Tag Archives: Depression

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

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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.

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Max Payne 3 and beating of levels of depression.

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Max Payne 3 and beating of levels of depression.

I wanted to post something I wrote a while ago. I did not write it as a post or a blog. I just wrote it the morning after a bad night. I want to make something very clear. I am not in this position anymore. I am very happy, off anti-depressants and do not need therapy anymore. However, I do know that a lot of people find it hard to talk about depression and I figure it might help someone. Also, I think depression needs as many kicks in the balls as it can get.

Max Payne 3 and the beating of levels of depression. 

As I lay in bed early afternoon, still drunk from the night before and feeling new levels of self loathing and depression a tiny thought snuck into my head. It was to do with Max Payne 3 and depression. Max Payne has a special place in my heart. The original is still my favourite game. Max Payne 3 saw me through two separate instances on depression when I was signed off from work for over two months. It kept me occupied and from thinking about self harm. It mostly worked on this count. It kept me from thinking too many dark thoughts and gave time for my anti-depressants to do their thing. The reason it helped was that I became very good at it. I say this not to brag – but hey, who I am kidding? I completed the New York Minute Hardcore mode. I completed a thirty gigabyte game all the way through without dying, under a time limit. What has this to do with depression I hear you rightly ask? A tiny thought that snuck into my brain I answer. What if I put that same level of dedication, patience, attention to detail, honing my reflexes, learning the rules of that world and how to break them, remembering what enemy came out of where and how to dispatch them and not dying into beating depression as I did with Max Payne 3? With depression being the cunt that it is, I will have ample opportunity to replay the same level over and over again until I know it off by heart. As I write this, I have a recurring image playing behind my eyes of me calmly cutting the skin on my left arm. My natural reaction is to repress this. Who would want to think about that? Or acknowledge that they are thinking about doing that to themselves? Perhaps I should remember it. I should remember every bloody detail of it. How the skin separates from the flesh. How, even though I know how much it hurts, I do not stop myself from doing it. The fact that it feels good. I should remember this like the garage scene on the first level of Max Payne 3. I can see it now although it has been over a year since I played it last. Max slides behind a pillar. Enemies run into to cover. The boss is dragged away behind a locked gate. And go…
I should remember thoughts of self harm in this way. I should think of ways of beating this thought. Not dealing with, but beating it. Otherwise I am simply playing the same level over and over again and not wanting to get past it. Which is exactly what I have been doing. So how do I beat this? As I write this I admit I do not know the answer. Yet, even as I write this, another thought has come to me. What would Max Payne do? I do not say this lightly, mockingly or without all due respect to anyone who has ever suffered or suffers depression. I say this as an exercise in thinking through how to beat depression. So, what would old Maxy boy do if a hailstorm of depressive gunfire assailed him?

Option 1: Get into cover.

Ok. Good idea. When depression hits it can hit hard and contrary to logic, when I am at my happiest. It makes sense to bunker down and try to survive. The problem with cover though is that it is purely defensive. I can hide and hope the enemies won’t flank me and creep up on me and eventually, get me.

Luckily, Max Payne makes a habit of not staying in cover. He attacks, but he attacks with a set of skills.

Option 2: Slow down time.

Admittedly, a nifty trick to pull off and one we all wish we could do. Depression does not like me to try this. As soon as I take that first attempt at a calming breath, the panic sweeps in, the rage explodes in my chest and anger swamps my brain. Of course it does this. Depression does not want me to be calm. It is more effective if I am not calm. Much easier to knock me off balance and keep me that way. Yet, is this any different to learning how to guide Max through a burning office building? The principles are the same. Pressure, a need to escape the situation, intense heat. So, I know when I try to calm down depression will fight back. So, I need to find a way to fight back too. Not necessarily harder, just a way that wins. As I write this I do not know how to succeed at this. I am hoping an answer comes to me. I think being in cover while trying to stay calm is a start. Sadly in real life, cover is not always available. Being at work with colleagues does not give a lot of space to cover and deal with an onset of depression. Not withstanding the embarrassment of being depressed at work in the first place. Then again, maybe I have to find my own cover and not rely on it being readily available. Toilet breaks, pretending to smoke to be safely alone for a few minutes, emergency phone call from home that has to be taken can all be ways of getting into cover, even if only for a few minutes. But in those few minutes, I can calm down. I know I have talked my self down from some desperate heights before. Every time I did I had to regain control first. And that came from breathing and forcing myself to be calm. I know this is a contradiction, but desperate times call for desperate measures. In this instance it is a pure battle between me wanting to be calm so I can back to being happy, or at least as close to it as I know how to be and depression wanting me to not be happy. Depression has a whole host of ways to do this. The cocksucker uses my own unconscious against me. It knows secrets that I am not consciously aware of (thanks a bunch repression). It is the perfect time to attack. So what are my options? Breath. Force every other thought out of my head through pure force of will power and a desire not to be beaten and to complete this god damn bitch of a level. One thought. Breath. When I achieve that, everything does not become easier. It is still hard. It is now manageable. Which brings me onto what Max would do next.

