Recovery from Bipolar and Achieving despite the odds: Sam

Sam shares her incredible story of living with bipolar disorder and how she recovered and now helps others as a student mental health nurse. As a student, Sam has worked on a child and adolescent unit, has volunteered for Mind with a theatre project for people with mental health issues and shares her amazing story with us here.

Trigger Warning: Piece speaks about self harm and suicide, please read with care.

 

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(image: bphope.com)

I started to experience anxiety at the age of 10. I remember feeling extremely overwhelmed at the thought of moving to secondary school and although I was very bright in other areas, I struggled with maths and this often reduced me to tears. At the age of 11, I started to struggle to fit in with my peers and became increasingly socially anxious. By the age of 13, I began to experience severe emotional bullying within my school. I had many friends and I was a talented dancer but the effects of the bullying eventually led to feelings of low self-esteem and self-worth. I wish I had had the confidence to speak to my parents about the bullying at the time but I felt ashamed and ultimately believed that there was something wrong with me as a person.

Additionally, I was a high achiever in a high achieving school, in a good area, so I felt the pressure of  these expectations. I had big expectations of myself too, which added to my stress and made life difficult. As I turned 14, I had already had three episodes of what I now know to be depression. I would go for weeks without eating and felt physically unable to speak. I would spend hours in bed and did not feel able to attend school. One day, I decided that I could not cope any longer, I felt suicidal and alone, taking an overdose. My parents took me to hospital and I later saw a psychiatrist at the child and adolescent mental health outpatient’s facility.

The attempt on my life made me feel really ashamed but I did not know why I felt that way and had those thoughts. I couldn’t explain everything to the doctor. I continued to have periods of depression and at age 15, I experienced my first manic episode following a break up with my boyfriend and a significant life trauma. I also had my first episode of psychosis (when your mind loses touch with reality) following this. I was taken into hospital and then sent to a psychiatric unit. Here I received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder (type 1) and was prescribed Lithium to stabilise my mood and anti-psychotics to treat the mania and psychosis. I found this diagnosis really difficult to accept but I was relieved to finally know why I had felt the way I did- and what was causing the depression and mania. It would have been very helpful to have someone tell me at this point that recovery is possible. It is possible to have a fulfilling life despite my condition, but I didn’t know it then.

I returned to school for my last year and I had to drop one of my GCSE subjects to catch up on the work that I had missed. I felt ashamed of my situation- I found school and socialising really hard and because of the greater stigma that was attached to mental health back then, many of my school peers were not very understanding or supportive. I failed most of my exams and felt like a failure. I had aspirations to go to university but due to my grades this was not possible so I had to do an NVQ instead.

I decided to study counselling as my experiences had given me an interest in this area. Unfortunately, I found life with my new diagnosis increasingly difficult and fell into the wrong crowd and turned to substances, alcohol and self-harm as a way of coping. I did not take my medication as prescribed- so consequently had another manic episode at age 17. I became so unwell that I was sent to a psychiatric hospital out of area and sectioned under the mental health act. Here I had high doses of rapid tranquilisation to treat my mania and psychosis.

I recovered from this episode and went back to work. At 18, I was working in a call centre and moved out of home into a shared house. I spent large amounts of money maxing out credit cards. I began to sleep around and had unhealthy relationships, putting myself in dangerous situations. Unfortunately, the people I moved in with were also using substances and this exacerbated my mental health symptoms further. I moved onto using harder drugs. I really didn’t care about myself and felt like my life was over before it had begun- I felt like I had nothing to live for. I started to harm myself again – culminating in an overdose. Then, I was admitted to an adult psychiatric unit on a section 3 (a longer hold in hospital).

By the age of 23, I had had several admissions into this hospital and had also lived in supported accommodation. I had many traumatic experiences in hospital as some of the care I received was not positive. Each episode of mania followed an episode of depression.

At 24, I met a boyfriend who did not use substances and he also had had his own mental health experiences, I fell pregnant and we decided to keep the baby. I then stopped taking substances and began to take care of myself for the first time as I realised my actions would now not only affect my life but another’s too. This was a big turning point in my life. I had a baby girl and came off all my medication. I had an emergency caesarean which was traumatic and I tried to breast feed which was unsuccessful.

However, being a mother with bipolar has its own challenges. I became very low after the birth and had an episode of postpartum psychosis, where you can suffer from delusions and/ or hallucinations. I had to spend time in a psychiatric unit for three months to be cared for and to get well again. Fortunately, my family took care of my daughter during this time. I recovered from this episode and my daughter, my boyfriend and I moved into a two bedroomed flat to make a fresh start.

I had some difficult news that year that spurred me in in my recovery and to make positive change for those of us with bipolar and mental health issues. My close friend that I met whilst living in supportive housing, who also had bipolar disorder, passed away from suicide. This inspired me to then start volunteer work within the mental health services and try to use my own experiences to help other people. My support worker at the time put me in contact with MIND and a local theatre group.

At the theatre group, I met many people who became a positive influence on my life. I started a course in mental health at college in the evenings and helped run the hearing voices group at MIND. I also volunteered in secondary schools educating young people about mental health, the effects of bullying and substance misuse. I also took A level psychology at evening school and completed a year’s social science course at university. My mental health improved and so had my self-esteem and confidence. I finally had purpose in my life as a mum and volunteer with positive friends and family around me. I also had a stable prescribing routine of medicaion- Sodium Valproate,  to help keep my moods stable and no longer going between depression and mania.

