It’s Time To Talk. Time To Change’s campaign works to get us talking about mental health. I often find that people assume this is aimed only at those suffering with mental ill health but we won’t normalise these conversations if we don’t all adopt this practice. Whether you have a disorder or not, I encourage you to talk – if you think your friend is down, ask if they need help; if you’re feeling unwell I encourage you to share with somebody you feel comfortable talking to.
I recently launched the campaign, Mind My Story, to inspire you all to engage in the conversation and speak up if you’re battling with poor mental health. I want you to feel that there is a community of which you can be a part and that there are people out there, including myself, who will understand what you’re going through; one in four people will experience a mental health problem in any given year and depression is the second cause of disability worldwide.
In the hope that it might help just one of you, I thought I would share the steps I have taken/am taking. Please know that, no matter what you’re struggling with, you can get better: it all starts with a conversation.
Visited my GP
I first identified that I needed help after a series of quite hectic life changes – bereavement, moving house, finishing my Master’s etc etc. Most of it sounds like basic life ‘goings on’ but it can still be overwhelming and sometimes it simply piles up and becomes too much. Don’t convince yourself that what you’re going through is ‘just life’; it’s not wrong to feel stressed. A little while later I had a series of panic attacks in the night, after which I bit the bullet and booked a doctor consultation.
The GP recommended I book an appointment with IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) which I did. I received a standard initial consult after which I was diagnosed.
Note – you can consult IAPT without first visiting your GP, however, they only deal with anxiety and depression. If you have concerns about other mental health disorders, you should consult your GP.
IAPT offer various courses designed to provide you with tools to handle/treat your mental health. They also offer 1-2-1 sessions; the only issue being that the wait times can be rather long. This, unfortunately, was the case for me – I was told the wait time would be at least 8 months.
Opened up to close ones
I opened up to my line manager at work and it was recommended I take time off. During this time I shared how I was feeling with my friends and family. Having them on my side was a fundamental piece of the puzzle and one that, personally, I wouldn’t be able to do without. It can be one of the most uncomfortable but important steps to take.
Found a therapist
After learning that I could be waiting more than 8 months for a 1-2-1, I decided to seek help privately (I do recognise how lucky I am that I can do this, and I understand how frustrating it is to be put on a waiting list). I have only had a few sessions with my therapist so I am very much at the beginning of my journey. It may take time to see whether this is the right relationship meaning I need to exercise some patience. Finding the right therapist is half the ‘battle’ – most therapists worth their salt will openly acknowledge that they might not always be the right fit for you. Please don’t be afraid to move on if it’s not working.
I like to understand the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of everything. I’ve also found myself keen to help others who are struggling. So I booked onto a Mental Health First Aid course last year and it was truly eye opening: I spent two days in the company of some extremely open and compassionate people. My biggest take away may seem small – I learned the true difference between sympathy and empathy. It’s something we all assume we know, but there is a huge difference in practice and it really taught me how to be a better listener.
In a way, the course was like a small piece of therapy in itself – we were encouraged to speak up if we had experiences where others in the class didn’t so they could understand first hand what it’s like. I shared my story with anxiety and found it very emotional. What I have found however, is that every time I speak about it, it feels like another brick is lifted from my shoulders and the weight becomes ever so slightly more manageable.
Like I said, I’ve only just started gathering the tools and knowledge I need to overcome and handle my anxiety and low moods but I hope that sharing these steps with you helps in some way.