Mental Health Awareness Week 2017

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It’s a shame that Mental Health Awareness Week falls right in the middle of the exam period when most young people are too busy feeling stressed to acknowledge it. It’s a peak time for feelings of panic and stress and therefore it’s really important to take some time to check in with ourselves and the people around us. Exams are important but our mental health is more important.

Talking is important for stress relief. Take some time out from revision to talk to friends about how you’re coping. Venting with people in the same position as you is a really good way to get rid of pent-up frustration. Share your strategies for stress relief and staying calm. Let your friends know that you’re there to talk if they feel like the stress and nerves are getting the better of them. Let people know that you’re rooting for them!

When it seems like everyone is stressed and exhausted, it easy to forget that people suffering from chronic anxiety are dealing with something completely different from these short-lived feelings that most people feel during exams. For this reason, it becomes a time when it is easy for mental illness to slip under the radar. It is important not to compare exam stress to anxiety as a mental illness as they are definitely not the same thing. If you’re suffering from exam stress, your feelings are normal and you’re still doing okay.

For mental health professionals and support workers, mental illness should still be a priority and needs to be acknowledged separately from exam stress. It can be extremely frustrating and even undermining for a young person with a serious mental health condition to be sharing the long waiting lists to see doctors and counsellors with people who’s stresses will pass as soon as the exam period is over. It is equally frustrating and undermining to tell a young person with anxiety that their uncontrollable negative thoughts are a result of exam stress. Some people are at risk and cannot afford to have their support networks compromised.

Take some time to talk, remember that the exam stress is temporary and don’t let Mental Health Awareness Week go under the radar!

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Suicide Prevention

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10th September marked World Suicide Prevention Day but most people didn’t even know. Despite efforts from various campaigns to raise awareness it is still something we avoid talking about.

Suicide is the biggest killer of people of people aged 20-34, so why are life-threatening mental health issues not treated with the same urgency and understanding as other terminal illnesses? It seems to be so much easier to talk about a physical illness, something with visible symptoms, something that can be understood.

Suicide is not selfish and it is not a crime. The shame placed on people who want to take their lives is stopping them from sharing their feelings and accessing the help they need. The negative stigma leads people to believe that they do not deserve the help and support that could that save them from a suicide attempt. Those at risk believe they are a burden on the people around them and that the world would be a better place if they weren’t there. Sometimes the idea of carrying on with life is too terrifying to deal with. The demonisation that sufferers endure only fuels the belief that they are worthless and  better off dead.

You don’t have to be a mental health professional to save a life. Just having a conversation with someone or asking them how they feel can make a huge difference. Let people know that they have someone to talk to. We shouldn’t be afraid to talk openly about suicide, you will not be offending anyone affected by it and you could help someone struggling to open up. Those of us who have experiences with suicide or suicidal thoughts need to share our stories. Nobody should feel like they’re on their own.

If you would like to support suicide prevention, it’s not too late. All you need to do is start a conversation or, to donate £3 to CLASP (an amazing suicide prevention charity), text MHAW16  to 70070. 

 

 

The Me Too Movement

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Don’t be afraid to speak out about mental illness. This Mental Health Awareness Week let somebody know that they are not alone by posting a photo of yourself with the words “me too”. Let people know that you are not ashamed of your struggle and spark a conversation about mental health to help break the silence.   ‪#‎themetoomovement‬ #MHAW16

All My Strength (one year on)

Thank you to everyone who has supported me or shown an interest in All My Strength over the past year. Not only is it a year since I started campaigning, it is a year since I started recovering. For anyone who read my article on theSprout last Mental Health Awareness Week, here is the sequel:

During 2015’s mental health week I brought my youth mental health awareness campaign, All My Strength, into the world and wrote my first article for the Sprout. It was a turning point in my own struggle against anxiety and depression and the birth of a campaign that allows me to raise awareness and fight back against the services that have failed me and many others. A year later, my own mental health has improved massively and I am still fully engaged in campaigning.

After being neglected by CAMHS and sent away from GPs with a multitude of unhelpful medications, I had been given a traumatic insight into the failings of the UK’s mental health services. I almost lost a year of my life to crippling depression, suicidal thoughts and extreme health anxiety. Despite this, I spent months on waiting lists, only to be passed onto new (and equally inefficient) services after a dismissive needs assessment. These were the services I was relying on to give me my life back and they made me feel like I wasn’t worth their time. I am not alone in my struggle and there are so many young people who are being overlooked and denied the support they need to take on mental illness.