This spurred me on to apply for a job on the National Health Service (UK) Nursing bank as a Nursing assistant. I worked in different mental health settings including the hospital that I spent time in as a patient. This felt awkward at first but a Nursing assistant who had cared for me in the past took me under her wing. I really enjoyed the work and realised that this was the career for me as I loved working with people and helping them through their distress. When my daughter started pre-school I applied for a permanent job in one of the hospitals that I did agency shifts in.

That year, my boyfriend and I got married. After working in low secure unit, I moved on to working in a recovery unit and eventually applied for a job in a child and adolescent unit. I continued to have an interest in performance arts and my friend told me about a local theatre project which aimed to challenge stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health. This seemed to be right up my street so I volunteered! We devised two plays during the time that I worked with them. I enjoyed acting and spending time with others that had experience of mental health. We also wrote a book with stories and poems related to mental health which was later published. It felt great to be back challenging stigma and using the arts as a way of doing this.

I spent five years working at the child and adolescent unit and really enjoyed working in early intervention with young people. I had my son during this time and although I had another caesarean and a low period post natal, the overall experience was much more positive as I had stability and a good insight into my mental health.

As my son grew up, I decided to start my access to nursing and maths GCSE at evening school. It was hard to look after two children, work and attend college but I passed and gained a place on the mental health nursing degree at University. My manager also advised me to apply for the nursing scholarship and I was successful. My trust is paying for my training and I will have a job as a mental health nurse on qualifying.

15 years ago,  I really didn’t think I would be where I am in my life today. It really does show that with the right support, lifestyle and for some, medication that recovery is possible. Remember your diagnosis is just one small part of you it doesn’t define you and unlike some people in society mental illness does not discriminate – it could happen to anyone of us.

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7 Reasons for Alcohol and Drug Addiction Stigma: By Ryan Jackson

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(image: Pinterest)

Stigma is a set of pre-conceived false beliefs that people have against a particular group of people. According to the World Health Organization’s website, stigma is a major cause leading to discrimination and exclusion. Not only does it disturb the personal life of a person, stigma can also limit their chances of obtaining proper jobs and housing. The unfortunate thing about stigma is that it’s not based on facts, but rather on assumptions and generalizations that have been embedded into society.

7 reasons addiction carries a stigma

The American Society of Addiction Medicine characterises addiction as a “primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry.” The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as a ‘chronic, relapsing brain disease” that changes the structure and functionality of the brain.

So, why do so many people still think of addiction as a moral failing? Why do they still refer to victims of substance misuse disorders as meth freaks, alcoholics, junkies, crackheads and garden-variety drunks?

The answer is simple as it is depressing: because that’s the way it’s always been.

Addicts are scorned by communities, and celebrities with addictions are exploited or hounded by paparazzi. And, while the government purports to view addiction as a disease, it often works in opposition to that position through the “War on Drugs,” which counts most drug users as criminals. Even those of us in the treatment community still—consciously or unconsciously—employ stigmatising programming and language—such as when we focus on “dirty” urine.

So despite widespread agreement that addiction is best understood as a complicated behavioural-biological scenario that requires treatment, the system is hard-wired to prolong stigmatisation, and stigma contributes to addiction’s lethality.

Of course, there is a long history of mental illness being misunderstood and stigmatised,  in state hospitals or prisons, which was beautifully captured by the director Lucy Winer in her recent highly-acclaimed documentary, Kings Park. Addiction and mental health problems are still spoken of in hushed tones, and patients and their families are still blamed. This is changing, but there is still stigma. 

The idea that those with addictive disorders are weak, deserving of their fate and less worthy of care is so inextricably tied to our zeitgeist that it’s impossible to separate addiction from shame and guilt. Addiction comes with a second punch in the gut: the burden of being treated like a second-class citizen and expected to act accordingly. Stigma impacts us all, both consciously and unconsciously, and is perhaps the single largest contributor to the mortality rate. Consider these eight points:

  1. People fail to seek treatment.

Most people who struggle with an addictive disorder fail to seek treatment, in part because of their concern that they will be labeled an “addict” and that the stigma will stick. 

Often, a crisis precipitates treatment, so the problem is already well-advanced. If we removed the stigma, guilt and shame from the equation, people would find it easier to make a realistic, objective assessment of their substance misuse and discuss it openly with a health care provider.

  1. The medical profession fails to treat addicts properly.

Can you think of other situations in which the health care system abdicated responsibility for dealing with a health care issue that afflicts such a huge segment of the population? For far too long, those people who did seek treatment, often following a crisis, found no appropriate reception from the medical community. Doctors were slow to recognize addiction as treatable, and so patients were encouraged to find help outside of the medical community, in 12-step programs that based on non-scientific practices, normally anathema to physicians.

12-step programs helped many, but those that did not succeed there found themselves in the unenviable position of having been directed to a place by their doctor, having the recommended solution ineffective and being reluctant to return to their physician for further help. A better paradigm? The medical community should recognize addictive behavior as part of its purview and would apply evidence-based approaches in their practices.

 

  1. The mental health profession ostracizes people with addictive disorders.

It is routine in some mental health settings for persons with substance misuse problems to be discharged from treatment when substance misuse is revealed. They’re told that the drinking or drug use renders them “unavailable” for the work of psychotherapy and that they need to “get clean” first by going to a chemical dependency or substance abuse treatment program. They are told that whatever issues seem pressing and paramount to them are “just the drugs talking’

It’s common for clinicians to believe that before they can help a patient with the various traumas, interpersonal conflicts, intrapsychic issues and other problems that other people are  helped with in psychotherapy (and which are, of course, related to their use of substances) the patient needs to first become abstinent from substances. Many patients who are sent to traditional drug treatment programs that are abstinence-focused end up neither “clean and sober” nor receiving good psychotherapy.

