Mental Health Awareness Week 2018

A couple of weeks ago, when I shared Feeling Good? – For Mental Health Awareness Week I said that I was in two minds about posting again for the actual week itself, as the theme this year was Stress, and I didn’t feel that I was qualified to write about that any more, having, I thought, managed to remove most of the stress factors from my life since I retired.

The week is organised by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF), who do a great deal of good in raising awareness of mental health issues and supporting those in need of help. Their website can be found here and is well worth a visit. It was they who have prompted me to post this: I’ve been on their email list for a long time, and a recent email from them invited me to take their ‘stress test.’ I thought I might as well, and did so in the expectation of a very low score. What I got was this:

This came as a bit of a surprise. These tests are, by nature, a little subjective, but I had done my best to be honest with myself – there wouldn’t have been much point if I hadn’t! But even to be as high as on the cusp between low and moderate has made me think. Maybe I’m not doing as well as I thought? What should I do to improve things. You can see from the image that the MHF offer a ‘Be Mindful’ course to help reduce stress levels and I followed the link to it. I’m not sure that it is for me, or that I’d be spending the £30 wisely, when there are so many courses, books, videos and apps available at a much lower cost. This might seem shortsighted to you, but I’m a pensioner on a budget!

What this test result has done is to get me thinking. I still don’t think I have any major stress factors in my life, though my main concern – my physical health – has potential for this. But it’s not like I’ve experienced in the past. As well as my long period off work in 2011-12 with depression, I was also away for three months in 2006-7 with what my GP called a ‘stress-related illness.’ That was at the time when I was starting to go through a divorce, and there were obvious reasons for the way I was feeling. But I don’t have those now, so why should I be scoring even low numbers on the test? I need to take a look at myself, I think, and work out if there’s anything I should be doing to prevent those numbers going up. And therein lies the lesson for us all, and the reason why organisations like the MHF exist to help us.

As part of the week, they have published a number of short videos on YouTube. I’m going to share a couple with you here. Firstly, a general one explains what stress is, and how it can lead to mental health problems:

The MHF has also undertaken a survey to find out how we think we are coping with our lives. In this brief video, they present a few of the key findings from the survey:

I find it shocking that 74% of us feel that we aren’t coping, and that this figure is even higher amongst the 18-24 age group. Last week, the Parliamentary Select Committees for Health and Education issued a joint report which called on the Government to make good on its promises to improve mental health education and treatment for young people: it appears that they need to give this the highest priority now, and not lose sight of this in the midst of everything else they are trying to deal with. Young people are the future of this country, and we shouldn’t be failing them.

I make no apology for the fact that this post is focused on the UK, because that is where I live and know most about. But mental health issues affect every country in the world, don’t they? May has been marked as Mental Health Awareness Month in the US since 1949, and is organised by Mental Health America, whose website can be found here. Their theme this year is ‘Fitness #4mind4body.’ Whilst the theme may be different, the underlying message is clear: we all need to be doing more to improve our own mental health and to help others. And that goes for governments, too.

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Feeling Good? – For Mental Health Awareness Week

As Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) is looming on the horizon again (14-20 May here in the UK) I thought it would be worthwhile sharing again the post I wrote to mark last year’s event. I haven’t decided whether to write something new for this year, so it seemed right to do something to draw attention to MHAW now in case I don’t get around to a new post.

As I’ve often said, I began blogging to share my experience of depression and mental illness, and whilst I’ve strayed quite a lot from that it will always be a subject that matters to me, and to which I will always return at some point. The theme for this year’s MHAW is ‘stress’ – and that’s why I’m in two minds about writing something specific for this year. Having retired nearly five years ago I’ve now managed to remove stress almost entirely from my life, and don’t feel that qualified to write about it now. Maybe I can do something from memory, as the pressures of juggling work and family life, and the stresses that brings on, are still there in the canyons of my mind (bonus points if you get that obscure musical reference!).

If you follow the link in the original piece you will find the website of the Mental Health Foundation, who organise MHAW. There are many good resources on this site, so if you are worried for yourself or someone close to you, do take a look. Don’t do what I did all those years ago, and close your mind to your situation. Take it from me and my experience: there is help to be found out there, but it won’t seek you out – it’s up to you to reach for it. I hope you don’t need it, but it’s always good to know it’s there, just in case.

Take It Easy

A post for Mental Health Awareness Week

Many of you have started following my blog in the past year or so, and may not be aware that I originally began this over four years ago to share my experience of depression, in the hope that it would help others. From the comments I’ve received since then it appears that this has happened far more than I could ever have hoped, although I admit to having strayed off message quite a lot since then. You will probably also be unaware that I ran a series of ‘Dates To Note’ about key days in the calendar, mostly around health and social care. They can be found from the menu above, if you’re interested. Not wanting this to become stale or repetitive – I can do that without setting myself up for it – I stopped these as a regular feature two or…

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#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.