Guest Post: Charlotte Underwoods Story: How I lost my loved one to Suicide and Recovery from my own Mental Health Issues.

Charlotte Underwood, writer and mental health campaigner, shares her courageous story with us. Trigger warning: discussions of suicide and substance abuse.

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(image: Pinterest)

Life has not been especially easy for me. I’ve got more layers than an onion due to this, though my mental health really took a turn for the worst when my father went missing for over a month. He was found, suicide was confirmed.

It was hard to process, suicide was supposed to be for movies, not for real life, right? I went through a lot of things after that, blaming others, blaming myself, creating conspiracy theories, just so I didn’t have to accept that my best friend, my daddy, was gone.

Losing a loved one to suicide is so hard because it’s often sudden and leaves a lot of questions and nuclear damage that domino effects into every single person who knew and loved the victim. I’m all reality, it is no ones fault for a suicide, not even the victims.

There are so many possible causes and things that can trigger a suicidal episode that it is impossible to always know that someone is at risk, we often miss signs even when they are right in front of us.

My dads death led me to substance abuse and my own suicide attempt, I didn’t want to live without him, I was a daddy’s girl and he was the only one who helped me with my own mental health. For three years I refused to grieve and my life was looking to be pretty similar to my fathers demise, a life of hiding my feelings because I didn’t want to upset anyone or cause a problem.

It wasn’t until I met my husband and learnt to think about myself that I realised through it all, I had lost track of who I was. I decided then and there to start being selfish (without being mean) and to love myself and fight back and work with my own mind.

It’s been a rollercoaster since, recovery isn’t linear, my mood changes in seconds and each day is a battle, I may look fine but there’s always so much going on inside my head and body (mental health has physical effects too!).

What I have learnt though is to not be ashamed of who I am, to demand the help and support I need and to not let my mental health limit me because it does not define me, I am Charlotte, plain and simple.

It’s important to remember that all your feelings are valid, it’s ok to hurt and be angry and to have all this going on because it’s your body responding to trauma or something in your environment eg stressors.

That’s why it’s so important to talk and to be reminded that it’s ok not to be ok and that you are not alone!

Charlotte is an author, is on Twitter and can be found at https://charlotteunderwoodauthor.wordpress.com/

What to do if you think you have Depression: a Guide.

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(image: Christy Ann Martine)

This blog was voted for in my  Facebook group online poll and so I have decided to write it, with my advice from personal experience and more.

So firstly- what is Depression? Depression is more than just low mood. It can affect your entire ability to function. Depression symptoms include your mind slowing down, poor concentration, lack of sleep or too much sleep (when depressed I sleep too much), more tearful than normal/ prolonged low mood, loss of motivation and ability to go to work/ socialise, not wanting to do activities you enjoy, feeling lost and/or hopeless about life.

Some people who are depressed will self medicate with alcohol, drugs, food, gambling, spending money- anything to make them feel a bit better. Some may start expressing suicidal thinking and ideation or make plans to end their own lives. For others, depression can be part of a wider mental health disorder. I have bipolar disorder for example and depressive episodes are part of my illness. So its a big topic and one which is different for each person (due to brain chemistry and environment).  Anxiety and self harm can also be part of depression.

So what to do if you think you are depressed?

1) Make an appointment to see your GP/ Doctor immediately. If you can get an urgent appointment, do. Tell them how you are feeling and they may suggest medication such as anti depressants which help lift mood and get you back to normal functioning and/or recommend you to a therapist. NHS waiting lists in the UK are ridiculously long for therapy, but just speaking to a doctor and taking medicine should help. Note that anti depressants do have a side effect- and can make you more anxious/ depressed within the first two weeks so talk about this with your doctor. If you have a psychiatrist and medical team (like I do), go and see them and discuss how they can help your care.

Getting better can take months and is a combination of factors. If your depression was triggered by an event, it may be good to go and see a counsellor to discuss any trauma.

2) If you are feeling suicidal and feel like self harming, disclose this to someone you trust. You may not need to be in hospital if you have a good support network, but if you are really really ill, you may need to be. However, do not be afraid for asking for help from medical professionals- especially your GP and/or psychiatrist. They are there to help you get well.

3) If you get a first time psychiatry referral- this is what will happen. You will get asked lots of questions so the doctor can ascertain what is going on. I found that being as honest as I could was more helpful. Take a loved one with you to the appointment. They may ask you to complete questionnaires on your health too and/or refer you to psychology.

