I saw my sister and I was amazed at her response. Why was she crying? I totally didn't get it!

Anyway, I am now not at all shy about talking about mental health, I am not better yet but I do now wish to be which is a start.

I think it is frightening for people to realise that someone near to them could think or feel very differently to them, it is the standard fear that is IMO the basis of most prejudice. I tend to be very open, if people ask me if I am free for a cuppa and it clashes with an appointment, I will say, "sorry seeing my therapist this morning" I don't tell them my life story, but I do hope that they see that someone who is in therapy can also (nearly) function on a day to day basis.

I also feel that we apologise too much for the natural emotions that we have. Sadness, anger, happiness, envy etc are all totally normal!! I find now I am much more likely to remind people that it is ok to be cross, sad etc, but to not let it fester. Acknowledgement of emotions somehow diffuses the negative ones heat and fire so it is less distructive.

We are quite a buttoned up society, and overall this has perhaps contributed to the lack of understanding (or percieved lack of understanding) surrounding mental health.

What an essay, much more to say but will stop for fear that you have fallen asleep.

noisytoys Wed 24-Aug-11 10:29:18

I had a breakdown last year. The climax of it was when I was taking my dd to her appointment (she is allergic to pretty much everything) and they insistes she didn't have an appointment, despite me having a text reminder to go. Anyway i lost control and trashed the waiting room. Completely out of character, then I curled up in a corner and cried in full view of all the patients. I was inconsolable and I was held down in full view of everyone and had diazepam forced down my neck and was held in the surgery for hours until it kicked in. I still hate going to the docs after that sad

LittleWhiteWolf Wed 24-Aug-11 10:34:01

I do talk to my mother about my anxiety issues and have been honest (but kind) about her involvement in making them worse years ago. She still finds it hard to understand, in spite of going through her own experiences currently since the breakdown of her marriage 3 years ago. She wants to "fix" me, I know, but I have to explain to her that's not how it works.
Likewise, my cousin suffers badly with depression, and her mum (my aunt, my mums sister) finds it hard to cope, also trying for quick fixes. It could be a generational thing or it could just be my family, but it makes it hard to just talk about things when your mother keeps trying to solve the problems. At least she has learned more about mental health through our talks.

At work I don't tell people about my anxiety issues unless I trust them implicitly. In our team there is one woman a few years older than me who has bi-polar disorder and while she is popular and liked, whenever she is off sick for as she calls them "episodes" the others on our team are vicious behind her back. I have heard and been shocked by this--these women call her a friend, yet show no sympathy or understanding to her when she struggles.

Talking about mental health is scary; you don't know how you're going to be judged or by whom. But it is something I feel strongly about. I feel that its only through bringing it into the open more that we can battle with the stigma.

BedHog Wed 24-Aug-11 10:44:02

I have been getting anxiety and depression related to pregnancy following past traumatic experiences. Hopefully this is temporary, but I have no problem talking about it with any of my friends, family or healthcare professionals.

I found it surprising how 'physical' the symptoms of mental health problems are, and how illogical - it's not really about rational thinking, it's more a condition of the emotions or soul, if that makes sense.

I found it a great help to talk to my friend who is bipolar, and now I feel I have a greater understanding and empathy for what she has to cope with. Previously I didn't really 'get' how a psychological condition could lead to her always being late and unreliable, putting herself at risk by walking home alone in the middle of the night, becoming obsessed by things or people, spending money when she couldn't afford it etc.

I would hope the stigma of most mental health issues is decreasing. Certainly I think bipolar, depression etc isn't seen in the way it once was. However I think the more 'unpredictable' conditions such as schizophrenia etc are still viewed with trepidation by a lot of society because they don't understand it and are nervous of possible consequences of interacting with people with the condition.

CMOTdibbler Wed 24-Aug-11 10:52:28

My dh had a breakdown in January due to extreme stress from work on top of a really bad year for us healthwise. His family have been totally shite tbh - they take the piss out of him being off work still, ask stupid questions, or basically ignore the whole issue. No support offered at all.
He talked to me first, then his GP (who has been amazing). Friends have found it hard to talk about as they just don't know what to say, and can't reconcile his cheery front vs the anxeity that wouldn't let him answer the phone at one point.

