Mental Health Awareness Week 2015: Submissions

Mental health awareness week 2015 is fast approaching (11th-17th May) and I want YOUR help.

A question we are often asked several times a day is, “How are you?” but how often do we give a truthful answer to that question? I know that I rarely answer that one truthfully. To me, “How are you?” often feels like a rushed question with no time to give a truthful answer.

On the 17th May 2015 I want to publish a piece on here with truthful and honest answers to the question “How are you?” answered by people from all walks of life and from all around the word.

Rules for Submitting:

  • I want to hear from anyone and everyone, you do not have to be suffering from a mental health problem to take part. We all have mental health and we should all be able to talk about it.
  • Please keep your submissions to 200 words or less.
  • Email your submissions to mentalillnesstalk@gmail.com by the 13th May 2015.
  • Please be careful that your submission does not tell people how to hurt themselves or could cause any harm to another person.
  • Check out these guidelines before submitting: http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/blog/writing-about-self-harm-suicide-eating-disorders
  • Your writing will be anonymous.

Get writing beautiful people, submissions are now OPEN!!!

It’s Not All In My Head

If this is all in my head, if this isn’t real then why do I feel it in every inch of my body? Why does my breathing change and my heart race? I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe. If this wasn’t real then my body wouldn’t react and my survival instincts wouldn’t come alive as though I were a cave man being chased by a wild animal.

If this isn’t real, if this is all in my head then why do the tears roll down my face, why do I sob uncontrollably and scream and shout words because I am in so much agony. Why would I be suffering so unbearably if none of this was real?

If this is only in my head, if you are telling me that this does not exist then why on earth do I feel at war with myself so much so that I stand on the stairs of a multistorey car park unsure of whether to go down the stairs or up? Unsure of which part of my mind to listen to. Why do my arms reach for a lever, my whole body ready to depart? Why do I feel this so physically and constantly if this ceases to exist in an outsiders opinion?

If this isn’t real, if this is choice or weakness or the dreaded word ‘attention seeking’ then why do I suffer in silence? Why do I lay awake staring into the pitch black with silent tears soaking my pillow case and making my face sore? It never leaves me, it never goes away. It’s more than a full time job, this is with me every second of every day and last night six sedative tablets didn’t even get me to sleep. It seems to be my life sentence and I often wonder what was my crime? Do you think this is a choice? I wouldn’t choose this, I wouldn’t even wish this on a serial killer.

If it’s all in my head then why do my legs ache? If this isn’t real then why are my bones bruised? If this is for attention then why are there scars both physical and mental that nobody knows about and will never know about?

If mental illness does not exist then why was I crying uncontrollably and struggling to breathe yesterday? Why was my whole body shaking and my head hurting if this isn’t real? Why are the simplest of tasks like being a passenger in a car so downright difficult? This is real.

In a way, I hate that we separate and categorise illnesses into physical and mental. There’s such a cross over between the two, people who are physically unwell also have symptoms such as depression and anxiety but mental illness is incredibly physical too. This doesn’t just affect my mind but even if it did the brain is an organ, the chemical imbalances, the brain activity, the reactions. They are all physical too. Mental illness is just as real as asthma, cancer and diabetes. Illness is illness regardless of which organ it affects. I am telling you in the depth of this horrible and cruel illness that this is so real, I can feel it in every atom of my body and brain.

Stop With The Stigmatising Headlines

When something goes wrong in society and a horrible tragedy happens like a brutal murder or someone on the loose with a gun the media often instantly blame mental illness for the tragedy. This week an incredibly upsetting and heartbreaking incident occurred when a Germanwings plane crashed in The French Alps on Tuesday killing all of the 150 people on board the flight. It is such a sad and tragic occurrence and I cannot imagine what the families of those people are going through right now.

The media, however, have not dealt with this situation in the right way. As a society we tend to blame groups of people, for example when a terrorist attack happens we blame an entire religion. When the news emerged that the co-pilot appeared to crash the plane on purpose and he had depression, the media gripped onto the fact that he had a mental illness and immediately put the blame on that releasing stigmatising headlines. The Daily Mail printed on their front page, “Suicide pilot had a long history of depression. Why on earth was he allowed to fly” This headline is unacceptable. The majority of people with depression are not dangerous nor are they bad people. I have depression and I would never dream of killing one person, let alone 150 people. I have never hurt another person physically and I highly doubt I ever will. I know many people with depression some of which are charity workers, scientists, nurses. Why should a mental illness mean that someone shouldn’t be allowed to do their job? 1 in 4 of us suffer from mental health problems and I’m sure there are many people working in ‘trusted’ positions that have mental health problems whether they are diagnosed or not. Anyone whether unwell or not can be impulsive. We all have a heart that could stop beating at any time, are we saying that anyone with a heart shouldn’t be a pilot or a surgeon?