Option 3: Attack.

Max leaps out of cover guns blazing. Enemies, stunned by this sudden and unpredicted assault fire wildly, missing him by inches. But those inches are enough. Bullets slam into his foes; they go down in grisly heaps one by one and they are all dead by the time Max hit’s the floor. I know right? If it only it were that simple. The truth is that the ninety nine times I did it this way before I succeeded in my hundred attempt resulted in Max being shot down before I killed anyone and seeing that damn loading screen that told me I had let people, especially Max, down. Max did seem to want to assist his own downfall in this regard by continuously jumping into danger at every available moment. My therapist and my fiancé (who is also a counsellor) would not doubt find it interesting that Max is my hero. A man doomed to tragedy no matter what he does. Yet, that is why he is my hero. He digs himself out of the trouble he finds or puts himself in.

The completing of the game can be done in many ways. My way was to use all of the advantages Max has. This seems fair to me. He is facing a literal army of enemies so needs all the help he can get. My own troubles are much less considerable. So Max Payne tactics should work right?

Get into cover first. Then calm down. Then, using all my knowledge and experience of my depression, where my enemies are going to jump out from, where they are going to lay in wait for me, focusing my aim so I do not miss my targets and staying alive, I can beat my levels of depression. Right?

As I write this I do not know. Yet. I do think I might be able to beat the first level of depression by doing something I should have done a long time ago. Like old Maxy boy, it is time to dry out a bit. Quitting drinking is going to be hard. Luckily, I do not really enjoy it anymore. It affects my anti-depressants too, which is another genius way I have tried to get better before now. Now though, I am seeing it as the option menu before I start the game. I simply need to set it to the ‘not drunk’ setting. As I am a fan of the hard mode of games, I can be ok with this as I have made it plenty hard enough before, and maybe this once, it is ok for me to start this game on easy mode.

So, I will give this idea a try. Now, if there were only something to help me stay occupied so I do not drink for the next seven days. Ah…good old Max saves me again.

Take (the best) care buddies,

David.

[Image retrieved from here]

Moving on from and staying ahead of depression.

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Moving on from and staying ahead of depression.

I have reached a stage in my life where I no longer think I suffer from depression and I am no longer depressed. All in all I am happy with my lot in life. What I am considering is how to move on from the concept of being a person who has been depressed and more importantly, (for me anyway) is how to stay ahead of it happening again.

For a period of time after finishing therapy I feel I have been treading water. Now I want to be able to swim forward with big powerful strokes. I must say that this is very unlike my actual swimming which consists of an enthusiastic doggy paddle at best. I do acknowledge that being able to find some semblance of normality and balance in life is a gift and I am very grateful for it.

I believe it is the time of simply being normal that has helped me see what is actually in my life. For the most part, I am seeing the good things that do exist as opposed to the perceived or imagined problems that do not. I am not saying there are not any problems in my life, but I know that I tend to panic spiral about situations and make myself see them as worse than they actually are.

I have learnt recently that there is a new approach to tackling depression which is the idea of prevention being better than cure. I will use myself as an example and say that the theory is that if I take better care of myself mentally and physically then I am less likely to suffer from depression again, or if I do, then to suffer the effects less severely. Now, I know that depression is a vast and complex issue and I am not saying this is a cure all that will work for everyone. However, I think this idea can work for me, and so far it has seemed to.

First off, I feel empowered to even think about being prepared to deal with problems. I feel more prepared to face problems and find ways to deal with them as opposed to dreading even the tiniest problem as I saw it as already being insurmountable. In my mind I see it as being like a ninja in fighting stance ready to take on any unseen assailants.

