#TimeToTalk Day 2018

I’ve submitted a piece to the people who run the #TimeToTalk blog, in the hope that they might find it helpful to support #TimeToTalk Day, which is tomorrow. They receive many more submissions than they can actually use so I doubt that my post will be one of them – rather than waste it I thought I’d share it here, to raise awareness of the day. If you’d like to find out more their website is here, and there are loads of resources available for you. I was particularly taken with this one:

This is what I wrote:

I was diagnosed with depression in late 2011. After months of treatment, both with medication and counselling, I finally returned to work more than nine months later. Perhaps ironically, I worked for a large NHS Trust which provided mental health services – though I didn’t live in the Trust’s catchment area – and whilst I had had a fair amount of involvement with service users in my twenty years there, most of the people I worked with hadn’t.

When I first returned, initial reactions were mostly of the ‘I haven’t seen you for a while’ variety. It was clear to me that only a few people knew why I had been off work, and I decided early on that the best way to tackle this was to be open and honest with anyone who asked about it. Not that I shouted it from the rooftops, but I wanted people to know and understand why I had been away, what it meant for me, and what it might mean for them. Some seemed apprehensive – I think they feared I might ‘have a turn’ or do something strange! The difficulty with any mental health problem is that other people can’t see it, in the same way they can see a broken leg, for example. This adds some kind of aura, a mystique, and can instil in some a fear of the unknown and unseen. I didn’t want to start some kind of crusade, but I believed it important to share my experience with anyone who asked. After all, to all intents I was the same person they had known for years, so why should they now treat me differently? Some might have had an expectation that I had changed in some way, and I wanted to reassure them that whilst the illness was a part of me I was still that same ‘me.’ People who have suffered a mental illness deserve to be respected as themselves: the illness isn’t a badge they must wear or, worse, a stigma to be borne as some sign of weakness.

I retired a little over a year later, and having already started my own blog I was aware how important it is for fellow sufferers to know that they are not alone, that others have shared something similar. But that isn’t the same for those who have been lucky enough not to suffer. I probably had around fifty conversations with co-workers in that last year at work, and made a point of telling them a few key things:

1. There is no shame in having been diagnosed with any kind of mental illness.
2. It can happen to anyone, at any time.
3. It is far more prevalent than people imagine, and it was quite likely that other people we worked with had similar problems.
4. Whilst some may not, many will welcome an initial approach of the ‘is everything ok?’ type. It does help to talk, and an informal chat can often be all that is needed to help someone.
5. Don’t be judgemental – people need to be heard, not given well-meaning ‘diagnoses’ by friends who aren’t qualified to judge.
6. Having been diagnosed doesn’t change who you are, and shouldn’t change how others see you.

I’d like to think that, in my own little way, I did something to help understanding and awareness. The important part of this was that it was on a one to one basis: I’m a great believer in the need for efforts to be made to widen the general population’s knowledge on mental health, and this low key approach is a good way to do that. Just imagine how many could be enlightened if we all had just one chat!

This Thursday, 1 February, is #TimeToTalk Day. The day is all about opening a conversation: this may be with someone who may need support; it could be to help raise general awareness of mental health issues; or it may be to help people be more sensitive and caring towards each other. I hope you join in – no special skills or resources are required, just be yourself and talk to someone. You may be pleasantly surprised at what happens.

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Trolled

Having just gone past the fifth anniversary of starting this blog, something happened here for the first time yesterday: I was trolled. Whilst I’ve always thought that could happen on social media, particularly Twitter and to a lesser extent Facebook, unless you make your posts private, I’d never really considered that it might happen to me in the blogosphere. If I were writing controversial stuff maybe I could expect it, but apart from occasional jibes at Trump and Brexit my posts are, I think, uncontroversial to the point of complete blandness! So I wonder what prompted someone to attempt to post this comment on my recent reblog of Mental Health Matters:

I say ‘attempt’ as my blog is set up so that I have to approve any first time commenter, so it is entirely at my discretion what to do with this. I gave it some thought, and wondered whether I should just approve it in the interests of free speech. But I rejected that, as I wanted to make more of it. I have edited the screenshot to remove the identifiers, but as he/she/it (hereafter referred to as ‘it’) only identified itself by a set of letters that makes it difficult to follow up. I searched the WordPress Reader and found one blog with the same set of letters as its name: as it had no posts and just one follower it was a bit of a dead end, though. But opening up a blog in that way would give it access and the ability to comment on other WordPress blogs, so that may well be it. I wonder if any other mental health bloggers have also been visited by this charming individual?