  1. Funding for addiction treatment is discriminatory.

In spite of the huge impact and cost of addictive disorders on society, the way that addiction treatment is funded (in America) is disproportionately low. Despite passage of Federal Mental Health Parity legislation, mental health and substance use disorders continue to be treated differently—and often poorly—compared to “medical” illnesses.

What if there was no stigma in addiction? Given its huge cost to society, addiction should be funded and paid for on a level playing field with medical problems.

 

  1. Addicts get sent to jail.

Where substances are concerned, people go to jail for the possession of something that is part and parcel of their addiction. Most of the money that governments spend on “drug control” is spent on criminal justice interdiction rather than treatment and prevention.

Here again, clearly, is a system with stigmatisation at its roots: blaming, punishing and making moral judgements instead of providing treatment and other help that would change behavior. The more of a stigmatising stance one takes towards substance misuse the more likely one is to support criminalisation of drug offenses and the less likely is to support insurance coverage and treatment for drug addiction. Taking the stigma out of addiction argues for prevention and treatment as opposed to prosecution and incarceration.

 

  1. Even when people do get to treatment, stigmatization can continue and contribute to poor treatment outcomes.

It is critical to recovery that treatment programs not send messages to patients that are blaming (for relapse) and shaming (for being weak). People enter treatment at a vulnerable moment, psychologically and in terms of their brain chemistry. Addiction comes with a hard-to-escape sense of failure that recapitulates prior disappointments and works in opposition to growth.

Patients have spent a lifetime trying to silence the “inner critic” that repeats “I’m-not-good-enough” messages, so it’s critical that the culture and language of treatment provide a healthy soil in which patients can grow seeds of hope that are vital to recovery. In an optimal treatment setting, patients aren’t expected to play the role of one-who-should-be-ashamed. Instead, they are intrinsically involved in planning their own treatment, helping to choose the goals and techniques of treatment.

  1. They confront stigma-based roadblocks constantly.

Those in recovery from addiction face ongoing stigma and discrimination. People in recovery are faced with obstacles, especially those who have been in treatment or in the criminal justice system for chemical dependency. Employment, education, insurance and the ability to vote are all fraught with uncertainty and discrimination for those in recovery.

People in recovery have a harder time finding and keeping jobs, getting licenses, food stamps, benefits that help their children.  In other words, important aspects of living that are so critical to a stable recovery for persons who have been treated for addiction, such as employment, housing and providing for one’s family are that much harder to get. Things need to change. Having struggled with addiction in the past should not make life that much more difficult now. End the stigma.

 

Reflections on 2017 and Festive Greetings from Be Ur Own Light!

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(image: Harrison Greetings)

Here at Be Ur Own Light, it has been a brilliant year in terms of writing, getting the message out there, engagement and gaining a new following. As well as regular blog posts on her life with bipolar and anxiety, I (founder, Eleanor) have written this year for other charities and media outlets. These include : Mind, Rethink Mental Illness, Time to Change,  Self Harm UK/ Youthscape, Brighton Wellness Centre, The Counselling Directory, Counsellors Cafe, ISMA, World Union of Jewish Students, Equilibrium Magazine and Happiful Magazine. There are upcoming collaborations to be published soon so stay tuned! I also hope to publish more for the Huffington Post in the new year.

The blog has grown into a strong following and particularly we have seen the growth from fellow bloggers on WordPress and Twitter which has been brilliant! Not to mention my loyal following on Facebook and other social media (and email). I have loved doing some Facebook Live videos and discussions too. Thank you everyone who regularly reads, comments, shares and for the awards given this year from fellow bloggers (Liebster, Sunshine, Mystery and of course being a Top 30 Social Anxiety blog and Top 100 Bipolar blog by Feedspot.com). I have also entered the blog into the UK Blog Awards and thank you to everyone who has voted so far.

I have hosted many incredible guest bloggers this year and thank you to all who have submitted high quality and excellent articles (in brackets is what they wrote about:

Lucy Boyle (Burnout Syndrome)
Quite Great and Helen Brice (Music Psychotherapy)
Bailey Chauner at Redfin (Seasonal affective disorder)
UnitedMind Laughter Yoga (Jobs and wellbeing)
Christina Hendricks at mentalhealthzen.com (PTSD and veterans)
Reviews Bee (Child Mental Health)
Mental Health and Money Worries  (Mental health and money)
Stephen Smith nOCD App (OCD)
Arslan Butt (Mental health)
Tony Weekes Unity MHS (his story)
Ellie Miles (Health anxiety)
Hope Virgo (Anorexia recovery/ book by Trigger Press)
Ann Heathcote Worsley Centre of Psychotherapy
Adar (PTSD and relationship abuse)
Marcus (Bipolar disorder)
Diamond E Health Informer (Mental Health and Technology)   
Lystia Putranto and Karina Ramos (Anxiety)
Paradigm San Francisco (Internet and teen mental health)
Juno Medical (Anxiety infographic)
Jasmine Burns (Binge eating disorder)
Bill Weiss (Opiate withdrawal)
Jessica Flores (Bipolar 2)
Jimmy Vick (Meditation)
Jay Pignatiello (Mindfulness and Meditation)
David Baum (365 Challenge for PTSD and Mind)
Karen (Anxiety as a mental health professional)
Dr Stacey Leibowitz-Levy (Online CBT) 

I have also written a lot about my journey with bipolar disorder and anxiety and hope to continue to do so in the new year!