LaWeasel Wed 24-Aug-11 11:26:42

I don't have mental health problems in that I don't have a medical mental health problem but I have had therapy due to my mother never recognising her own mental health problems, which led to a very difficult childhood for both me and my sister.

My biggest frustration when it comes to mental health issues is that even though my mother's problems had a huge impact on us (she has undiagnosed but very obvious bi-polar, and because it was totally untreated could be violent, neglectful, get into debt very quickly, behave very unpredictably, suicidal, lying about almost everything etc) there was nothing we could do as it was considered 'her' problem, and unless she wanted to treat it - she doesn't believe in mental health problems, so of course she doesn't - there was no help available. I went as far as speaking to her GP and she just laughed it off and was believed that I was 'overreacting'. There is a strong diagnosed history of mental health problems in her family (schizphrenia, alcoholism etc) and she was abused as a child so it was hardly unlikely that she would have problems.

My partner, parents-in-law, friends etc were so supportive when I went to the NHS for some long over-due therapy about all of this. I was incredibly anxious and terrified about what my mother might do to my baby if she got near her. But I didn't feel I could speak to my family about it.

Some families have a real culture of 'just get on with it' and worse than ignoring the mental health problems of members of the families because of it it means the awful fall out from everyone being untreated gets ignored to.

Energumene Wed 24-Aug-11 11:27:14

Mental health has been a minefield for me. When things first started going downhill 13 years ago, I went to the GP, got anti-depressants, and then warned work I wasn't going to be able to work 13 hours a day any more. I spoke to my partner (now DH) about it at the time, but that was it. Some weeks later, I tried for the first time to kill myself, got unfairly dismissed from work for getting signed off sick for two weeks as a result, and the whole thing got worse.

Part of what made it worse was that DH needed support and, while I understood that and was fine with him talking to his parents in confidence about the situation, it all got blabbed to his very large extended family, and facing them when they knew the intimate details and gawked at me like some kind of freak show was awful. It took years for one of his cousins in particular to treat me like a normal human being again instead of acting like she was hoping for me to kick off and give her something to gossip about. It really did take years of saying nothing to them whatsoever about any kind of mental health issue for me to be treated as a fully functioning human being again. And the sense of betrayal I felt towards DH for being exposed to that really didn't help matters.

As it is, the mental health issues continued over the period in question, and I have had numerous battles trying to get appropriate treatment. Throughout this, I have been happy to talk to DH, Mum and my little bro, and occasionally Dad if he asked me a direct question, but that's it. I'll occasionally talk to friends or strangers about my experience if it is clear it will help them come to terms with their own mental health issues and feel less isolated, but I don't exactly go up to people and say 'Hi, I'm Energumene and I'm a nut job with a long-standing history of depression' because that would kill the conversation.

The absolute low in this was when I ended up with a NHS psychotherapist who enjoyed our sessions so much he apparently thought I was a stand-up trying out new material. I'm not all that unusual in using dark humour to help me face things, but he clearly didn't see his tears of laughter as inappropriate: I wasn't there to be his entertainment each week. I was there to get well, and should have been entitled to the same dignity and respect in my treatment as - say - a patient with a broken arm or heart trouble.

This same therapist also took an almost pornographic interest in the details of my being raped, and I reached the point where he became a part of the problem, rather than a means to helping me find the solution. I ended up needing a MIND advocate to help me convince the local Trust that I needed more suitable help and that I had valid concerns about my treatment that needed to be addressed: it's unfortunate, but I've found that the doctors treating people with mental health issues are often the first to forget that these patients are simply ill, rather than stupid or untruthful or simply not entitled to consideration of their right to be treated as a full human being.

I was very lucky that, as a result of the lobbying I did with my advocate, we got the Trust to agree to me getting a second opinion from someone in a neighbouring area, who completely understood why I needed to move and worked to make sure I got help from her department instead. Thanks to her, I'm about to start on a new course of therapy - CBT this time - and can finally see that I may one day be able to consider my depression to be something from the past, rather than a daily obstacle.

