Are Attitudes Changing?

I was sat in the doctors surgery the other day, which is in itself a horrible experience. A room full of sick people, screaming children, heating ramped up to ridiculous levels, and nothing for entertainment other than some Readers Digest magazines that weren’t even written this decade. After sitting there for about 20 minutes a man came in, who was probably in his mid-forties. At first I didn’t pay any attention to him, engrossed as I was in June 2009’s Readers Digest. However, after a while it became impossible to ignore him. He started talking to people about everything and nothing, as well as swearing under his breath as each person was called ahead of him to see their doctor, and wondering aimlessly around the waiting room. A few of his bizarre words exchanged with people included “what finger do you wear a wedding ring on?”, “I’m hoping to be a body guard, not so I can smash peoples heads in though” and “I’ve probably got children somewhere, I was quite a lady’s man in the 80’s”.

The reactions from people in the waiting room included shaking heads, self concealed laughter, or just plain ignoring him and hoping he didn’t speak to them (we are British after all!). And I must admit I engaged in at least 2 of those reactions. Before I had chance to think any further I was called through to see my doctor (to an accompanying expletive from the aforementioned man, as he still hadn’t been seen).

It was only while I was walking home afterwards that I thought more about the man. He clearly suffered from some mental illness, the specifics of which, and the degree to which, I can’t really say. But I think it was clear from anyone who encountered him that this was the case. And what were people’s reactions, mine included? Laughter, anger and bemusement. This in a nutshell sums up attitudes towards mental health. It can be confused for rudeness, shyness, anger, oddness, and if people don’t have an understanding of mental health, then they can judge or be negative towards a sufferer, without knowing that they are. This is not a criticism aimed at people, because it’s not really their fault. It just so happens that mental health is such a complex, and misunderstood issue. Even people who suffer from it don’t really understand it! I find it very difficult to recognise and understand my thoughts and feelings, so God knows how ‘non-sufferers’ can.

Today there was a fascinating news article on the BBC website (Link to article), in which a study found that “19% of adults thought ‘one of the main causes of mental illness is a lack of self-discipline and willpower’. This is an extraordinary figure, although again, these people can’t be blamed, because if you don’t suffer from a mental illness, or know people that do, its easy to mistake or misunderstand the truth of the persons affliction. The findings concluded that “attitudes were also related to people’s knowledge and experience of mental illness”, and that “if you know someone with a mental illness you are less likely to hold negative views”.

I myself am always reading and researching, because it’s the only way that I can try and understand the complexities. And from this research it suggests that if everyone did this, it may help create a greater acceptance and understanding of the illness. David Cameron recently promised action on “treatable problems”, including mental illnesses and addiction. Lets hope that he breaks the mould for politicians, and keeps a promise!

 

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Introductions

Thankyou very much for the support for the first blog, it is much appreciated. It is extremely difficult to open up, as I’m sure you can imagine.

I finally managed to work out how to add a ‘follow’ option! If you select this it will mean an email is sent out when I post a new blog.

I thought I would give a brief introduction to myself in this post, to give a bit of context. My depression/anxiety came to prominence in my mid to late teens, although with hindsight it was in existence before then, but could be shrugged of as ‘shyness’. Mental illness also runs in the family, and I think its hereditary nature is one of those things that people don’t often think of. I first decided to go to the GP about it when I was about 22.

There are lots of websites about the symptoms/causes/solutions etc, so I won’t go into that too deeply. What I would say though, is that my illness is by no means at the upper end of the spectrum, the likes of people that have life threatening situations, consider suicide, and of who its clear from the outside that there is a problem. Mine is at a level that I can hide it much of the time (not particularly a good idea!) and it comes in peaks and troughs, with some aspects that are ever present. For weeks/months I can be ok, and then suddenly I can take a dip, which may be traced back to an event I can recognise, or may come from nowhere. It can then be very hard to get out of that dip.

When I was younger it was anxiety that was the prevalent symptom, which led to many missed opportunities, and struggles with/absence of friendships/relationships. As I got older, the depression joined the fold, and the two combined. I have in the past, and continue to have, therapy/medication, which help in varying degrees.

That’s a brief (well almost!) introduction, although doesn’t really scratch the surface. But that will come in time. I think the thing I have struggled with most is the fact that its an invisible illness. If you break your arm, you’d have a cast, if you had a cold, you’d be coughing. The thing that has been the hardest is that it is hidden within, and you develop excellent skills of hiding it. Which is partly why I thought this was an opportunity to change that. Plus hopefully to help other to open up. People have already admitted to me being in a similar situation…people that I would have never considered to suffer from depression/anxiety.

Finally I also want to emphasise that there are people out there suffering much worse than me, not just in mental health, but life in general, and I’m in no way asking for sympathy or anything like that. I’m just writing about this subject because you can only write what you know about.

To end on a lighter note, here is a photo I took at Richmond Park the other day! Exercise and fresh air/nature are supposed to be incredibly helpful for depression/anxiety, and so I try to engage in them as often as possible. What they don’t tell you is that 4 deers charging straight at you, can have a slightly reversed effect, as I can vouch for!

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A Journey Starts With a Single Step

So why start a blog now? Well for a long time now I have been living with a ‘Black Dog’ (as Matthew Johnstone called it – see video below). That ‘Black Dog’ is nothing visible, or evident from the outside, but is instead hidden deep down, on the inside. The ‘D’ word and ‘A’ word, which cause a wince reminiscent of a swear word, are not often talked about. This is in part due to the fact that sufferers of depression and anxiety can’t talk about it, or don’t want to talk about it. This is a vicious circle as not talking about it leads to further spiraling downwards, as it eats away inside.

I thought I would start this blog for 3 main reasons. Firstly I find it so much easier to express my thoughts and feelings through the written word, rather than verbally. Secondly I hope it may offer encouragement to those who are in a similar situation as well as provide some information to those living with/around sufferers. Finally I think it will be good to have a written account for myself so I can trace the peaks and troughs of my feelings and state of mind.

At the moment I’m not sure how often I will post. It may be as and when I have things to say, or maybe it will end up being daily. I see it as organic, and hopefully its structure will develop over time.

If you’ve got this far then a gold star for you! I look forward to sharing my journey with you.