Be Ur Own Light will be celebrating its second birthday in March 2018 and we can’t wait to see what next year holds.

We wish you all a very happy Christmas and New Year period- Festive Greetings to all!

Guest Post by Bailey Chauner and Redfin.com: How to Alter Your Home to Treat and Prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder

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(image: Redfin.com)

Each summer, we become accustomed to sunshine and days that never seem to end. We are outside, being active, and absorbing plenty of Vitamin D. It’s no wonder we feel so good! When fall starts to set in and daylight savings comes, our bodies receive less sunlight and we are often confined to indoor activities to combat the cold. With such a dramatic change, it’s easy to slip into a state of feeling hopeless, distracted, or even depressed. These feelings alone could be symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that occurs when the seasons change, primarily in winter. Everyone reacts differently, but the warning signs sometimes include:

  • Depressed mood
  • A sense of hopelessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Decreased energy
  • Changes in appetite
  • Altered sleep patterns
  • Lack of interest in activities you typically enjoy
  • In some cases, people with SAD experience suicidal ideation. If you have felt any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor as soon as possible.

But don’t worry, you’re not alone! Roughly 10 million US residents suffer from SAD each year, and another 20 percent suffer with a milder form of it. There are many more sufferers around the world. In fact, it’s very treatable. So while you’re huddled inside keeping warm, we are going to discuss ways you can treat or prevent SAD this winter simply by altering a few things inside your home.

Switch up your Lights

Using light therapy boxes can provide relief from SAD. Sitting near a light box for around 30 minutes a day, typically after waking up, provides similar light to a bright, sunny day. Keep your eyes open but don’t look directly in the light box. It’s perfect for sitting on your desk, makeup table, or where you eat breakfast.

Secondly, using a full spectrum bulb or daylight bulb helps some people find relief from darkness. Although it’s not powerful enough to mimic daylight, it’s a great way to reduce darkness in your house. Utilize bright lights to create a reading nook or inspirational space in your home. You can also purchase a treadmill or stationary bike and place it near these mood-enhancing lights, surrounded by plants. These ideas can help give you your “outside” fix even in winter, and can go a long way in fighting seasonal depression.

Add Greenery to Your Home

Bringing more plant life into your home is a great technique for managing SAD. You can fill the rooms you visit often with green, colorful, blooming plants, or set up a room or area in your home that can be a sadness-free retreat. Set up a yoga mat to practice mindfulness next to an exercise area; adding movement to your day will help produce endorphins and serotonin that can improve mood.

If you’re all about gardening, building a DIY greenhouse in your backyard is a great fall/autumn activity that can help you get ready for the winter months. You’ll be able to grow vegetables and fruits year-round, which can help improve your mood since you won’t have to miss your favorite summer treats.

Bring in Some Colour

Take a look around you and ask yourself, do the colours in my home make me feel good? If the answer isn’t “yes,” then it might be time to switch up your home’s colour scheme.

If you’re surrounded by dull or dark colours outside, you might feel the tug of depression more deeply if those are the same colours you’re surrounded by inside. A fresh coat of paint might be just what you need! Paint your walls colours that inspire warmth and joy, like a cosy sunrise or warm, light blue water. Plus, adding a home improvement project to your to-do list can help boost your energy and creativity during a time when laziness lurks around the corner. Studies have shown that setting, working toward and achieving goals can be a big mood booster any time of the year.

If painting is too much work, you can also swap out your throw pillows or blankets for brighter colours. Duvets and pillow case covers are an easy way to change the appearance of your home without throwing out your current décor and or having to commit to a new style long-term.

Finally, hang up some of your favorite photos of you and your friends, family, or pets. Research shows that recalling times of happiness can provide a dose of happiness in a blue moment.

Don’t forget the kitchen

Eating more fruits and vegetables is a proven method for tackling many kinds of depression, including seasonal affective disorder. An easy and fast way to consume more fruits and vegetables is to make a morning smoothie. Embrace daily healthy eating by exploring new recipes online and from your friends. Cold months lend themselves perfectly to soups, stews and crockpot recipes. Try new ingredients, and invite your friends over to taste the results. Not only will the food feel good, but your company will, too! Even when your instinct is to avoid social situations, having friends and family over can be the push you need to feel more upbeat and happy.

And while you’re in the kitchen, check out your surroundings. If the room is highlighted with grey, steel appliances, consider adding pops of upbeat color and warm touches to brighten your mood. Paint the backsplash behind your sink a warm butter or khaki shade, add pops of green alongside wispy plants, or add bright coloured appliances like a teapot, coffee maker, or mug display. Even if you aren’t noticing the colors in a room at every moment, they can still impact your thoughts and emotions.

Put Some Soul into Your Surroundings

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Customize your home to give off positive vibes that boost your mood year-round. Surround yourself with things that inspire you like your favorite music, art you love, or quotes from authors.

Consider how music makes you feel. You can purchase and install a surround sound or multi-room music system to pipe in your favorite tunes whether you’re in the bathroom or the bedroom. A simple Bluetooth speaker works wonders too!

If you enjoy the outdoors but the lack of sun and warmth are keeping you indoors, bring the outside in. Set up a room or a corner where you can experience similar activities, like a trainer for your bicycle, yoga mat, or some free weights to keep you in-shape.

