#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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Dementia Awareness

This post is dedicated to the memory of my Mum, who died nine years ago this week, on 15th May 2008.

This Sunday was celebrated in many countries around the world as Mothers’ Day, although not here in the UK, as we mark the occasion on the fourth Sunday in Lent, which in effect means we do it in March. I’m rather grateful for this, as it would be too poignant a memory for me if we were celebrating around the time of Mum’s passing. It is also a poignant time of year for another reason, and so I’ve decided to rework and update a post I originally wrote in 2013.

Following closely on last week’s Mental Health Awareness Week – which I wrote about in Feeling Good? – is another aimed at raising awareness of a condition that affects many. From 14th to 20th May it is Dementia Awareness Week, which is run here in the UK by the Alzheimer’s Society. The theme for this year’s campaign is ‘Unite Against Dementia’ and as usual there will be activities and events across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Society’s hope is that people will be encouraged to take part and, by so doing, learn more about dementia, as the longer we all live the more of us will be affected by it – either ourselves or in a loved one. It is therefore important that we all know more about the condition, so that we can recognise the signs and will know how to cope if a loved one is diagnosed with dementia in any of its forms. In the Society’s words ‘The more we know about dementia, the more prepared we’ll be to face it.’

As you’ve probably guessed from the rather large clue in the dedication for this post, I have first hand experience of a loved one with dementia. Mum lived an independent life for many years but there came that awful time when we realised that she needed round the clock support, the kind that can only be given in a nursing home. The one we found was a good one and they looked after Mum very well, even when she was shouting that they were trying to murder her when they put her in the hoist to get her out of bed! But in her last year her decline from dementia was noticeable – she still recognised my sister and me when we visited her until the very late stages of her life, and could hold a perfectly sensible conversation for quite a while. But over time she became less able to converse, and the standard symptoms of memory loss began to show. She was taken into hospital as she wasn’t feeding well, and they told us that there was nothing they could really do for her. In effect, her dementia had affected her brain’s working so much that it wasn’t telling her body how to function – it had ‘forgotten’ how to eat and drink, so Mum had to be given this via a drip. Within a week of being discharged back to the nursing home she slipped peacefully away.

I’m telling you this partly, I suspect, because it helps me to set it down – especially this close to the anniversary – but because I know what the Alzheimer’s Society means when it talks about how the illness can affect others, not just the sufferer. It isn’t a preventable disease in the sense that medicine will stop it taking hold, but there are ways to live with it and enjoy a satisfying life. But you need to be ready, and you need to be aware. That’s why I’m supporting Dementia Awareness Week, and hope that you will too.

If you want to find out more, the Alzheimer’s Society’s dedicated page has all that you need to know about the week. Their site also has links to some very helpful literature for downloading – there is a wealth of useful information here, though you may have to search! They also tell you about the various ways you can get involved, either by organising or taking part in events or by uniting with someone against dementia and posting your picture on their wall.

As is my usual custom with my Dates To Note pieces if I’m giving you the link to the NHS website for more information. It is well worth a look if you want to find out more about this pernicious disease.

If you know someone you fear may be suffering but has not yet been diagnosed, this would be a good time to follow up on the advice I’ve linked you to. Only about 45% of sufferers are diagnosed and treated appropriately, and even though the Government has recognised the need to do more they have yet to demonstrate any real commitment to doing something about it. Maybe, once the dust has settled on our election, they will take some real, much needed action – but I’m not holding my breath.

Be aware. Get involved. Please.