Category Archives: Exploring Mental Health

Blogging – My road map to where I was, where I am and where I might be going.

Standard
Blogging – My road map to where I was, where I am and where I might be going.

I started blogging nearly a year and a half ago. When I started I was quite depressed and about to go into therapy. Now, I am relatively happy and finished therapy some time ago. Looking back on my older posts, I am struck by how things have changed for me in that time.

I think we can all look back on our lives and think ‘I can’t believe I used to be like that’. This can happen in two distinct ways. I look back sometimes and ponder that I was so much more depressed than I am now. I can also look back and wonder why I worry so much now about what people think when I used to not care what others thought of me.

The post in which I wrote about self-harm is still the one that startles me the most simply because I can’t believe I did that. I literally still have the scars to prove it, so I have to face the fact that I did. However, that was where I was, and now is where I am. I do not do that anymore and the only thoughts I have about it now are the ghostly reflection of a now dead thought process.

I can see how my blog posts mostly were on an upward curve during and after therapy. There were of course the occasional dips but therapy does have the habit of unearthing things I had not realised I felt or recalling times I had completely forgotten. That’s therapy for you. What I really like about my blog is that I can’t change the way I remember my life. It is there for me to see in black and white with warts and all.  It is also there for me to see all the good and happy moments I have had as it is all to easy for me to forget the 99% good in favour of the 1% bad.

Yes there were low moments, but what I focus on is that I had a lot more good moments and the low moments lasted for a lot less time. That process led me to where I am now. Where I am now is a good place, but I can’t help but feel I need to drive myself forward to really achieve what I want from life. So, where am I going? Now, that is a question.

Having seen where I have been and where I am now, I am desiring to go to a place I actually want to go. That place is to be happy, positive and of help to others. I am seeking to achieve this by simple steps at first. I have decided that I am going to focus on positive or happy news on my radio show as there is enough doom and gloom to go around as it is and I think the world deserves to be seen in a better light. It is a wonderful place afterall.

I am going to blog more about being positive and happy as I am hoping that it can turn into a positive rather than vicious cycle. I believe that if I concentrate on the good I can feel the polar opposite to how I felt when I focussed on the bad and was depressed. The wheel can go both ways.

Finally, I going to try and be happy and positive. This last one is hard. It is not always easy to do this. It is cold outside, I am tired and want the work week to be over. However, I can look at this another way. I am inside in the warm, I can sleep well in a bed tonight and I am lucky enough to have a job that pays enough for me to be comfortable, if not extravagant. Then again, I never was much one for extravagance. Then I plan to keep trying to be happy. I might falter on the way, but I believe it is a better plan to have than to let my emotions be at the mercy of life’s whims.

Take care buddies,

David.

Advertisements

Mindfulness as part of Mental Health Awareness Week 2015.

Standard
Mindfulness as part of Mental Health Awareness Week 2015.

For the past week I have been looking into Mindfulness as it is the focus of Mental Health Awareness Week 2015. We talked about it last night on our Daves of the Week Radio Show and I thought I would blog about it today, as it is an increasingly interesting idea for me.

So, what is Mindfulness? I think it is easier (for me anyway) to think about what it isn’t. Mindfulness is not a Zen like state where a mind is as clear as an unwritten page. Before I began researching into it, I had this impression in mind. My own misconception made me think less of Mindfulness as I have never been good at meditating or clearing my mind of all my troubles. In fact, the opposite occurred, where the more I tried to clear my mind the more it would become noisy and bothersome. Luckily, I had got it wrong, and what Mindfulness is looks very helpful for people coping with mental health issues.

Who is ready for a little quote? You are? Then here we go. Mindfulness is…’an integrative, mind-body based training that helps people to change the way they think and feel about their experiences – especially stressful experiences – and is recommended as a treatment for people with mental health problems.’ Through using techniques such as yoga, meditation and breathing exercises, people can learn to become more aware of their feelings and are better able to manage them rather than being overwhelmed by them.

What is it about Mindfulness that helps people with mental health issues cope better than other approaches? Let’s start with some facts and figures. (Quotes taken from Mental Health Foundation website).

‘People undertaking mindfulness training have shown increased activity in the area of the brain associated with positive emotion – the pre-frontal cortex – which is generally less active in people who are depressed.’

‘More than 100 studies have shown changes in brain wave activity during meditation and researchers have found that areas of the brain linked to emotional regulation are larger in people who have meditated regularly for five years.’

‘Evidence shows that Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy can, on average, reduce the risk of relapse for people who experience recurrent depression by 43%.’

Now, I am a fan of stats, but I am also a fan of trying things out for myself. This week, I set myself the simple challenge of being aware of what I was feeling. This is unusual for me. I have always tended to ignore issues or distract myself from them. I can say from my point of view, this has not always been a good tactic. This week I was feeling decidedly antsy. I (as usual) dismissed it as either being nothing or down to starting a new job and being tired. As can be expected, the feeling did not diminish and go away.