Last but not least, consider design schemes that will inspire a positive attitude. Put some soul into your surroundings. Choose decor that will help you build confidence, feel happy, or bring back memories. Start by making a list of things that you know make you smile, and then find ways to create an environment that replicates those same feelings.

While experts are still unsure the exact cause of seasonal affective disorder, whenever changes come around the corner (big or small) humans have an emotional response. You don’t have to be diagnosed with SAD to feel a bit of the blues during the colder, darker months. Luckily, SAD is very treatable and these home tips for managing feelings of depression can help anyone, any time of the year.

Post courtesy of Redfin

As a reminder, our tips are only suggestions and if your feeling of sadness persists, contact a therapist near you.

Guest Post by UnitedMind Laughter Yoga: How to get the most out of your Job and Wellbeing.

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(image:health.com)

Being unhappy at work isn’t just ‘one of those things’ you need to put up with, even in today’s society where hating your job can seem to be glorified. You don’t have to be incredibly passionate about your industry or role to still enjoy coming in (although it helps if you do love it!) , and there are a few tips and tricks that can help transform that negative outlook into a positive one.

Have a carrot at the end of a stick

Spending your time at a job you don’t like is always going to be stressful, so we recommend thinking about the carrot at the end of your stick when you’re staying late or having a busy day. What are you saving for? What are you looking forward to? You might not care about the company you’re doing the work for, but you will care about the dream you’re putting the money towards.

There’s nothing wrong with working a job for the pay check; we all need a roof and food. However, if you really want to start genuinely enjoying your job more, we recommend trying to get more out of it than just a pay slip at the end of the month; or at least get more out of that pay slip.

Get pleasure out of purpose

In Happiness by Design, Paul Dolan speaks about how we derive pleasure from purpose, and this is directly important to how we should approach work. Doing the bare minimum isn’t great for the company or team you work in, and “just enough” will start to mentally make you feel inadequate. Inadequacy usually leads to anxiety,  and sometimes you feel awful. You  then a cocktail for a terrible working environment and for your own wellbeing.

Instead, you should try hard at your job , as long as it is not affecting your health. Positive peer reviews and promotions can reward the work you put in, which will make you feel more positive, and that positivity can snowball from there into something considerable.

Hard work and happiness breed confidence, so even if you still don’t like the place where you work, there’s nothing stopping you from taking this new found conviction to go and land a job you will love. Sometimes a fresh start is all you need.

Turn your co-workers into friends

Walking in to an office full of people that you don’t know and aren’t friendly with can make work a lonely experience. However, if you socialise with your co-workers and make an effort to speak to them, then you might even start looking forward to work because you’ve got Emma that you can speak to about the match at the weekend or David who you can chat with about the latest episode of your favourite show.

We recommend, even if it means leaving your comfort zone, that you go to as many work outings as you can. Drinks after work are always good at making everyone feel more comfortable around each other, but even going to something like a light yoga session at lunch could be the start of a routine to bring you and your colleagues closer together.

A nod and smile in the hallway is, relatively speaking, a small gesture – but it can make a workplace seem so much more welcoming.

You and your space

If you have a desk, something as small as tidying it can do a lot to change your mind set. If you have papers and rubbish all over your work space, you will start to feel cluttered and swamped; physically and mentally. The process of throwing away everything you don’t need can feel very relieving and almost like a detox.

Personalising your work space can also help make work more enjoyable. A picture of a loved one, a little happy picture/ object or even a plant you can look after all help make your area feel yours; we can forget how important individuality is sometimes.

This article was provided by the team at United Mind, who provide laughter yoga for those that want to have a little fun while improving their mental and physical health. Thanks also to Jack Bird.

Sources:

 

Guest Post: ‘Don’t count the days it may take for Recovery, make the days count’- On PTSD by Christina Hendricks at www.mentalhealthzen.com

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(image: PTSDscreening.org)

Trigger warning: contains descriptions of PTSD symptoms

“Don’t count the days it may take for recovery, make the days count. Seeking timely professional help boosts healing, instills hope and ensures recovery,” said 51-year-old Michael Hughes (name changed), a highly decorated firefighting veteran from New York as he stepped out of the therapy room after an intense session of trauma-focused psychotherapy. “Mental health issues are just like any other disease where recovery takes time. You need to have faith, be positive and stay strong,” he said with a smile.

Michael revealed that his job gave him post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and that he got the problem from what he had seen. His 25-year stint as a firefighter with the Homeland Security and Emergency Services fetched him multiple laurels, but at a great price, which he continued to pay for years. After 22 illustrious years of service, he was diagnosed with PTSD because of which he was discharged from service.

Years of attending innumerable incidents of horrendous fire and fatal high-rise blazes gave him nightmares later. Frequent flashbacks of infernal flames engulfing entire blocks of buildings, scenes of the injured and dying being pulled out of the debris, and thick, choking clouds of black smoke adding to the mayhem became an inevitable part of his life. The impact of his job was so powerful that even watching television shows involving fire accidents would send shudders down his spine, waking him up in either cold or hot sweats.

Soon the mental agony made him feel as though the entire world was crashing down on him. Moreover, the fear of becoming an object of scorn and ridicule was so overpowering that he hesitated to express what was going on in his mind. He feared what seemed very real to him, may seem illogical or unreal to others around him. He knew that each traumatic experience of the past was gradually taking its toll on his mental health. The truth was the post-traumatic stress was wreaking havoc on the inside, while he still managed to look seemingly fine on the outside.