The Daily Mirror’s front page involved a huge font with the words, “Killer Pilot Suffered From Depression” So? The pilot may have had depression but correlation does not imply causation. We don’t know that it was his depression that made him crash the plane and we may never know but it is wrong to speculate and turn to blame a vulnerable group of people. The pilot had his own thoughts and choices, individuals are responsible for their own actions. This tragedy is not an opportunity to stigmatise those with mental illness. People with mental illness are still people, people who are capable of achieving great things. Let’s not blame mental illness every time something goes wrong.

If you stigmatise and shut out certain groups in society then society loses out. People have much to offer the world regardless of age, race, religion and disability. Let’s focus on people’s gifts and talents and see them as individuals rather than grouping people and tarring them with the same brush in order to cope with the horrors that happen in our world. You cannot group people together, mental illness is a huge umbrella and no two people are the same. One pilot with mental illness may be overly cautious. Another pilot with mental illness may be impulsive. People are people, each individual unique in how they respond to the world around them.

Bad things happen in this world and maybe people blame things like religion or mental illness because it makes it feel easier to them or helps them to make sense of things but we need to accept that bad things happen and individuals alone can cause trauma and nightmares. Blaming innocent groups leaves people outcasted, alone and puts unnecessary fear into society.

We must remember that we all have mental health, we are all on the scale somewhere. People with mental illness are not scary or dangerous. They are not ‘crazy’ or ‘lunatics’ they are simply people like you and I and there’s a high likelihood that at some point in your life you will struggle with mental health problems.

I am not standing up for the pilot, not at all. If he did crash that plane on purpose then it is beyond wrong, heartbreaking, horrific but I do think that if the pilot’s depression did contribute to the crash and he had a long history of the illness like the media suggest then questions need to be asked about why he didn’t have the right help. I do not know the situation here but I know that I have cried out for help in the past and been ignored by services and ended up making serious attempts on my life. It needs investigating, did services let him down? Should they have stepped in? Had he made hints or comments and if so why weren’t they taken seriously? I am not saying that it was his illness, we do not know that and it is wrong to speculate but I am saying that this is why it is so important that help is there and accessible for those battling mental illness.

People are mainly good, there are a small minority of people in society who are dangerous and it is wrong to think that the whole of that minority have mental health problems. There are many good people with mental illness and I have been so lucky to meet some of those amazing and inspirational people. In some ways my mental illness has actually helped me to become a better person. I am able to understand what it is like to struggle and I use my negative experiences in a way that turns them into positives whether this be through my blog or speaking out in the media. The night spent in the cell due to lack of hospital beds was one of my worst but I have used it to speak out, raise awareness and to help make change happen. I have a mental illness but I have never attacked anyone or killed anyone. People with mental illness are more likely to be the victim of crime than the criminal. I used to struggle to leave the house but I began baking cakes for homeless young people and it helped me to get out the door and they got some yummy food in their stomach. I honestly believe from the bottom of my heart that my mental illness has helped me to learn and grow into a fairly good person.

Mental Illness Isn’t Fashionable

It has been fantastic that in recent years celebrities have started to be open and speak about their battles with mental illness. It means that many people feel it easier to speak about their own battles and it reduces stigma and makes conversations easier. I think society is beginning to realise that people can’t look like they have a mental illness, it is an illness of the mind and ANYONE can have a mental illness. Although there is a downside to this because some people are starting to see mental illness as glamourous. The other day someone with bipolar was told, “oh is it because you want to be like Stephen Fry?” and I have heard people say things such as , “Oh bipolar is becoming quite fashionable isn’t it?” Nobody wants a mental illness, I’m sure many people look up to and admire Stephen Fry for his talents and wisdom not for his mental illness. Bipolar is becoming heard of, spoken about, understood-that is not it becoming ‘fashionable’.

