April 17, 2013

ElizabethDid you see the Homeland series on Channel 4? Or have you been watching Greys Anatomy?

These programmes have all opened our eyes to mental illness.

Often the fact that it’s difficult to talk about mental health problems can be one of the hardest parts of having a mental illness. It can lead to the loss of friendships, difficulties at work, feeling isolated, not seeking help and a much slower recovery.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Talking about mental health can strengthen friendships, aid recovery, break down stereotypes and take the taboo out of something that affects us all.

People describe me as bubbly, outgoing, chatty, and colourful (amongst other things – my husband describes me a prickly!). I am these things and I have also used these things to hide my pain.

I have been battling depression since my early teens

I have been battling depression since my early teens, and three times so far it has put me in a place where I have been unable to carry on with everyday life and activities.

I am in a recovery period at the moment. The last three years have been very tough for me. Depression really grabbed hold of me in late 2010. I felt detached from the world around me. I can't say I didn’t have any emotions, I did, but they all seemed desperately negative. Mostly I was scared that I would never escape the depression and I would have nothing to give myself or anyone else in this world; I was completely worthless and everyone else had finally realised it.

I was certain that everyone was talking negatively about me

My symptoms included restlessness, insomnia, I did nothing - I didn’t wash and I didn’t look after my home. I didn’t feel that anyone would want to do anything with me, I was certain that everyone (even those I didn’t know) where staring at me and talking negatively about me. Why would they want to be around me anyway, I was a terrible, awful unlovable creature!

I could barely remember things and in fact lost periods of time – which I still can’t recall now. I caught (and still do in times of stress and difficulty) every bug going, my immune system was dire. I ate and drank more and more and expended less and less energy. When I cried, it was for hours and it was exhausting and painful. I felt so negatively towards myself and my future. I wanted to die.

My husband supported me

Because it wasn’t my first time experiencing depression, I was able to recognise some of the usual symptoms (as were my family and friends).

With the support of a husband who is very accepting, sweet and willing to stand up to the depression with me, I sought help and talked to my GP. For me, both medication and talking therapy helps me and I’ve been using both to bring me into this recovery period. I have made (and continue to make) lifestyle changes to support me in remaining in this period, though I’ve no doubt that the depression will come biting at my heels again in my future. I hope that each time that it does I am better equipped to deal with it.

The workplace played a vital part in recovery from depression

The workplace played a vital part in recovery from depression for me; recovery requires structure, challenge - to build confidence, some handholding, general support and lots of encouragement. In the main, my company was supportive of me and allowed me to change my working hours to suit and I’ve had support from the company doctor too. However I have also experienced stigma.

Challenging stigma has to happen on an individual basis, companies must adhere to the law, and people ‘seemingly’ don’t. If we can challenge these individuals to better understand mental health then slowly we can change the culture of our society. It was for this reason that I wrote this blog for my company intranet site.

The nature of depression can prevent someone seeking help

The very nature of depression can prevent someone who's depressed from seeking help. They will often withdraw from friends and relatives around them. This is a time when they need your help and support most. Perhaps the most important thing that you can do is to encourage your friend or relative to seek appropriate treatment or to visit their GP.

Try not to tell them to 'pull themselves together' or think that this is even possible (you wouldn’t tell a person with a broken leg to get up and walk would you?). Praise is so much more effective than criticism. You can reassure them that it is possible to do something to improve their situation, but you need to do so in a caring and sympathetic way.

You can show that you care by listening

People who are depressed need people who care for them. You can show that you care by listening, sympathetically, by being affectionate, by appreciating the person, by practical means or simply by spending time with them. Encourage them to talk about how they are feeling and getting them to work out what they can do, or what they need to change, in order to deal with their depression.

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Too many people are made to feel ashamed. By sharing your story, you can help spread knowledge and perspective about mental illness that could change the way people think about it.