If I were to have this time over again, I would still talk to my GP and DH. I would talk to Mum. I'm now self-employed, so unless I sack myself, I don't have to worry about losing my job again, which is something that did untold harm back in 1998, and I hope I would be more willing to embrace therapy far earlier in the process.

Are families more stigmatising? I've had both extremes in mine. My own family, if we consider Mum and my brother, have been lovely, because all they want is for me to be happy and have been a godsend throughout. My father, on the other hand, seemed to feel tainted by association with someone who was prepared to admit her mental health problems. I can still remember having to 'voluntarily' spend a week on a psych ward that was just 10 minutes' drive from his office. He visited me once, stayed 10 minutes, and was practically running as he left. And he didn't have such a full social schedule that he couldn't afford the time. He simply couldn't cope, whether that was because he was ashamed of me, afraid of my illness, felt inadequate, or indeed felt I reflected badly on him and he couldn't afford to be seen in such a place. I'll never know the truth, because he's never given me an answer, and I doubt he ever will. I do wonder whether he thinks insanity is contagious, even though 'all' I suffered from was depression.

I have had to handle mental heath problems among family and friends, and these days I do tackle them directly, because I'm not afraid to expose my own past if it will help someone else. There needs to be something positive that comes out of this, and I think it's appropriate that such an awful experience should benefit someone.

blushingm Wed 24-Aug-11 11:41:12

i only ever talk honestly to my dh, my dad and 1 friend. I feel very uncomfortable discussing it with anyone including my psychiatrist or gp! I feel people would judge me - I even make sure no one sees me going to the mental health outpatients sad. I don't pick up prescriptions - I get my dh to do it.

I think people will think I am some how odd, unreliable/unpredictable, weak

SardineQueen Wed 24-Aug-11 11:42:02

I have suffered with anxiety and depression since my first pregnancy, it became unmanageable during my second pregnancy and I sought treatment.

~ Finding it hard to talk to families - my family are very much stiff upper lip, get on with it, don't be so silly types. As a result I have not told them about any of my difficulties. I have hinted a couple of times at my mum (I told her about the symtoms of a panic attack) and she said aggressively "HUH sounds like a panic attack" and walked off. I do not feel that they will be understanding or helpful if I tell them. From past experience I know I probably will tell them a few years after I have got better confused

~ Yes IMO family are the biggest stigmatisers

~ I speak to my DH first about mental health problems

~ I find it easy speaking to him although I feel sorry for him as it's worrying and upsetting for him

~ If I were concerned about the mental health of a family member or friend then I would speak to them about it (depending on what it was and how severe though I guess!). If it was so severe that I could not talk to them then I would probably seek help and advice on what to do on MN! smile

GiddyKips Wed 24-Aug-11 12:48:00

What does "a breakdown" actually mean? How do you know you've had one? I am on Zoloft for depression but nothing dramatic happened, just crying lethargy, social anxiety. When is it a "breakdown"?

SardineQueen Wed 24-Aug-11 12:50:21

Giddy I was recommended a book on here which was written in the 70s and was quite funny, it talked about "nervous breakdown" which is not something used in the medical profession any more AFAIK.

It probably means different things to different people, I expect.

According to the book I had a nervous breakdown which was quite shock

GiddyKips Wed 24-Aug-11 12:53:31

To answer the original question:

Why do you think it's still so hard for some people to talk openly to families about mental health? Should it be talked about more openly when there is an issue?

~ In your opinion are families the biggest stigmatisers?
I've not experienced this. Family has been supportive

~ Who would you speak to first if you were worried about your own mental health?
Husband then GP

~ Would you find this difficult? Why?
No not at all. I was aware of the GP's tired intake of breath when I told him I was 'depressed'. I just told him to give me anti-d's and I'd be on my way. He was visibly relieved. Must be depressing for him to talk to depressives

~ Who would you speak to if you were concerned about the mental health of someone in your family or a friend? Would you find this difficult? Why?
I'd speak to the person themselves. I wouldn't find it difficult. I wouldn't involve anyone else unless I thought they were going to harm someone else. If I thought that they were going to kill themselves I still wouldn't blab, privacy is privacy. People have a right to kill themselves if they so choose

GiddyKips Wed 24-Aug-11 12:57:12

Thanks SardineQ

Tee2072 Wed 24-Aug-11 12:57:52

I speak to anyone and everyone about my mental health issues. My GP, my family, the world wide web through my blog. I have clinical depression, anxiety disorder and borderline agoraphobia.