Since I made All My Strength public at the mental health week event at Grassroots last year, I have worked on mental health projects with Cardiff Youth Council, contributed to discussions with Join the Dots and made my voice heard at an MHPB (Mental Health Partnership Board) conference. I am thankful to the people and organisations who supported the campaign at the beginning and gave me a platform to share my experiences and voice my desperate concerns for young people’s mental health services.

Going to university in Bristol has allowed me to deliver my campaign to a new audience and find new people who want to listen and help while continuing to raise awareness in Cardiff. Through sharing my story, I have become involved in an amazing young people’s social action group called The Mentality Project. This has given me the opportunity to meet other young people with inspiring stories who are determined to make a difference to the way mental illness is addressed. I was invited to spread my message at events such as the mayoral youth hustings and a thought provoking discussion about how mental health is represented in film.

All My Strength now has a significant sticker campaigning in both Cardiff and Bristol and a following on social media and on our website that is constantly growing. This is still just the beginning and I have ambitions to take the campaign much further and make the biggest impact possible. It is hugely encouraging to have my work around mental health recognised and supported and the positive encouragement I receive has helped me reconstruct my confidence. It feels great to be making a difference, no matter how small that difference might be.

As I continue to channel my negative feelings into campaigning and supporting others, my mental health is become more and more positive. I want to reassure others who are struggling with mental illness that things do get easier and there are people fighting for our access to a recovery.

http://thesprout.co.uk/en/news/mhaw16-all-m-one-year-on/19750.html

 

5 things that make suffering from a mental illness so much harder

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Mental illness is difficult enough to cope with without the extra hardships we have to endure on top. Here are 5 of the more painful thing that so many of us experience while battling our illnesses:

  1. Waiting lists- Firstly, if you suffer from anxiety or a similar condition, it can take a huge amount of courage just to make an appointment and get yourself onto a waiting list. Then, it can take weeks or even months until you get any attention. Waiting for support from mental health services can be extremely frustrating and distressing especially when you are holding out for it and relying on it to help you recover.
  2. Having to describe your illness- If you have sought help for a mental illness, you will understand the frustration of first appointments and assessments. Few things are more emotionally draining than having to describe your symptoms and emotions over and over to different health professionals, the majority of whom will only pass you on to another service where you will have to explain yourself all over again.
  3. Deadlines- Whether its a deadline for work, school or even just for a personal target, deadlines seem a hundred times more scary and unachievable when you lack any motivation or self-belief. Chances are, your symptoms will worsen as the deadline approaches making it almost impossible to concentrate on any sort of outcome. Sometimes it is worth asking yourself if a deadline is worth making yourself more ill over or if it is something that can wait until you are more relaxed.
  4. Bad Weather- The physical and emotional strain caused by mental illness can seem more bearable when the sun is shining. It is far more difficult to leave the house or even get out of bed when the outside world is cold, wet and uninviting. Good weather brings happiness and motivation.
  5.  Medications and their side effects- Too many of us know how it feels to be drugged up and sent away by our doctors. THIS IS NOT A SOLUTION. It can be terrifying to find yourself alone with a cocktail of pills and no explanation as to how you will react to them. Often, medications leave us feeling panicky, sick, exhausted, dizzy, confused.  Finding a medication and a dose that works for you can be a long and stressful process.

We are not Weak

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If you have overcome a mental illness, are overcoming a mental illness or even if you are surviving with a mental illness, then you have lost the right to consider yourself weak. No challenge is comparable to the act of regaining control over your own mind. Most people will not understand the mental battle you are fighting but it is probably taking more strength than anything they will ever do so never let them belittle you. As victims of mental illness, we often feel a lack of energy, motivation or control, but this is not weakness. We are working twice as hard as the average person to achieve even the smallest of goals. This is why every accomplishment is proof of our strength and evidence that we are winning the battle. Some days, getting out of bed might be an achievement. Other days, we might sit an exam of help a friend with similar problems. The things we do show strength, but the things we don’t do do not show weakness. You have not failed if you choose to put yourself first. Missed lectures and cancelled plans do not make us weak. They simply mean we needed all of our strength to survive a debilitating illness and did not have any left to give to other activities. We all make sacrifices to allow ourselves to recover and this is okay, whether the people around us accept it or not. It will always be frustrating when people think we are avoiding things and making excuses. A mental illness is not an excuse, it is an obstacle that takes a huge amount of strength to overcome. If we were weak, we wouldn’t be getting through it.

