My Mental Health Manifesto

I’m not really much of a blogger, much as I want to be. But it’s Mental Health Awareness Week and I feel I’ve got something to say in this area.

Firstly I want to preface this post by saying I am speaking purely about my own experiences which might not be the same as other people’s experiences. But honestly I have been on a massive journey over the last year with regards to my mental health and it has made me think a lot about what is needed. I suffer from anxiety and depression. My depression has this annoying tendency to disappear for months on end and then knock me over. After my wedding I walked into a deep grey fog and came closer to serious crisis than I have done in years. Luckily I am now really engaging with CBT for the first time (after a couple of disastrous attempts before) and can at least take control albeit however temporarily of my situation.

So in 2018 this is what I think needs to change about mental health in the UK.

  • WE DON’T NEED AWARENESS WE NEED CHANGE. This might be due to my own personal echo chamber, I am forever grateful to the immense mental health community on Twitter for being there. I find that there is a lot less stigma around discussing mental health than even five years ago. What we need to do is give people the support they need.
  • Help drive flexible conditions in the work place. In 2016/17, 12.5 MILLION work days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety That is a huge amount. Even though rules around flexible working were changed in 2014 but as an HR professional, I am still hearing stories around businesses that are stuck in the past. Understanding how you can support employees as individuals rather than identical worker bees can have a massive impact on mental health.
  • Better mental health support in schools. I don’t know much about this but I have heard a statistic that says the majority of mental health disorders start in childhood. I can definitely say that secondary school had a major impact on my mental health and was the beginning of a dangerous self-harm addiction that would take me more than a decade to break. Checking the news this week I read two articles that tell us about the problems with mental health in children (Sharp rise in under-11s referred for mental health help) and students (Student mental health ‘failing a generation). One of my personal aims is to understand more and get involved with groups who are helping with this.
  • Better understanding of how mental health differs for different demographics. Again this is something I don’t know much about. I am bisexual, and I have been fortunate to have a relatively smooth experience of growing up, coming up and defining myself with this. But statistics show that LGBTQIA people are more likely to suffer from mental health problems. What’s more, it is critical to understand the difference experiences that lesbians for example, might face when asking for mental health support, compared to bisexual or transgender individuals. Race, class, disabled, or a variety of other contexts need to be better understood so we can give the right support for each person.

So there you have it. My Mental Health Manifesto. Certainly gives me something to work with this year. So what is yours going to say?

(Image borrowed from https://emmafalt.net/2014/05/21/mhaw/)

Advertisements

#ScarredAndSexy

TW: This post discusses self-harm.

As soon as I saw @geekmagnifique launch the hashtag #ScarredAndSexy, I was immediately excited.  And then I saw her amazing post You are more than your scars. And I had thoughts.  Many thoughts. Loud thoughts.

Self-harm is the one addiction I’ve struggled to break.  Over a decade of not knowing how to cope and reaching for temporary relief.   It’s been 8 years since I broke the habit.  But there have been relapses. Each time leaving a reminder on my skin. And the craving is always there.

I have a problematic relationship with my scars.  Yes there have been times when I have been ashamed of them.  Pulling my sleeves down.  Looking away and mumbling that they are private.

But more often than not I haven’t hidden them away.  I display them in defiance.  There’s always been an angry resentment when people notice them, as if to say, why are you making a big deal out of this?! How dare you look at me like I’m a freak.  I dare people every day to notice them.  And it’s taken me a long time realise that I’m constantly testing people, waiting for them to slip up and react badly.

I’ve seen all the reactions.  The averted gaze and quick change of subject.  The sliding shift in attitude behind the eyes now they know they are talking to a weirdo.  Occasionally people get it right and just listen without asking anything more.  But more often than not I see sad eyes and confusion.  As if they don’t know what to do but it makes them uncomfortable.

That used to make me furious.  Having friends that in my opinion ‘pretended to care’.  OK I was a little bit self-centred.  I’ve seen my loved ones with scars now (though not of their own making) and I KNOW I have made the exact same expression.   It took me years to realise how horrifying it was to have someone you care about being hurt. And how helpless you feel.

Slowly, slowly, in moments and whispers, I stopped letting my scars define me.  I was the one doing it to myself. Again. And now they are fading in places. I went to take a picture for this post and struggled to find them. Which to be honest, is kind of freaking me out.  A lot. Barring a few relapses I’ve been clean for years. What happens when the scars fade completely? Who will I be then? Can I stop the cycle?

Other posts have shared pictures and selfies.  I’m not ready to do that. But I am more than my scars.  And really I always have been.  They are part of the whole.  I think I might be getting this self-acceptance thing.

I am #ScarredAndSexy.

NB: If you struggle with self-harm, this link might be helpful