Another thing I heard of, and this has really stuck with me, is that a lot of what people think are mental events rather than reality. As I have mentioned, in the past I have tended to imagine the worst and think things are much more severe than they are. What I have found useful when a thought like that occurs is stop and ask myself; is this real? Has it happened? Is it likely to happen? The answer to these questions is invariably no. What this has helped me do is to be a hell of a lot calmer. I spend less time stressed over non-events or I am able to put them into perspective and they are not as bad as they first appeared.

I am of the opinion that certain aspects of depression can stay with a person even after they no longer feel depressed. Habits form in every aspect of our lives and I see no reason why this is any different. I formed the habit of worrying too much. By trying to stop this and think in a different way I am attempting to form a new habit. Time will tell, but so far so good.

One of the contradictions, as I see it, of having been depressed, but no longer being so, is that I am overly aware and scared of being sad; let alone actually depressed. I think I have seen sadness as a potential backslide into depression and to be avoided at all costs. Obviously I now see this as putting a ridiculous amount of pressure on myself. Perhaps I thought I should be more like a robot?

Two weeks ago I was the most down I have been in ages. I was angry and upset at what was happening in my life and I lost control for a night. The next day I told myself to stop being so damn harsh. Being angry, hurt, upset or whatever at things in life is fine. In fact, it is more than fine; it is being a human being. The trick for me is to not let it go on for any longer than needed. If I am down I get back up and try and figure it out.

My conclusion, if I have one, is that it is fine to have moments that feel like a backslide, or to have an actual backslide as long as I get the momentum going forward again and to use whatever tools work to keep it going that way.

Take care buddies,

David.

Mindfulness as part of Mental Health Awareness Week 2015.

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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.

Admitting Mental Health Issues in the Workplace.

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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.

Exploring mental health.

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Exploring mental health.

Over the past two months I have been carrying out interviews with members of staff and service users from two different charities for a featured charity segment on a radio show I co-host. On our show Daves of the Week on http://www.surreyhillsradio.co.uk/ we look at a charity for six weeks and promote their work and fund raising initiatives amongst other aspects of what they do. We have featured Combat Stress and are now with Mary Francis Trust. Aside from doing the interviews for the show, I have also found out a lot, and been made to think more about mental health as a concept. There has been too much to cover in one post, so I will explore different aspects in future posts, as well as new aspects when they come up.

One concept I found most interesting was from an interview with Patrick Volter CEO of Mary Francis Trust. In this he compared how people view their physical health as opposed to their mental health. Patrick spoke about how if someone has an issue with their physical health, they would not think twice about seeing their doctor. On the other hand, it seems people are less likely to take as much care over their mental health and see a doctor, for anxiety as an example. I can speak from personal experience of this being true. I resisted the urge to see a doctor about my depression for the longest time. I simply did not see it as connected to my physical health. This is why I think this is a good concept to be aware of. Emotional health needs as much care as physical health.

I wonder why people do this? What is it about feeling emotionally unwell that does not feel the same to people as feeling physically unwell? I think part of it is the way mental health is portrayed or thought of by the general public. Another part is how people with mental health issues think of themselves and what they think they deserve or need to help them cope. I remember thinking that I didn’t deserve any help as I was only feeling down, so I was as much as fault for not getting help as anything else. I don’t recall if I felt that I shouldn’t get help as being depressed was frowned upon by society, so I will not blame that as a reason for myself, but I do think it is a factor for others in not getting help when they need it.

Something I have learnt is that there seems to be an abundance of services to help people with varying degrees of mental health. Talking to the Mary Francis Trust, I have found that the range of services they offer is amazing. From minor to major mental health issues, there is something to help people in numerous ways. The same can be said for services like Samaritans; they are there 24/7 for people to simply talk to, but not everyone knows they are there. Which is why I will mention a request that came from an interview. If you are at a doctors or at the hospital and you know about services that might help people, let the doctors or nurses know because they simply might not have heard of the service before. Or if you know someone that might benefit from a service, then let them know. This is a very simple way to raise awareness and could potentially be of use to someone further down the line.

One of the things I find hardest to deal with when doing the interviews or talking about it on the show is the thought of people suffering in silence or for want of knowing about a service that could help them breaks my heart. I do applaud the drives in social care to confront and alleviate the isolation that people can feel when they have a mental health issue. To show them that support for them is available if they need it is a wonderful. I only hope more people find out about them and access them to make their lives better.