In the spirit of Mindfulness, I took some time to concentrate on what was bothering me and why. I asked myself every time I felt antsy what it was that was the issues? Was it this? Or that? When I did take the time to look at it, the result I came to was quite surprising for me. I realised that I was feeling out of sorts because I was not stressed about my new job. I actually enjoy it. I think I was so used to the idea of a job being stressful that my body and mind had gone into auto-pilot and made me feel a way about something that was not actually the case in reality. When I realised this, I felt a lot calmer at once and more to the point, I was less of a moody and miserable sod to my nearest and dearest. Through the simple act of looking at an issue and seeing what (if anything) needed to be done about it, I felt more in control of myself and my ability to deal with issues.

This brings me on to why I personally think Mindfulness can help people to manage mental health conditions. I think it is as simple as thinking of it as rather than ignoring or dismissing issues, it asks (and doesn’t force) you to think about what the issues might be and then when you have recognised what it is, to sit with it for a time and see what you feel and think about it. It asks you to confront the problem and try and resolve it. As someone who has most definitely ignored issues in the past, I can only come to the conclusion that surely it is better to face an issue than ignore it. Ignoring it doesn’t have an end date. Ignoring it is not a solution, it allows the situation to go on indefinitely. I think it is the empowering nature of Mindfulness that appeals to me most. The feeling of being capable of managing issues is a very comforting idea to me.

The problem appears to be that Mindfulness is not readily available to people as is suggested by the following quote…

‘75% of GPs have prescribed anti-depressant medication to patients with recurrent depression believing that an alternative might be more appropriate.’

To be fair, this does not say that the ‘alternative’ is Mindfulness, but I would rather people had the chance to see if it worked for them than it not being available for them to even try. Aside from my concern about the way anti-depressants are given away so freely, it appears that G.P’s are giving them even though they think another form of treatment would be more effective and beneficial. I am not sure about the chances of Mindfulness being made more available to people who could benefit from it, but I live in hope.

To end with, I will mention this quote I read and really, really liked.

‘Mindfulness involves recognising that your thoughts are mental events not reality.’

With the amount of time I have spent worrying over things that were not actually real, I can’t think of any better advice for me to keep on the positive side of mental health.

Take care buddies,

David.

My Tie Diary – Raising Awareness of Mental Health.

Standard
My Tie Diary – Raising Awareness of Mental Health.

On the Daves of the Week radio show I co-host, I had the good fortune to interview and learn about a young gentleman called George Hunter and his lovely mum Gillian who have set up the My Tie Diary campaign to raise awareness of mental health. As this subject is close to my heart, I wanted to give George some much deserved promotion.

George is 17 years old and he has decided to promote awareness of mental health in a rather unusual, yet very inventive way. George is wearing a different tie everyday of the school year and his campaign is based around the concept that no-one should feel alone when dealing with mental health issues and that it is fine to talk about this subject without feeling ashamed.

The ties come into it in a few ways. The different ties represent that we are individuals and that not two people are alike. George also uses the ties he is sent to sell in charity shops to raise money for Mind and Young Mind and also has the plan to auction ties from celebrities to raise money for a befriending scheme for the Mary Francis Trust.

I won’t give too many more details, as I am going to gently encourage you to pop over to his webpage and look for yourself. While you are there, if you feel inspired to donate a tie or donate money to the scheme you are in luck, as you can do both of those things on the webpage. Lastly, I would ask that you help spread awareness of what George is doing and what he hopes to achieve.

The link for the webpage is below.

http://www.mytiediary.co.uk/

As mentioned at the start of the post, I interviewed George and Gillian on the show, and if you would like to hear it you can do so on Mixcloud on the link below.

The interview starts at 26.51 but if you are feeling generous, you can listen to the rest of the show to boot.

Finally, you can listen back to past shows discussing charities, mental health and more on Mixcloud by searching for Daves of the Week.

Admitting Mental Health Issues in the Workplace.

Standard
Admitting Mental Health Issues in the Workplace.

As part of the radio show I am volunteering on, I have been carrying out interviews with members of staff and volunteers from charities. As a result of these, I have been pondering issues around mental health and thought I would explore some concepts further on my blog. One issue that came up from a recent interview was about speaking up about mental health issues in the workplace.

In the interview I was told that at a recent Bi-polar conference, one person in attendance stood up and asked if they should admit to having a mental health issue at work or whether they should keep quiet for fear of losing their job. When I heard this, I could not understand how this is allowed to continue. How can people be afraid to say they suffer from a mental health issue at work because they are scared of losing their jobs? Surely this is wrong on so many levels?