But it was a matter of time that he reached a stage when he completely lost all control over his emotions. Even the smallest of fire sparks or the sight of someone hurt or injured would make him upset and depressed. Nevertheless, what was controllable once, had become uncontrollable. Even the smoke coming from a cigarette would trigger a series of vivid flashbacks of a major fire accident, evoking painful memories of the past.

However, it was one ear-deafening Fourth of July, which blew the lid off. The non-stop pompous bright flashes and earth-shattering aerial fireworks all around him became unbearable. The petrifying sounds brought gut-wrenching scenes repeatedly to his mind. The ghastly flashbacks unleashed chronic unrest and panic attacks. He felt so low he contemplated his own life and what it meant. But as fate had ordered it otherwise, a well-timed intervention by his wife Amy (name changed) made him rethink his decision. “Sometimes it’s okay not to feel okay,” were the precise words she used. Her comforting words encouraged him to fight his condition by seeking support. He finally felt assured that his wife wouldn’t view his vulnerability as a disgrace.

Michael’s involvement with numerous emergency situations in both natural and man-made disasters during the course of his career compelled him to bottle up an ocean of emotions, anger, sadness, losses and grief. Finally, on hitting rock-bottom, it was in the mental health rehab that he was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, in addition to PTSD. Besides, the most important lesson which he learnt was to speak his mind. He realized that his family needed to know what he was going through so that they could help in some way or the other. Secondly, he realized that any mental problem should be viewed as a chronic mental health condition, requiring regular visits and check-ups, monitoring of treatment adherence, effectiveness and tolerability, and spreading awareness about the disorder.

The mental health specialists at the rehab, recommended Prolonged Exposure (PE), Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) and Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), in addition to a PTSD K9, to help Michael cope with his condition. Additionally, he was advised to workout with a personal trainer six days a week. Michael knew that it would take a long time to heal the scars of more than two decades, but he was confident that soon the damage will no longer be able to control his life.

Factors that prevent individuals from seeking help

“The brave men and women, who serve their country and as a result, live constantly with the war inside them, exist in a world of chaos. But the turmoil they experience isn’t who they are; the PTSD invades their minds and bodies” – this excerpt from Robert Koger’s 2013 bestseller Death’s Revenge is probably what Michael experienced during a significant chunk of his firefighting years. Apart from the existing confusion and lack of awareness, other reasons that force most individuals employed in emergency services battling similar mental conditions to not seek professional help are:

  • Seeking help could lead to undesirable consequences: The fear of being denied promotions or being ignored due to the stigma surrounding mental health could be a major reason for many to keep quiet.
  • Avoiding any form of discreditable dismissals: Studies suggest that being branded as mentally ill could lead to dismissal, negatively impacting the benefits of such individuals, including their chance to secure employment elsewhere.
  • Being cut off from access to treatment: Postings of emergency services staff across isolated locations worldwide could be another reason.
  • Screening for mental health is viewed in poor light: Popular notions of stigma, guilt and shame that surround mental disorders can prevent many individuals from seeking the required support.
  • Facing problems is a manly thing: “PTSD affects only non manly men,” is one of the biggest misconceptions nurtured by most men in uniform. This attitude need to change completely or else things could blow up to devastating proportions.

Acknowledging mental disorders is the first step to recovery

Living in a socio-cultural set-up where any symptom of mental problem is viewed as a sign of weakness often tends to reinforce the stigma surrounding mental ailments. In fact, even near and dear ones, including family members, don’t seem to prioritise mental health disorders as they would other physical illnesses. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), around one in five adults (approximately 43.8 million people) in the United States experiences mental health disorders in a given year. Moreover, one in 25 American adults (approximately 9.8 million) is also known to experience a chronic mental health problem, interfering with major life activities.

But the support of family members can work wonders in eradicating the stigma linked to mental health. In fact, studies suggest mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety, have their own way of hoodwinking even the most cheerful of people into believing that their existence is good for nothing and disgraceful. It can drain energy and happiness, shatter sleep patterns, eat up vigour and vitality, disrupt concentration and hamper functioning, leaving the individual in a constant state of dejection.

Mental health professionals insist on managing mental illness just like other chronic physical health ailments like hypertension and diabetes. The need of the hour is to encourage family members to stand with their loved one’s in providing the support and strength. Acknowledging the truth that there is a serious problem, and that their loved one is fighting a battle within is the first step to recovery. In fact, it is another way to direct people to professional mental health care services.

This article was written by mental health blogger Christina Hendricks at www.mentalhealthzen.com . Featuring case studies of real people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Guest Post by Reviews Bee: How to Prevent the Negative Impact on Child Mental Health

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(image: http://acelebrationofwomen.org/2015/02/childrens-mental-health-matters-take-action/)

The physical health of children has always been an important aspect. Nowadays with the increase of stressful situations, modern medicine is concerned about the importance of childrens mental health, as it plays an important role in their personal development, upbringing and growth into adulthood.

There can be negative impacts on a child’s mental  health, which can be demonstrated as depression, anger, addictions or other mental health conditions.  If you notice behavioural changes in your child, you should take important steps to reach out and help them.

First, identify the reasons.

Everyone faces daily problems and children are not an exception, but in contrast to adults, they are not always able to cope with the relevant issues or take steps to get out of the situation. At times, they may be unable to properly express their feelings appropriate to the situation.

It should be noted that psychological health is formed by the interaction of internal and external factors, including environment. Amongst the most common situations causing mental disorder are tense situations in the family, problems at school such as bullying or low grades and sometimes internet bullying via social media.