It worries me that there are people who strive for a mental illness diagnosis, who want the label, it shows a huge misunderstanding. Having a mental illness is horrible and no matter how much you want one (?!) it doesn’t work like that. You can’t choose to be mentally unwell. I want to be fashionable and my mental illness stops me. My thoughts tear me apart sometimes, I hate these illnesses that I have. I hate that life can be going amazingly and I can be achieving highly but my illness is still horrific. I hate the constant fear that I’m going to become too unwell and lose all of the things around me. I want to be fashionable, I want to wear the latest clothes in Topshop and for people to see me as more than okay, I don’t want looks of sorrow and sympathy or to live under layers and layers of clothes in order to keep my underweight body warm.

Do you think depression is fashionable? There is nothing beautiful about the scars on my arms that will stay with me through life, or the side effects of my antidepressants. There was nothing fashionable about all those months I spent home alone or the state of my bedroom after months of unmedicated clinical depression. I have never been to a nightclub, or on a girls holiday. I’ve missed out on the ‘cool kid’ stuff.

Do you think personality disorders are fashionable? There is nothing fashionable about losing all relationships and opportunities, about living in a constant state of conflict and confusion. I know people who have ended up alone, living in homeless accommodation.

Do you think being on a psychiatric ward is glamourous? There is nothing vogue about being watched whilst you pee and your family coming to visit you on a ward full of very unwell people. It isn’t some awesome sleepover, it is lonely, boring and the lack of privacy will get to you eventually.

It is great that we are talking about mental health more and more. It is great that so many people are trying to raise awareness and understanding. Mental illness being in the spotlight does not make it fashionable, something to strive for or something that people should want. People are unwell because they are unwell, not because they want to be fashionable. The aim is to stamp out stigma and stereotypes, not to change them.

“It’s All In Your Head”

I am certain that I am not alone in suffering from mental illness and dealing with comments from others such as, “It’s all in your head” and “Just get a grip” and so on. To a certain extent it is ‘all in my head’ but that doesn’t make it any less real and most importantly it is an illness that I can’t help and did not choose to come into my life.

So what is ‘all in my head’? Chemical imbalances, physiological and scientific medical conditions that manifest themselves into psychiatric diagnoses. These illnesses are with me constantly, I can change my thinking, think positively and that will give me hope but it will not dissolve my illnesses and leave me a free man (or woman). Telling me that it is all in my head is no more helpful than telling someone with pneumonia that it is all in their chest. I am aware that I have mental health problems, that my brain is poorly and that my brain is located in my head, I don’t need it pointing out.

Unfortunately I still come across many people who see mental illness as a choice, as weakness or even laziness. I still converse with people who think that depression is just feeling a bit sad and wallowing in it. It isn’t like that at all. It isn’t just the occasional negative thought or scary thought. Mental illness is with me constantly, I might be fighting it and appearing bright and doing well but the thoughts are still there, the illness is still there. A good day doesn’t mean an illness free day, it means a day where I am able to feel a positive emotion or do something good. Yesterday was a good day, I still weighed myself, I still engaged in anorexia behaviours, I still battled depression and tried to push off bad thoughts, I still had to line things up and check them but I felt love in my heart for my family and I smiled and laughed.

A lot of the people who will say things like, “it’s all in your head” will often be against medication for psychiatric conditions. Frowning upon anti depressants and installing the fear into people that they will get ‘hooked’ and be on them for life. Would you be against me taking salbutamol for my asthma? Or my Grandfather taking insulin for his diabetes? Would you be against someone having chemotherapy for cancer? Psychiatric illnesses are serious, they have the potential to be fatal. Why would you discourage someone to take life threatening medication? I know that some people get well with talking therapy alone but I know that without my medication I would still be in hospital. I am not ashamed to say that I take antidepressants, antipsychotics and sleeping tablets because right now I can function at a basic level. Without them I was detained under the Mental Health Act, unaware of what was going on around me, I was seeing things, hearing things. I was hurting myself constantly because I couldn’t bear to be alive. I rarely got out of bed and was watched 24/7 and pinned down and injected if need be.

My medication helps because I suffer from an illness, not bad choices like many assume. My severe and enduring psychiatric conditions become more manageable when I have these life saving tablets and who knows, maybe I will be on them for the rest of my life but at least I will be alive and not detained under the Mental Health Act.

So yes, to a certain extent it is all in my head but someone saying that isn’t going to make me go “Oh yeah so it is, no worries I’m better now” it’s just going to make me feel guilty and shameful. But it’s important to know what’s in my head is a chemical imbalance, a medical condition that medication can help correct.