Another aspect I found out about was the struggle charities can have with the media trying to report aspects of their work in a sensationalist fashion. An example would be the reporting of a soldier with PTSD lashing out violently in public. The actual facts do not seem to matter as much as the juiciness of the story, which I find both sad and aggravating. Not only do charities have to try and raise awareness of what they do and the people they do it for, they also have to fight against a media that cares not for the details and more on the impact the headlines have.

Another example is the front page reporting of the German pilot who crashed an airplane into the mountain. Naturally, I have nothing but sympathy for the families and friends involved in this tragic story. It did bother and make me angry that the some paper’s front page headlines ran with ‘Madman in the Cockpit’ style reporting. Or I should say ‘reported’ depression as it is not clear if this was what he was actually suffering from or the reason he did what he did.

I think what makes me angriest is the concept that seems to come across of ‘He was depressed so he flew his plane into a mountain. This makes sense.’ It really doesn’t make sense. Did anyone think about this logic before they said it? Or what is worse, what if people thought about it and knew that it did not make sense and published it because it was inflammatory and likely to cause a stir. How does this widespread speculation help anyone, let alone someone who has any form of mental health related issues to see their conditions being portrayed in this way? Irresponsible does not even come close.

I think that mental health awareness is getting better, then I see the headlines from yesterday and I am reminded that there is a long way to go. Still, I have to hope in the long term it will become something that is understood more clearly, services to help people are more widely known and that people with mental health issues know that there are things that can help them. Until then, I will do what I can in my small way to help that come about.

If you have any thoughts or comments, I would love to hear them.

Take care buddies,

David.

What does ‘raising awareness’ actually mean?

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What does ‘raising awareness’ actually mean?

I have heard the phrase ‘raising awareness’ many times in the past month. I am wondering, aside from the obvious, what does it actually mean? In real terms, what happens when awareness is raised? As importantly, what happens after awareness has been raised?

Casting my mind back, I am struck by the outpouring following Robin Williams’ death and how his suicide should help raise awareness of mental health issues. I can’t recall another instance leading to such a response about raising awareness of depression. If you can think of another one then please let me know.

Let me be clear. I have nothing against Robin Williams or people who felt sad at his death. I have nothing against people wanting to say that awareness of depression should be raised. I do have a problem with what seems to be the great gaping hole after awareness has been raised. What next? What are we going to do now awareness has been raised?

So we know depression exists. What do we do next? How do we help people more? Does an awareness campaign last long enough to keep the momentum going to affect change in the long term? Or do things have a brief boost and then reset?

Raised awareness can also be affected by outside influences. Imagine you are a charity trying to promote actual facts based on research and you are confronted by a media only interested in telling one side of the story, usually the juiciest and most salacious. How are you going to get the real awareness raised? What do you do when people are thinking they know the real facts behind something when they have only been told the ones most likely to sell?

I wonder what really changed about awareness of depression after Robin Williams died? Are more people aware of depression as a concept? More people were talking about it so logic dictates that more people know about it. Or are people more aware of it as a concept but not aware of the details? I am not saying one way or the other, but I do wonder.

Did people come away with their awareness raised about how to spot the signs in someone who might be depressed, or of helplines they can phone for support, or feel more free to discuss the subject? Did people with depression feel less isolated? I am hoping that people do take knowledge away with them. Or you can let me know. I am aware that I don’t know what others learnt, so feel free to add your thoughts.

How long do we look at something when awareness is being raised? How long do we keep looking at it before we move on? If we look for a finite period of time before something else comes along, how long is the awareness raised for? Does it have a shelf life? What happens after this?

One thing has niggled me for a while. It was a comment I read on Facebook and I am sure it was well meant. You can be the judge. The comment was ‘Do something for people with depression. Say a prayer for them today’ or pretty close to that. Am I a terrible person for getting annoyed by this? Perhaps my own awareness is lacking. I was not aware that being depressed was something that could be prayed away.

In the end I am curious why I am so bothered about it. Raising awareness should be an obvious thing for me to support. I do support it. I also get angry that there is still a stigma attached to mental health issues and that people suffer for longer than they need to as a result. Awareness is being raised and that is a good thing. Things are getting better. Or I like to think so. Can they get better more quickly? I hope so.

I think what really brought it home was learning that it takes an average of thirteen years for an ex-military service person suffering from PTSD to seek support. Imagine the how high the wait time for some is to make the average thirteen years? This breaks my heart. Which is why people are trying to raise awareness of it and other issues like it. I hope the awareness is and stays raised.