As soon as the problem is identified, you, as a parent, should go forward and help your child as much as you can . The following steps are good approaches to the problem:

  1. Communicate with your child

Always have time to talk to your child. Be interested in their problems and show that you care, ask them to tell you about their day and try to understand troubling points in their daily life. You should be able to give advice, but understand their rights to make their own decisions and respect their opinions. Learn to treat the child as an equal partner, so they will share their sincere feelings and problems- so you can help.

 

  1. Help your child with their lifestyle

If home or school is a difficult environment, try and make it as calm as possible for your child. It is good to balance work and relaxation for the child. Make sure that they sleep on time, as proper sleep is required for their nervous system to calm down. You can even help the diet of the child with good nutrition and include more food rich in protein, vegetables and fruits. It is also good to encourage positive activities and hobbies.

 

  1. Teach positive thinking

Help your child to find and see sources of positive emotions. Positive thinking will also help the child to find inner peace in different situations. Encourage the child to build plans for the future, set goals and develop ways of reaching them. Being a role model for your child is so important with this.

 

  1. Boost the childs self-esteem

You should help your child to increase self-esteem, as this can be at the core of unhappiness or mental health issues at home or school. Your task is to prove their worth and how good they truly are. You should assist the child in finding their confidence and improving their self esteem so they can thrive. If you struggle with this, it may help to contact a therapist to help them.

 

  1. Work with a psychologist.

Many parents decided to get their child referred to work with a psychologist. If your child is truly struggling, this can be helpful. Some tips and guidance granted on the specific needs of your child may prevent future problems and boost their mental health.

This article was written by Reviews Bee at http://www.reviewsbee.com/

Raising our Voices: Stigma and Bipolar Disorder (For Equilibrium Magazine Issue 63)

I was asked by Equilibrium magazine, an online magazine dedicated to mental health and wellbeing by those with lived experience, to write an article for them. I chose to write it on stigma and bipolar disorder and here it is. You can also read it online at :   https://issuu.com/antz333/docs/equilibrium_2063

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I am very excited to be writing my first article for Equilibrium. In this article I
will discuss stigma and life with bipolar.

I have lived with bipolar disorder for thirteen years, having been diagnosed at just
sixteen years old. The illness runs in my family, but it was still a shock when I
found myself unwell in hospital as a teenager. Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder,
which means moods can oscillate between depressive lows and manic highs that
can be treated with medication and therapies. When depressed, one might find
oneself feeling extremely negative and unable to do activities previously enjoyed
or, in bad cases, suicidal and unable to cope with life. When in a manic state, one
may be in a heightened hyperactive state, talking fast/not making sense and
unable to sit still. A person may act in ways they would not usually behave when
in a typical state. This can then spill over into psychosis, with delusions and a loss
of touch with reality, which can eventually lead to hospitalisation in severe cases.
There is currently no cure for the disorder; however, mood stabilising medications
such as Lithium, prescribed by a psychiatrist, and courses of therapy can very
much help. It is believed that bipolar may be caused by a chemical imbalance in
the brain, but there is still so much we do not know. It is for this reason that
stigma about the disorder and other mental health conditions, pervades across
the world.

So, what is stigma? Stigma can be defined by the Oxford dictionary as a ‘mark of
disgrace associated with a circumstance, quality or person’. In terms of mental
illness, people fear what they have not experienced, do not know and do not
understand. It is the fear and ignorance that then perpetuates myths about those
who struggle with their mental health.

Due to the sometimes unpredictable nature of mental illness, in our case, bipolar
disorder, fear and stigma are most definitely generated. When people haven’t
been through the suicidal, heart-wrenching lows, and the sometimes equally
terrible highs, they will comment that the person is ‘attention-seeking’ and just
doing it to get a reaction from other people. We have seen this recently when
depressed celebrities, for example singer Sinéad O’Connor (who has bipolar), open
up to the world about their demons. They get criticised, shot down, told they are
being drama queens, silenced, as if their problems are trivial. There is nothing
trivial about serious mental illness or how the brain can trick you into feeling.
There is nothing trivial about feeling so unwell you can’t get out of bed, wash,
live. There is nothing trivial about experiencing suicidal tendencies and not having
support, because support networks are the one thing that keep bipolar sufferers,
and those with other conditions, going. Without my support network, I know I
would find things so much harder.

So, how do we tackle this stigma? In one word: talking. Telling people about our
experiences. Sharing the world of people who have mental health issues and
reflecting it back to wider society, through explaining to non sufferers what its
like to live with a mental health condition. It Is so important to show wider
society the world inhabited by people with mental health conditions. Everyone
is different. Its vital to explain the unexplainable. Talking about our symptoms
but showing how we can reach recovery or what recovery means to us.

I began speaking about my experiences online via my WordPress blog ‘Be Ur Own
Light’ (www.beurownlight.com) about a year and a half ago. The blog began as a
diary, as I was navigating life with a difficult anxiety disorder which made it
difficult for me to hold down a job long term. I still live with this anxiety and am
learning how to manage it. When I first began writing, I did it secretly and only
showed it to close family members and wrote under pseudonyms. I was effectively
testing the waters to see the reaction. I was frightened I would get negative
feedback.