I decided to do some research and look into the issue. What I found did surprise me. According to recent research from Mind, 1 in 5 people that admit to suffering a mental health issue at work either lose their jobs or are forced out in other ways. Take that in for a moment. 1 in 5. I think one of the reasons I find this statistic so odd is that I spent ten years working in a care setting, so I am aware of equality and discrimination legislature. Surely this comes under the heading of discrimination? It does. Depression for instance is considered a disability, so it would be discrimination to fire someone for having depression. I believe the problem would be proving that a person was fired for depression and not for other reasons, whether those reasons are real or not.

Another reason I found this hard to take in was that a charity I worked for was nothing but supportive of me during time off from work for depression and my return to work after it. This gave me pause to think as it is sometimes easy to only focus on the bad and not realise the good that occurs. So, I think it is only fair to mention that while some companies lack in areas of supporting mental health, some do a very good job and deserve the credit.

However, it seems that some companies actually nurture a negative attitude to mental health and discourage people from talking about it and the threat of losing a job due to a mental health issue is not implied. The reasons that having a mental health issue is viewed negatively are too varied and vast to include in this post and it might be something I look at in detail later, but for now, let me say that I think this is wrong. Not exactly a grand surprise, but there we are. I will focus on this from a business point of view to keep it in context.

In terms of money, the WHO suggests that £26 billion is lost to the economy each year as a result of absence from work due to mental health issues or people who, and I think this is an interesting phrase, are ‘sickness present’, in that they are at work but not performing to their full potential. £26 billion is no small sum and it makes sense to me that it is in a companies interest to improve the ways it supports people with mental health issues in terms of reducing the overall cost it involves.

It also makes me think of the responsibility employers have in terms of what causes the mental health issues in the first place. Now, I am not laying this solely at the door of businesses and I fully acknowledge that the reasons for mental health issues are wide ranging. Yet we know that stress is a key contributor to mental health issues and that work can be a huge source of stress to many people. It seems fair to me to say that work can be a factor in people developing mental health issues such as depression or anxiety, so it makes me wonder if there is a moral responsibility from companies to support members of staff that have potentially developed mental health issues as a result of their work.

In terms of fairness, I do wonder about how much people with mental health issues help the companies in return to manage their own mental health issues? I accept that it is not always easy to manage a condition such as depression but in order to be balanced, I feel the need to admit that I did not take care of myself as well as I should have. Long periods of denial that I even had an issue, not wanting to see a therapist, stopping anti-depressants mid-course etc etc etc. I realise now that this was not in my best interests, but that is the kicker isn’t it? When you are depressed, it is so much harder to do the things that are good for you. Or I found this to be the case for myself.

This is where I feel I am heading into tricky terrain. I get an alarm bell in my head that makes me think that I am getting close to saying something negative about people with mental health issues and I should not do that. As someone who has suffered from depression, I feel scared about saying anything negative about others who have mental health issues. Then I wonder if I am actually being negative or do I simply feel that way? Or is it actually fair to say that people who are being paid to do a job have a responsibility to take all appropriate steps to manage their issues?

As I say, tricky terrain. There seems to me to be a cycle that looks hard to break. A member of staff is scared to speak up about their mental health issue as they fear losing their job. While I see that this is an understandable fear it does make me think how can a company support a member of staff with their mental health issue if the person does not tell the company in the first place? Or what if the person suffers in silence for too long and the effects are worse than they could have been if dealt with earlier?

Then it comes back to the understandable fear of losing a job due to speaking up as this can happen in reality. I do not like to think it does, but that does not change the reality of it. I have also read several accounts of people simply not realising they are heading towards to a mental health issue until they simply cannot go on anymore. I do not see this as the person’s fault but I do have sympathy for an employer as it seems a difficult situation to resolve or support with as the person they could be supporting may not know they need it in the first place.

I think this is the hardest area to resolve as I am not sure where to start untangling the thread. People are scared to speak up. I get that. I have done that. Yet, in the long run, how is this going to change otherwise? The issue of mental health is not going anywhere and nor should it. The next step seems to be difficult. If awareness of mental health issues is to be raised then people need to speak up yet people are scared to speak up for fear of the consequences whether they are real or imagined. I am not sure how this cycle is going to change.

Then I remember that I am living in a world that is constantly changing and that while the situation is as it is now, it might not be the same in a year’s time. Change can happen fast but in the present moment, it might not seem like it is happening fast enough and that may be the case. Yet, if we looked back in a year’s time to now, we might see that the situation is getting better.

In conclusion I think that some companies need to be challenged if they are creating a negative attitude to mental health issues. It is just plain wrong. I also believe that more credit needs to be given to companies that already do good work to support their staff or moving towards improving. As difficult and painful as it is, I consider it a very important step for people to speak up. I simply cannot see another solution in the long run.

The reason I say this is that I think the way this situation can improve is by the two sides to meet in the middle, or at least start to move in that direction. A company should support the member of staff, but they can only do that if the member of staff tells them. The more people speak up the more people will feel comfortable speaking up. I know this is a simplification, but I cannot see how else this can be overcome.

Of course, if you have any thoughts or ideas, I would love to hear them.