The only people who have ever stigmatized me for it were some collegues when it manifested itself as ante-natal depression and I was off work for part of my pregnancy. I recieved many snide comments about pregnancy not being an illness and the like. No, it's not. But depression and anxiety are.

I feel the more we discuss it the more accepted it will be, hence my never hiding my illnesses.

Giddy my breakdown was defined by the time I got in my car and started driving, long before I had a husband or a son. I left a message on my boss' answer phone that I quit and just took off. Luckily he didn't accept my resignation and instead managed to contact my family and get me some help. Luckily I had already stopped for the night and contacted my brother myself for help. I was trying to escape myself and my anxiety and depression. It didn't work! smile

SardineQueen Wed 24-Aug-11 13:06:27

I am quite open about it though.

Who knows:
My doctor
Both sets of neighbours. And the woman down the road.
My old workmates
My friends
Some of the builders in our house confused
I also suspect that DH's family have an idea about it as well

Basically everyone apart from my own family, which is sad TBH.

CMOTdibbler Wed 24-Aug-11 13:19:43

Giddy - for DH it was quite literally a breakdown. He'd been OK and then one day was on his way back from a site visit and sat in the car and said it was like suddenly his brain froze up and he was just overwhelmed with everything. He'd just run out of coping methods.

GiddyKips Wed 24-Aug-11 13:22:54

Here's something about 'breakdowns'

I don't know whether I had one. I remember being in work and my head getting very 'buzzy' and wandering down to the admin office and talking nine to the dozen and not being able to stop and then sort of going 'sorry, sorry, sorry' I think I was giving them a running commentry about what was going on inside my head.

My head still feels buzzy now and again and I can't always take in what's going on around me when I'm anxious.

madmouse Wed 24-Aug-11 14:02:42

I've had bad PTSD and struggle with anxiety and I've made it a kind of personal mission to be open about it. So many people struggle in silence saying that they are too scared to talk because there is so much stigma. But they don't realise that they are themselves keeping the stigma in tact.

It's easy for me though as my conditions are quite 'acceptable' - PTSD means something bad has happened to you - poor you. Whereas people with personality disorders and shizophrenia get treated like shit.

Must also say that talking to professionals has so far always resulted in me getting the help I needed.

madmouse Wed 24-Aug-11 14:05:44

gidykips I've heard it say that a breakdown is when you stop coping to such an extend that you no longer know how to make a cup of tea. Not sure how accurate it is though as it is indeed not a recognised medical condition. I think the key is a very rapid stopping of coping mechanisms.

NickettyNacketty Wed 24-Aug-11 14:24:23

I spoke first to my mum and my sister both of whom were very practical and supportive. My mother and I have discussed mental health many a time so I was aware that she would be receptive.
I then went to a GP who was also helpful. I simply asked him for ads and after questioning me he agreed.
Two old friends are able to talk openly about it but one is very apprehensive about the use of medication and seems to have some sort of predjudice.
The best support for me has been a newish friend who has also been on anti depressants and suffered from pnd in the past.
DP was slightly useless although he tries bless him. He goes around in circles about how worried he is about me and how concerned his mum is and his brother and my sil until I feel like some kind of freak to them.

ChildofIsis Wed 24-Aug-11 16:40:14

I suffered from a nervous breakdown 20 odd years ago followed by 3 years of deep depression. This was triggered by my Dad's death and my wedding all in one week.
My family weren't able to cope with/understand what was happening to me.

I've had the odd bought of depression since, fortunately not for long, however my mum was disappointed that 'I'd let myself become depressed' again. As if i'm able to control it, if only...

The GP was very helpfull. I found people in general to be more understanding when I was ill with it last year, than when I'd been ill years ago.
I think there is less stigma now, especially on the younger generations.

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