Talking about mental health on the Chrissy B show

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So some of you may know that late last year i appeared on the Chrissy B Show to talk about mental health in a special program titled “A mental health issue doesn’t mean i’m crazy”. The show was broadcast in January and is now available on YouTube for everyone to watch.

I first met Chrissy at a great event held at Westminster University called “Living or Surviving”. Chrissy spoke about her experiences of struggling with Depression at University and how she now tries to help other people with her inspirational television program. We were joined by speakers including Paul Canonville who talked very movingly about his own experiences of mental illness in sport and Professor Damien Ridge who is a psychotherapist.

You can watch me talk about mental health, the WellHappy app and working for both YoungMinds and the NHS below. I’m not on for the whole thing but it’s worth watching the whole episode:

 

Confession time: the first time i asked for help

The World in Mentalists this week featured a blog about first experiences (or first contact!) seeking help for a mental health problem.

Reading that blog which you can find here i suddenly found myself transported back almost ten years ago now to my own first time. The first time i admitted that i needed help and couldn’t do it on my own any more.

This first experience is, for many, a huge deal. It is the first time they have ever admitted it and let their carefully crafted mask fall and from personal experience it feels like a confessional.

Forgive me doctor but something is really not right in my head.

The first time i ever admitted out loud that something was not all right was  definitely a shatter point in my existence. My memories of it are vivid even now and i look back and have so many things i wish i could say to that scared girl.

I was fourteen when i first went to my GP and asked for help. I had been ill for a fairly long time by this point, having already fallen quite deep down the rabbit hole of Depression, Anorexia, Anxiety and OCD.

These were not conditions that had come about suddenly, they had grown up with me, slowly and silently. I had always been an anxious child and i can remember very ritualised behaviour and obsessive compulsive symptoms dating back to the age of 6 but it had always seemed very normal and very manageable to me.

In fact i remember thinking that everyone did the strange rituals i did and thought the way i did, we never talk about it because everyone does it i reasoned to myself.

When i was thirteen it began to manifest more strongly and i started retreating into myself. I had always been quiet and i had just started the “terrible teens” so it was not really noticed, not even by me, that i had started withdrawing from the world.

I had a lot of friends online and they were the ones that eventually managed to convince me to tell people “IRL” (in real life) and that what i was feeling was not normal.

Up to this point i had told almost no one that actually knew me, it was something i kept incredibly close to my chest and that not even family or close friends knew about.

I finally managed to work up the courage to tell my parents. Almost. I left them a note that said i needed to go to the doctor because something wasn’t right. This may seem cowardly but at this point i was literally unable to get the words out of my mouth.

They were shocked and scared, it was completely out of the blue, so good i had got at hiding that anything was wrong.

I wrote a four page letter to my doctor on my computer and printed it out because i was terrified of saying anything and i knew i would sabotage it and end up saying that nothing was really wrong, i had made a mistake.

I honestly did not know what to expect or what would happen after i handed over those pieces of paper. Mental health was not talked about ten years ago. We now have wonderful campaigns like Time to Change and politicians talking about their experiences of mental illness but when i was 14 this just did not happen.

There certainly wasn’t anything about mental health or illness at school. People made jokes about “nutters” and “men in white coats” sure but there was deafening silence from the curriculum.

I was scared that i was going to be sent straight to a psychiatric hospital right there and then on the spot. I was scared i would be medicated up to my eye balls.

Luckily this was not the case!

The doctor i saw was young and very newly qualified. She admitted from the very beginning that she knew very little about mental illness or the conditions i was suffering from and had never had a patient like me but that she would do everything in her power to find out more and help.

She was incredibly kind and compassionate and refused to give me medication, saying instead that i would have a referral to the local CAMHS team for an assessment. I remember how wonderful she was, so non judgemental and what’s more she believed me and what i was going through.

Through the weeks she helped me understand that medically i was not well and i needed help, she helped me talk to my parents and together we learnt more about my illness.

Later on she left her position at my surgery and went elsewhere, however because of the way she had responded to me i felt optimistic about my treatment from this point onwards.

I hear about some people’s first experiences and think back to some of my own later run ins with professionals i feel terrible thinking about it. It is so important that your first time “coming out” as it were about a mental health problem is not a negative one. I know so many people that tried once and it took them years afterwards to try again because their first experience had been so traumatic.

There is still a real gap that needs to be dealt with in terms of good and actual patient experience is and the education of GPs when it comes to mental health, especially in young people.

But i hope that through continuing work by organisations like YoungMinds we can get there. Everyone deserves to be taken seriously and treated with respect.

And if you want to help support mental health education in schools check out my friend Charlotte’s amazing AcSEED project.

EDAW 12 Roundup

Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2012 Roundup

*WARNING* Some of these posts may potentially be a bit triggering due to their subject matter. Please make sure that you are safe while reading.

Last week was Eating Disorder Awareness Week so ithought i would share with you all some of the fantastic blogs and news stories that i’ve seen in case you’ve missed any of them. There has once again been such an amazing outpouring of support, knowledge and activism from all over the world from service users, professionals and other people, such as parents, who have been affected by eating disorders.

I’m going to focus mainly on the work that Beat and their ambassadors have done because they do so much to raise the profile of eating disorders in this country and do have a strong focus on young people so i thought it might be more relevant for readers here at the VIK site. Their theme for this year’s events has been:

“Breaking the Silence”.

http://www.b-eat.co.uk/
So firstly Beat as an organisation have put out a lot of information and resources this week as well as holding a Beat parade in London on Saturday 25th February.

