Feeling Good?

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 three years ago. But this week has prompted a slight return, to borrow a phrase from Jimi Hendrix.

I’m slightly confused by this – it doesn’t take much – but I have seen various references (mostly American, I think) to May being Mental Health Awareness Month whilst here in the UK this week, from 8th to 14th May, is Mental Health Awareness Week. So, we have two ‘Dates To Note’ though as I’m British I’m concentrating on our week. This is organised by the Mental Health Foundation, and you can find their site here. The MHF do a lot of good work campaigning for better mental health, and provide a wealth of useful information on mental health matters. I commend their site to you if you want to know more. If you are in the States the equivalent organisation there is HealthyPlace, and you can find their site by clicking on the ‘Stand Up’ logo at the top of the column to the right.

For this year’s Awareness Week the MHF is turning things on their head. As they put it themselves, ‘Rather than ask why so many people are living with mental health problems, we will seek to uncover why too few of us are thriving with good mental health.’ To support this they commissioned a piece of research which has found that, rather disappointingly, only 13% of us feel that we are thriving in this way. The report can be found here – it is fairly short and easily read, and includes a definition of what ‘thriving with good mental health’ means, in case you were wondering.

Having been diagnosed with depression five years ago, I am acutely aware that it is something which is never ‘cured.’ I’ve been off medication for more than two years now, but always have that underlying worry that I might slip back into ways which allow the depression to take hold again. My physical health has been far from good for the past two years, and this has rendered me more housebound than I would like. If I’m being brutally honest with myself, I know that this isn’t good for my mental health, but physical health needs are winning out at present. If you look at the MHF site you’ll find a brief survey to complete, which gives you an assessment of how well, or otherwise, you are thriving. It is only seven questions and takes a couple of minutes. Anyone who has been diagnosed with depression will at some point have completed an assessment like this with a doctor, though this one is slightly different in its focus. Having had a few recent pangs of concern, I approached this with some trepidation. As always with such questionnaires, the important thing is to answer as honestly as possible – lying to yourself is pointless! I took the survey, and this was my result:

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To be frank, I was pleasantly surprised at this, and found some encouragement from it. I would encourage you to take the survey – and if your score is low please consider visiting your doctor to talk it through. I know from my own experience that hiding from yourself, failing to accept that you might need help, can be very damaging. I was eventually off work for more than nine months, and have always felt that this could have been much shorter if I’d accepted the need to do something sooner than I did. So do as I say, please, not as I did!

The flip side of this coin is that you could take this test and get a similar result to mine, and think everything is alright. But there are limitations to such tests, and if you are at all worried about your mental health – if you feel that you aren’t thriving – it would be remiss to think that your result means you don’t need to do anything. As I say, I’ve had my own concerns recently, and these won’t go away simply because I’m ‘around the national average.’ Our mental health is precious, and I’ll be taking good care of mine, including signing up for the MHF’s package mentioned in the screenshot above. I hope you do whatever you can to look after yourself.

Regular readers will know how important a role music plays in my life. Indeed, it is one of many factors which contribute to our mental wellbeing, and is used in therapy. You may have recognised that the title for this piece is borrowed from a song, the most famous version of which is this, by Nina Simone:

I trust that listening to that will have raised your spirits a little! Have a good day, and be well.

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I’m Fine

A couple of weeks ago the Mental Health Foundation launched a campaign called ‘I’m Fine.’ Posters are appearing in key sites in London, particularly on public transport. This was prompted by their research findings that on average we will say that little phrase 14 times a week, though only 19% of us actually mean it. To accompany their campaign they have produced this short video:

A stereotypical view of our reserved British nature would suggest that we say this to avoid opening up, and because we don’t really think that the person who has just asked how we are actually wants or expects an honest answer: 59% said that they expected the answer to be a lie. And if they got the truth, would they know how to deal with it anyway? 44% of the survey sample said they had received an answer they weren’t expecting to the question, and were surprised at being taken out of the comfort zone of ‘regular’ social intercourse.

We are famed for our reserve, but this isn’t just a British thing: if you listen closely there are a couple of distinctly American accents in the video. The point behind the MHF’s campaign isn’t that we lie to each other out of shyness, or a belief that we don’t really think that others want to know how we feel. In many cases, this unwillingness to open up is hiding a mental health problem about which we feel unable to talk. There is still a stigma around talking about mental health and the campaign is aiming to help remove that. There has been much research that has shown how we bottle up our thoughts and feelings rather than seek help, and this survey reinforces that – and also the usual perception that men are worse than women when it comes to talking about mental health issues.

To find out more about the campaign you can go here. Please do, as the site contains a wealth of useful information and tips on how to support someone in need of help – or on how to seek help for yourself if you need it. At this time of year it is very easy to get wrapped up in all the paraphernalia and excitement of Christmas without realising that there may be people we know and care about who aren’t feeling the joy. So, if you ask someone how they are, make sure that you mean it – and be prepared for an answer that may be more than a simple ‘I’m fine.’ I know from my own experience how easy it can be to kid others with that reply – and in doing so I was kidding myself. It doesn’t just have to be a casual greeting – and deserves to be much more than this. It’s worth doing that little bit extra to ensure that they – and you – really are ‘fine.’ As the survey showed, 4 times in 5 that answer isn’t really true.

World Mental Health Day 2014

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I have hardly done any of my Dates To Note this year, as I have already covered most of the ones I wanted to do and there seems little point in repeating myself. But one notable date that I always want to mark is World Mental Health Day (WMHD) which, as ever, falls on 10th October. Yes, check your calendars, that’s today!

Regulars will know that I started this blog two years ago to share my experience of depression, in the hope that this would be helpful to others as well as to me. One of my earliest posts was for WMHD 2012, and I will continue to mark the day as it is dear to my heart. Much has changed in my life in that time, but sadly the stigma attached to mental health issues show no signs of going away.

Each year a theme is chosen for WMHD. Last year it was older people’s mental health, which I thought was quite suitable for me as I had just retired! This year’s focus is on schizophrenia which, as I know from my many years working for an NHS mental health service provider, is a seriously debilitating illness. It affects many more than just the person diagnosed with it: it can be cruelly destructive for families and relationships, and for sufferers’ ability to work and live a ‘normal’ life. The very name ‘schizophrenia’ is usually approached with fear and the ‘I was in two minds’ quips that roll so easily off the tongue. We should all be better informed so as not to perpetuate this, especially as the ‘split personality’ aspect attributed to schizophrenia is a complete misconception!

Rather than attempt my own explanation of the illness I thought it best to point you in the direction of the experts. If you follow this link to the Mental Health Foundation website you will find a great deal of helpful information on WMHD and also a range of other mental health topics. As ever, I am also giving you the link to the NHS website, which provides a huge amount of useful information and suggested further reading, if you are interested.

I hope you can take a few minutes to read what the experts say. I believe you will be better informed if you do!