The troll isn’t identifiable by country, but the way the comments are worded, with all the typos and errors, is redolent of the typical commenter who supports the likes of Britain First, is rabidly pro-Brexit and/or a Daily Mail reader so if I had to bet on it I’d go for the UK. Then again, a lot of my readership is from the US so that’s also a possibility. Beware, they move among you!

Now here’s a strange thing. Either the commenter was too stupid to realise it – or just didn’t care – but, as any blogger will know, comments when viewed in your Dashboard identify their email address. And someone with that exact same email address followed my blog yesterday. Go figure! I must be so ‘hillarious’ that it wanted to get repeat laughs. Or maybe it wanted to see what I’d say about them. Sorry, troll, but I’m not going to give you your 15 nanoseconds of fame by identifying you to the world. Nor will I be approving any comments you make in response to this, so save your knuckles the effort of dragging them across your keyboard.

Now to address the points it made. There is nothing fashionable about mental health, and a trope, by the way, is a figure of speech, such as a metaphor, and mental health definitely isn’t that! It’s good to know that for five years I’ve been tedious and wallowing in self-pity: somehow, that realisation had passed me by, as it had to everyone else who has ever commented on my posts. If such posts are so laughable to the point of annoying you, why read them? There can only be one answer to that: because you are an uneducated bully who likes to attack people you think are weaker than you. Sorry mate, that isn’t me. The reason I write about mental health issues and occasionally draw on my own experience is to highlight the need for much more support to be provided for sufferers. I worked in the field for 20 years, and came across many instances of how damaging such illnesses could be, not just to those who were ill but also to their friends and families. Too little is done about this, far too little. Mine is just one small voice: I have no influence on this other than to share my views in the hope that this becomes part of a groundswell of opinion to ‘encourage’ governments to devote much more resource to mental health treatments.

On the charge of being self-centred, I plead guilty. But then again, apart from blogs which post fiction or are themed to a particular topic, that charge could be levelled against a huge number of bloggers. We write about things that are familiar to us and that we believe to be important: there wouldn’t be much point in doing it otherwise. So maybe, troll, you haven’t quite yet grasped what blogging is all about. Come on, give it a go; I’m sure we’re all sufficiently tempted by the words you wrote to me to see more from you.

Feeling sorry for myself? I don’t in any way feel like that, thanks, and if you had taken the trouble to read what I’ve posted you’d have seen that I first wrote about my own illness a year after it was diagnosed, and four months after I was well enough to be back at work – so I was way past that stage by then. But you don’t want to know that, do you? Like all bullying trolls, you wouldn’t want facts to get in the way of your prejudices, would you?

I’ve said in several posts that one of the things that needs to be done is to provide education on mental health issues. This is both to help people recognise it in others to whom they are close, so that they can support them, and also for a wider audience, to enable them to understand how debilitating mental health problems can be. My troll could clearly benefit from this, if it had a sufficiently open mind to take it on. I hope that happens, but I’m not holding my breath.

The troll branded those of us who blog on this as ‘mentalists.’ Just for the record, this is what a mentalist is:

I’m now off to practise my mind reading and telepathic skills – all part of turning myself into a superhero! After all, I need to be strong and powerful, not self-centred and self-pitying in my me-me-me world, don’t I? I hope no one else who writes about mental health comes across this idiot, or anyone else like them. I’m way past the time where this comment could have been hurtful to me, but others might not be so fortunate. I really pity the person who made this comment: their ignorance is now displayed for all to see, and if anyone needs help it’s them, not me. I’m not going to change because of one negative, uncaring comment, and I hope that every other mental health blogger can ignore this type of thing and carry on doing what you do. I’d rather read your words than those of morons like this.