Some of their ambassadors have also been talking about EDs including Olivia talking to Real Radio here:

http://www.realradioyorkshire.co.uk/news-sport/no-more-silence-over-eating-disorders/m63zrpll/

Ilona Burton, one of my personal favourite bloggers has written a series of articles this week on the subject too:

http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2012/02/20/break-the-silence-beat-eating-disorders/

http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2012/02/21/%E2%80%9Ci-think-i-have-an-eating-disorder%E2%80%9D/

http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2012/02/22/access-denied-eating-disorder-treatments/

http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2012/02/23/eating-disorders-the-blame-game/

Splash FM also covered the subject, talking to a therapist who says that GPs often do not know enough about eating disorders and so fail to pick up on patients who are ill:

http://www.splashfm.com/splashstory.asp?id=4796

And also, just so you know the UK’s EDAW is over but our American counterpart’s is still in full swing. For more information on this visit NEDAs website:

http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/

First published 1st March 2012:

http://www.vik.org.uk/2012/03/01/edaw12-roundup/

Using online communities as a therapeutic tool

I was invited by Katie Bacon of Online Youth Outreach to write a blog about my experiences of using social media and the online world as part of Youth Work Online’s Month Of Action. At first this seemed like a daunting prospect, after all the online world is very much a part of my life and the distinction between online and offline is often blurred for me, with many of my friends residing in both and a lot of my work being based online. For me the online world is as big, complex and “real” as the real world in many ways and so it was hard for me to pick just one element of this to comment on.

I have used the online world to not only learn about mental health and illness (after all knowledge is power) but also as a therapeutic tool in itself. I have written extensively online but never blogged about the use of the internet itself. I feel that this shows just what a large part of my life it is and something i most likely take for granted. Occasionally I wonder that question that many of my generation have asked; “What did people do before the internet?”. However I do remember what it was like before the boom of the internet as something that everyday people used, in the days of painfully slow dial-up which I first remember using at about the age of 8. I do have a certain amount of nostalgia for those days, before Facebook, Twitter and the internet’s overwhelming presence in just about all aspects of our lives.

However i do feel that the internet came along for me at a crucial time. I first started using it on a regular basis, probably at about the age of 13, coincidentally when a lot of my mental health problems really began to kick off and become a real problem. Looking back it has had an absolutely invaluable impact on my life and emotional wellbeing and provided me with a safe, for the most part anonymous space to explore and try to understand the things that were going on in my head. These were huge things, pervasive and destructive things that I couldn’t seem to physically voice but could type and share with strangers who I didn’t feel would judge me or change in their attitude to me if i disclosed some of the darker things inside going on inside.

I know i’m not alone in this. Every day tens of thousands, in fact millions of people turn on their computers and log onto to countless blogs, support groups and forums to discuss their mental health and seek support. But why? Personally I believe that talking online to someone can be just as therapeutic as talking to someone face to face and in fact can be a lot easier and less traumatic. The online world provides a certain amount of anonymity that is just not possible in the real, tactile world. People can be whoever they choose to be online and the media is often very quick to pick up on the most negative and extreme examples of this but in my experience a lot of people use this in a positive way and i feel it is unfair to judge the majority of people who choose to remain anonymous against a minority of people who use it for less honourable purposes.

Copyright Kari

We must also take into account that a lot of people feel unable to reveal their identities. A lot of them simply cannot take the risk and this is often true for those with mental health problems. People fear that loved ones, friends and co-workers will uncover their mental health problems and this is often not an option because of stigma and discrimination which are still very real issues for a lot of people like me. The same can be said for meeting people from the online world. Obviously caution and common sense are necessary and you should do as much as you possibly can to stay safe and I would in no way recommend giving out personal details to people you meet online but I would say that many of my best friends are people I originally met online on support groups. In fact some of the people I met in the early days of using support groups, some seven, almost eight years ago are to this day firm friends and people who I cannot imagine not being a part of my life.

It was these people and others like them that first suggested and encouraged that I get help for the mental health problems I was struggling with. If I hadn’t had them coaxing me and sharing their own experiences of getting help (I quite frankly wouldn’t have known where to start) I don’t think I would have been able to speak to my parents and say I needed help in the first place and would have continued to keep everything bottled up and shrouded in shame and secrecy.

The internet is also a wonderful place for finding resources. There is a wealth of information out there that is literally right at your fingertips and does not require you leaving the house or even getting out of your pyjamas (a serious issue when you have depression, agoraphobia or other issues). It is also available 24/7 and both the wealth of information and support groups can be an essential lifeline during times of crisis, especially crises which occur out of office hours which is the only time that most mental health services can provide support. If you are stuck on a waiting list for services this can also essential as a stop gap measure and research is continually showing the benefit of online CBT and Mindfulness courses that often aren’t readily available for people who are struggling.

Personally I do not know what I would have done without the resources and the people I have met during my online journey. I know the internet is not perfect but it’s young, we are all learning as we go along and it is alright to make mistakes. And overall I think the internet serves an undeniably useful service. And as a last point I would like to mention a website that I am very involved in both as a contributor and editor, the YoungMinds VIK site which aims to open up discussion around young people’s mental health and is very close to my heart: Young Minds VIK: http://www.vik.org.uk

Katie Bacon would like to thank Kat for her courage, honesty and open attitude to share her personal online journey and experiences. Kat will be hopefully joining the Online Youth Outreach team to co-deliver on the social media training courses over the upcoming months. Also like to thank Kari Brooks for generously sharing her stunning art work for this blog. Kari is an art student in America. Her art collection recently came 2nd place in Rolling Stone magazine. to check out more of her images – http://www.flickr.com/photos/era_halloway

 

First published 1st April 2011:

http://www.katiebacon.co.uk/young-womens-experience-of-using-the-online-community-as-a-therapeutic-tool/