This week in the United Kingdom is Mental Health Awareness Week. Although this particular Awareness Week for 2019 ends tomorrow, the need to be aware of mental health is so important each and every day for a myriad of reasons, personally and societally.
Mental Health affects everybody, just as physical health does. And we each find ourselves somewhere on the scale between mental wellness and mental illness just as our bodies at different points in our lives can be well or ill. Similarly, we may each be prone to various physical or mental conditions that affect our health and wellbeing.
Somehow though it has become easier and more acceptable to talk about an injured limb, organ or other physical condition than to talk about an injured mind or brain. Thankfully, the societal and personal stigmas surrounding mental wellbeing and mental illness are gradually being addressed and it seems that we are slowly beginning to accept that these things aren’t shameful, just as it isn’t shameful to have broken one’s arm, and that it is incredibly important to dissolve unnecessary stigmas and talk and raise awareness about such a vital part of human life. We have come a long way, but there is still a long way to go. On a personal note, I had to confront my own stigmas and challenge those of people close to me and listen to the advice of those friends who saw me at a particularly low point and told me that I needed to get help. Years of childhood and adult stress, a chronic situation that our bodies and brains aren’t supposed to be under, resulted in me experiencing full blown symptoms of complex post traumatic stress, severe clinical depression and severe generalised anxiety disorder. I didn’t, however know or understand what was happening to me, and it was very, very frightening. I blamed myself and felt ‘responsible’ for my mind, without realising that these kind of injuries can’t simply be ‘thought better’ and were not one being ‘weak minded’ as for me anyway, they were a result of my body and brain’s ‘default’ being to exist in fight / flight mode, imbalances in chemical regulation physiologically including with the hormones cortisol, adrenaline and the chemical sertraline. I have two first class degrees, and additional awards, and hold down a full time professional job within an organisation that focuses on helping the society and community and individuals facing difficulties on many levels, so having worked so hard to overcome the damage that a severe period of bullying in childhood and adult stress had done to me, and working in a profession that helped ‘really’ traumatised people with actual severe life situations, I felt and thought that I ‘ought to be’ able to function normally. And yet, the reactions my body, brain and mind were experiencing were in fact very normal reactions to difficult life events…and I had in fact done so well to have come so very far, and still be helping society on some level, even while I was experiencing frightening flash backs, severe low mood, fear, anxiety, chronic pain, intrusive thoughts, disorientation, dizziness, dissociation, insomnia, nightmares and severe depression. I had to fight hard to do simple things like even wash a cup or make a meal or walk across the room. I felt like my brain was exploding and there was no off switch or mute button or way to turn it down to get relief. So out of absolute helplessness and necessity for my survival I reached out and went to the doctor (something I was frightened to do, and something I was also advised against in case it affected my career – it didn’t – in fact I have since been very supported at work), and with the encouragement of some friends I finally took that brave step a few years ago and I am so glad that I did. Despite waiting lists, the help from the NHS I have been given both in terms of medicine and psychological support has been incredibly beneficial. Don’t get me wrong, there was no ‘quick fix’ – it has taken several years of commitment, showing up, doing the hard work to be in a place where I can manage my symptoms rather than them ruining my life. And I realise that I have a ‘toolkit’ to be able to get stronger and stronger and help other people too, so this blog post is a real victory, and I thank God for that.
I want to encourage you if you yourself are struggling….with anything…or know a friend, family member or colleague who you think might be struggling with their mental wellbeing to be brave and take that first step to reach out. I do believe you will be listened to and supported. I know it can be daunting, but there are so many resources out there, and there are professionals who understand what is happening to you even if they don’t necessarily know or understand your individual life experiences, and it could just change or save your or somebody else’s life.
I don’t know what the best resources are in other countries, but in the UK, here are some very helpful, caring, professional sources that you can reach out to – even if you don’t have any issues as such but just want to learn more whether that be to grow in awareness of mental health issues, or to gain understanding of someone you know, then these are a great place to start.
Please do leave a comment if there are any particular things you’d like to raise awareness of as I would like to write more about mental health and learn from you too as this is so important and might be just what somebody out there needs to hear.
I’ve also linked to a YouTube channel of a licensed mental health professional who is very relatable, so that’s something anyone can access which is good if you’re based in another country.
Love to you all and thanks for reading, and for being you. Never be afraid to reach out and ask for help – that’s what it’s there for, and everyone is important and valuable. Also, if you know of any helpful resources in your country leave a comment in case someone else is looking for help where you are. Thanks. xx
Breathing Space: https://breathingspace.scot/
The Blurt Foundation: https://www.blurtitout.org/
YouTube Kati Morton Licensed Therapist: https://www.youtube.com/user/KatiMorton