For today’s blog I thought I would write a bit about the various aspects of suffering with a mental illness and in some cases my own experiences of them. This isn’t by any means meant to be a complete guide to depression or an encyclopaedia of anxiety, but I hope it some way it helps a few people who are currently suffering with or who think they might be suffering with a mental illness.
Comments always appreciated by the way, either here or on Twitter @chrisjhack
Some people find it difficult to open up about their own mental health, particularly if it’s taken a turn for the worse. Many still view mental illness as a sign of weakness on the individual’s part and don’t want to admit that they’re struggling to cope. The problem with struggling on in silence though is that you’re just making things worse in the long run. Mental illnesses if not managed properly will sit in the background of your mind and fester, and then one day completely out of the blue, when you’re least expecting it that illness will make its move and attack.
Now in some “Best” cases you might get away with a couple of weeks off of work and a prescription for some mild antidepressants. But if you’ve left it too long and allowed it to get stronger and stronger over a considerable length of time you may very well end up having a complete mental breakdown and be forced to stay off of work for months on end. Not to mention becoming highly dependent on high strength medication just to get through the day. I’m talking from experience here. It’s not fun. Being reliant on drugs simply to exist is not fun. Being at home all day is not fun. Worrying about how you’re going to pay the bills is not fun. Suffering with a mental illness is not fun, full stop.
So don’t be afraid ask for help. Think of it this way. If you suffered a physical injury, say for example you fell over one day and badly hurt your arm – you wouldn’t think twice about seeking help from a doctor or other healthcare professional. So why should your mental health be any different? They are, essentially, one and the same thing.
Talking to your GP should always be the first thing that you do. And if you think they’re not taking you seriously or they seem happy just to throw a few pills at you in order to make you leave – go and see another GP who is actually willing to treat you as an individual and not as a number. I went through three different doctors before finally finding the one I have now who has been nothing short of brilliant. There is no “one size fits all” solution when it comes to mental health, so don’t just settle for the first answer you get if you think it’s not right.
When you go to see your GP about how you’re feeling the chances are that they will offer you some form of anti-depressant medication. It’s a good idea to give them a try if your GP is suggesting them as the chances are they will help to balance your mind out and ultimately help you to feel better. I must also say here that there is absolutely no shame in using anti-depressants for any length of time, be it a few months or a few years. If by taking them you are able to lead a relatively normal life then why not? If you’re in physical pain you would most likely take some form of pain relief right? So why not do the same thing for your mental pain as well?
Keep in mind though that the first type of medication that you take might not help. That’s the thing with mental illnesses and human beings in general. We’re all different, and different medication affects different people in different ways. What works for someone else you know might not work in the same way for you. So by all means try the first tablets that you’re offered and give them a few weeks to start to kick in. If after that you’re still not feeling the effects of them then speak to your GP and see if they can change you over to a different type. In fact, regular catch up meetings with your GP, say every 2-3 weeks is vital when you’re suffering with a mental illness and a good doctor should insist on it.
For what it’s worth it’s taken me almost a year to find a combination of meds that work well. I’ve tried Sertraline, Venlafaxine and a Venlafaxine Prolonged Release/Quetiapine combo before finally settling on a high dose of Citalopram in the morning to help with my depression and a double dose of Quetiapine, which is an anti-psychotic, to help prevent me self-harming or worse. So what I’m saying is it might take you a few attempts in order to find the medication that helps you.
Counselling and CBT
Medication alone is not a solution for treating mental illness. It forms an important part of the solution but in order to treat it effectively you also need to seek out either counselling or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Both of these treatments can be undertaken either as part of a group or on a one on one basis. But no matter which road you choose to go down chances are you’ll have to do a bit of legwork.
But it’s something you should certainly make the time for. The anti-depressants will help to lift your mood and balance your mind-set, but counselling or CBT will encourage you to explore the root causes of your illness and encourage you to tackle those issues head on. And that’s something that you really need to do in order to start feeling better.
Now unfortunately, counselling generally isn’t offered for free on the NHS anymore. At least, not in my part of the UK anyway – so you’ll need to seek help elsewhere. There are a number of charities across the country that can offer weekly counselling for a small donation, but one of the most well-known ones is Mind. Chances are you’ll have a branch in your area and they are a lot cheaper than the cost of seeking out private counselling if you’re running a tight budget.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy however is still available for free on the NHS. You will have to self-refer though through your local IAPT service and there may be a waiting list depending on how busy your local service is. CBT is certainly not for everyone and you will need to put the effort in to reap the results. But it will teach you how to manage the way you think about and process those situations in life that may be affecting your mental health.
When you initially visit your GP about your mental illness they may suggest taking you off of work for a certain amount of time. This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your individual employer and your own personal circumstances. If you get full company sick pay then great. If you aren’t lucky enough to get that then you’ll still be entitled to SSP from the government. Although don’t get too excited about that as it’s nowhere near what you’ll normally get from your salary and it only lasts for so long. But, if you’re okay financially then time off is a good thing as it gives your anti-depressants a few weeks to bed in and start working. Chances are it’ll also take you away from one of the major causes of your illness, (work) and allow you some much needed time for yourself.
Don’t fritter your time off away though. Believe me, after nearly a year of being signed off of work spending all day in bed or lounging on the sofa in front of the TV will do you no favours. No, instead why not try some of the following:
Spend lots of time outside
Go for long walks in the countryside. Explore places that you’ve never been to before. Drive to the seaside and take a walk along the beach or explore the coastal path. Take a stroll along the canal and enjoy the tranquillity. Above all, make the most of the beautiful spaces around you. As well as being a welcome change from being stuck in an office with a load of people that you can’t stand it’s also exercise, which is good for us both physically and mentally.
Reading is a great way to relax, unwind and escape. In the case of mental illness it’s a good way of focusing the mind on something other than your worries. That said though there are a couple of books that I would suggest any body currently suffering with a mental illness takes the time to read. Both of these were recommended to me initially by a friend with similar issues to myself, and now I’m going to recommend them to you. They are The Self-Care Project by Jayne Hardy, a book that encourages you to take the time to look after yourself and your own mental health, and Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig – in which Matt talks frankly about how his mental illness almost took his life away.
Take the time to write down all of your worries. Make time to write down all of your thoughts. I’ve found over the past year that getting all of those negative thoughts out of your mind and down onto paper or screen to be a great way of processing them and releasing the pressure that they’re causing in your mind.
When I first went to my local Mind for counselling, my therapist suggested writing a letter to one particular individual that had been one of the causes of my illness. The letter wouldn’t ever be sent of course, but the whole process of writing it and releasing all of those thoughts that had been constantly swirling around in my mind really helped to give me a bit of closure and put that negativity behind me. It also made me realise that writing is actually a great form of therapy and ultimately resulted in me starting this very blog!
Meditation was something that I’d always kind of dismissed as an activity that wasn’t for me. But having made the effort to actually give it a fair crack of the whip I’m more than happy now to be proved wrong. It’s a great way to relax and completely empty your mind. I recommend finding a quiet space in the house where you’re not going to get disturbed and listening through earphones in order to get the most out of your meditation experience. A great app to try if you want to give meditation a go is “Insight Timer” on the Play Store and in particular the meditation sessions available on there by Glenn Harold. Although there are thousands of other meditations available for free on there if his particular style isn’t to your taste.