Campaigning in Bristol

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Having recently moved to Bristol I am taking the opportunity to spread All My Strength to a new city. The sticker above is starting to make an appearance on the Bristolian streets and lead a new audience to consider the issue of mental illness and what is being done about it. It is so encouraging that many have already taken an interest in the campaign including the amazing people at Peace of Mind, a society at the University of Bristol that gives students safe place to share their experiences of mental health while raising awareness and combatting stigma. Studying at university has allowed me to meet people who feel equally passionate about mental health and, for the first time ever, people who have had a very similar experience to me. This highlights the fact that it is so important to talk about our mental health because there are so many people ready to fight for the same cause but are waiting for someone to share it with.

A Powerful Voice

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“I must fight with all my strength so that the little positive things that my health allows me to do might be pointed toward helping the revolution. The only real reason for living.”- Frida Kahlo

One of the most important things to remember when despair and hopelessness take over is that there are still so many positive contributions that we can make to society. Perhaps even more than those who have not experienced any kind of mental illness. We understand the suffering of others and what works in crisis situations. We also know how hopeless life can feel and that nobody deserves to feel that way. It is so easy to feel insignificant and like we’ll never be any use to anyone. However, we can help each other by sharing our stories and making others aware of our suffering. There are so many of us and as a collective we have a powerful voice that can make a difference. When suffering from a mental illness, motivation is often in short supply, but if we all stand together and contribute all the strength we have, we can make a difference to the way our conditions are considered and treated. We must also fight on behalf of those who do not have the strength to convert their despair to passion and those who have lost their lives due to the neglect that mental illnesses face. People do not have to reach this point, all we need is better support. As young people suffering from mental illnesses, we know what we need but we need to fight for it because our current services are failing us.

My experience of CAMHS

I don’t normally use All My Strength to talk about my own experiences because it campaigns on behalf of everyone with a mental health issue. However, this is important and there are so many people who share this experience of mental health services.

In November 2014 I was referred to CAMHS by my GP. At this time I was plagued by thoughts of suicide and I was totally unable to take part in everyday life. I was scared to get up in the morning and scared to go to sleep at night. I was having a really hard time with medication and was spending most of my time in a drug induced state of zombieness from which I was terrified I would never escape.

It was five months before I was seen at CAMHS. Five months of fear and anticipation in which a ridiculous amount of money was spent on private counselling. The assessment was long and tedious. I was asked the same questions I had been asked thousands of times by various doctors and professionals. I was told they would see me again in a few weeks to discuss what they could offer me.

After more than a month, I had still heard nothing. I did not get a second appointment until I phoned CAMHS myself. This second appointment was my final appointment at CAMHS. I phoned again a few weeks later to ask why I had not be contacted for a third appointment. I was told by the receptionist that my doctor had left for two months. I was appalled that nobody had informed me of this and I had been left feeling anxious and confused. I felt abandoned by both the service and my doctor who I had trusted to give me the support I needed.

Earlier this month (June 2015), I turned 18 and I now no longer qualify for help from CAMHS. It had been explained to me that after my 18th birthday, I would receive support from Barnado’s with my transition to adult services. I have heard nothing from any service telling me what will happen next. I do not even know if I have been discharged from CAMHS. Once again, I feel abandoned and isolated by mental health services.

Fortunately, during the time that I was neglected by CAMHS I started campaigning and discovered mindfulness. I began to regain control and to enjoy my life again. I still often relapse into a state of panic or depression but I have found the strength I need to be responsible for my own recovery.

I know that so many other young people share this experience of mental health services and know how difficult it is to get help. It is shocking that people with serious illnesses who come in search of help are being mistreated and overlooked in this way. It is unacceptable that young people at risk are slipping under the radar. Not all of us have the strength to pick up the phone and demand to know we have not been given an appointment. Most of us will not access self help and will not recover without support. Serious changes are needed at CAMHS because they are currently causing more anxiety than they are curing.