I began writing for charities such as Rethink Mental Illness, Time to Change and
Bipolar UK, under pseudonyms, because I didn’t yet feel able to associate my name
with the illness. I was scared, and I suppose was experiencing some self-stigma. In
thirteen years I had never written about my illness or mental health online,
though I had explained it to close friends. I remember the day when my first
article for Rethink was published –‘Being Jewish and Bipolar’- and getting hundreds
of likes, shares and positive comments. This built my confidence, and, over the
course of a year, I wrote for more charities and even started writing for the
Huffington Post Lifestyle blog and other websites/magazines under my real name.

A month or two ago, I decided to write all my mental health blogs under my real
name. There is still so much work for us all to do to bring down the stigma, but it
starts from raising our voices. We deserve to be heard and we need to talk in order
to make mental health issues ‘normal’ in society and to fight for better treatment.
One in four people suffer, although I would argue the figure is more like one in
two. Together we can battle, speak out and one day beat the stigma.

Eleanor Segall is a mental health writer and advocate, who has written for many
charities and magazines. She currently works for mental health and learning
disability charity The Judith Trust. Her blog ‘Be Ur Own Light’
(www.beurownlight.com) is read globally and tackles her life with mental health
issues and those of guest bloggers. Eleanor can be found on Twitter and Instagram

Guest Post: Mental Health and Money Worries: ‘The Perfect Storm’ by Consumer Money Worries

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When supporting clients with financial difficulties, not only is it essential we take in to consideration vulnerabilities for regulation purposes but CMW prides itself on the quality of care and diligence taken to support our clients. Mental Health and Money Worries is perfect for us and you- as we are here to ride the storm with our clients.

Our objective is to understand mental health problems and the impact on effective decision making; allowing us to support and signpost to the best of our ability. CMW aims to identify a sustainable pay and plan, ensuring we can positively contribute towards long term mental wellness.

Mental Health and Money Worries is the perfect storm

Mental Health presents unique challenges, this invisible illness can often be difficult to evaluate and understand for both ourselves and indeed the client!  When we support a client with Mental Health and Money Worries we need to understand… ‘1) Is it debt triggering the mental health issues. 2) Mental health issues triggering the debt. 3) Combination of both, fuelled by other factors – We recognise Mental Health and Money Worries go hand in hand.

It’s vital that we address these questions at the point of first contact with the client. We can then develop solutions to best meet their needs and take in to consideration any triggers and special considerations, such as working with a supporting carer.

Creating a Client Support Network to Weather the Storm

There are infinite reasons why a client may be facing mental health related money worries.

In some cases a client may not have previously suffered from or recognised mental health related symptoms or issues, such as anxiety, stress or depression. However, a build of debts and money worries over time may have brought on such issues. It’s therefore important we understand the debt related ‘triggers’ and support the client accordingly, for example they may have bailiffs knocking on the door or pressure from aggressive creditors. Our solutions must address these issues.

Conversely, a client may have built up debts due to time off or loss of work due to long term mental illness. Over time debts have built through no fault of their own.

Finally there is the co existing storm, where both money worries and mental health issues exist and are fuelled by other vulnerabilities and contributing factors such as gambling, alcohol/substance abuse and relationship problems.

All such factors can have significant negative impact on both mental health and debt level and therefore it is vital that our debt counselling solutions are delivered hand in hand with specialist organisations and charities whom can support a clients unique challenges.

 Educate, Inspire and Support – The Journey from Mental Illness to Mental Wellness

From first contact we focus on understanding the unique challenges and vulnerabilities of each client.

We partner with specialist mental health organisations and charities to create a support network for our clients that will provide the education, support and inspiration they need to address their money worries, mental health and vulnerabilities. Guiding them from Mental Illness to Mental Wellness.

Mental Health and Money Worries, riding the storm together!

Letter to my MP: On Mental Health and Talking Therapy Waiting Lists

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(image: Imperial College)

I have just responded to a letter that my MP replied to me today. The other day I wrote to my MP here in London about the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill which aims to stop dangerous restraint in mental health hospitals. This was a campaign through the charity Rethink Mental Illness.

I was sadly less than impressed with the response I received even though it was quick, my MP quoted a lot of figures at me. Now, one of these figures, ‘750,000 more people accessing talking therapies since 2009/10’ really got to me. In 2015, I had a short course of NHS cognitive behavioural therapy which was useful but didnt help my anxiety. However, since late 2015/ early 2016, I have been on the therapy waiting list for talking therapy to help me process the trauma I have been through, Almost 2 years later, I am still on the list and have had to go privately which is less than ideal as you will see in my letter below. I hope it resonates with you and that my MP will use my case study in parliament ( one can only hope):

Dear MP,

Thank you for your swift response to my letter regarding the Mental Health Units Use of Force Bill. In your letter to me, you stated ‘more people accessing mental health services every day….as well as around 750,000 more people accessing talking therapies since 2009/2010’.

As someone with Bipolar disorder who was hospitalised (and sectioned) in 2014 for 4 months, with another 4 months in day hospital due to psychosis and mania, I have been on the waiting list for talking therapy since 2015- almost 2 years ago. When I recently went to a review with my psychiatrist, he said he would speak to psychology for me but that because the service is over stretched I may have to seek therapy via local charities or go privately. Being that I am currently waiting to start work and on ESA, I couldn’t afford private therapy without help from my family and I have had to go private which is grossly unfair due to the trauma I have faced. However, as you state, more people are accessing mental health services meaning that even in someone with a case such as mine, I have had to wait for talking therapy and effectively given up on NHS support in that regard.

I hope you will use my case study as an example in parliament when discussing mental health with Theresa May and your party and would appreciate a response. 

Yours sincerely,

Eleanor Segall