4) Use your support network- friends, family, partner. If you have a loving person who understands depression in your life- lean on them. Support from others is very helpful. Depression can be stressful for all involved and some may not understand or may tell you to ‘pull yourself together’. This is just stigma and remember depression is an illness that needs treatment.

If you feel able, see friends you love and trust. When I am depressed, I find it hard to leave the house.. but love and support from others is vital- even if theyre just bringing you chocolate and magazines. Acts of kindness really help.

5) Other holistic methods can really help depression. Whether its:

*Gentle exercise
*Meditation
*Prayer if you want to pray
*Journalling and writing down your achievements however small (eg I washed the dishes)
*Colouring a picture and making something beautiful
* Good sleep regime (when depressed this can be harder)
*Eating healthy food/ foods you love
* Taking care of yourself
*Watching a funny film
* Texting a friend
This can be hard when you are depressed but I would recommend Yoga Nidra meditation for anxiety as well as Headspace meditations….

6) Be Kind to Yourself

Depression is not your fault. Its an illness and a natural part of life. You don’t have to deal with it alone and you don’t have to beat yourself up because you are feeling lower than normal.

Reach out for help but ultimately be kind to yourself. 

Eleanor Segall is the blogger and editor behind this blog Be Ur Own Light.

Channel 4 Launches Lloyds Bank’s Mental Health Awareness Diversity in Advertising Campaign: For Time to Talk Day #GettheInsideOut

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(image: Channel 4)

Channel 4 to launch Lloyds Bank’s £1m award-winning Diversity in Advertising campaign

  • Professor Green, Victoria Pendleton, Jeremy Paxman, Rachel Riley, Ade Adepitan, Alistair Campbell and Alex Brooker star in Lloyds Bank’s mental health awareness campaign
  • New research finds 75% of people believe there is a stigma in Britain attached to people with mental health conditions
  • Almost three quarters (74%) think the average person would be unwilling to discuss their own mental health issues
  • But nearly three quarters (72 per cent) think society has a better understanding of mental health conditions
  • Openness of celebrities and media coverage contributes to positive change

 

Lloyds Bank’s winning ad campaign of the Channel 4 £1m Diversity in Advertising Award launches exclusively on Channel 4 on mental health awareness Time To Talk Day (1.2.18).

 

The adverts will feature celebrities – including Professor Green, Jeremy Paxman, Rachel Riley and Alex Brooker – as well as members of the public and Lloyds Bank colleagues playing a variation of the ‘Who am I?’ sticky-note guessing game, to explore the common misconceptions about living with a non-visible disability.

 

And to coincide with the campaign’s launch, a new Lloyds Bank and Mental Health UK survey, reveals that although improvements have been made in how society thinks about mental health, 75 per cent of people still think there is a stigma attached to the issue.

 

Lloyds Bank and creative agency, adam&eveDDB, created the mental health adverts  after winning Channel 4’s Diversity in Advertising Award, set up by the broadcaster to improve diversity in advertising.

 

As the award winner, Lloyds Bank will receive £1m worth of advertising airtime on Channel 4. The competition invited entrants to put forward creative ideas featuring non-visible disabilities.

 

Channel 4’s Sales Director Jonathan Allan said: “Producing an advert that puts non-visible disabilities at its heart was a demanding brief and it’s been a real pleasure working with Lloyds and adamandeveddb as they developed a fantastic new campaign that makes people think more profoundly about mental health.

 

“If this campaign can encourage the public and advertisers to think a little harder about all aspects of diversity, it can help make a real difference to people’s lives.”

 

“The TV ad is brilliantly simple, yet hugely effective,” says Robin Bulloch, Managing Director, Lloyds Bank. “And while winning the Channel 4 Annual Diversity in Advertising Award in itself is a great achievement, the positive difference the campaign will hopefully allow us to make to so many people’s lives is the real ambition here. By raising awareness of invisible disabilities and taking action to promote healthy wellbeing, we can support our colleagues to recognise the signs and feel confident and equipped to support customers and each other.”

 

Lloyds Bank has been working with Mental Health UK to launch #GetTheInsideOut which will appear on the adverts. #GetTheInsideOut campaign will encourage more people to speak about mental health and aims to inspire those living with a condition to speak up about mental health.

 

Research from Lloyds Bank and Mental Health UK, undertaken by YouGov, found that seventy-five per cent of respondents feel there is a stigma in Britain attached to people with mental health conditions. And 88 per cent feel society needs to do more (much more (62%) or a little more (25%)) to better understand mental health issues.

 

The survey reveals that 67 per cent of respondents think people are more comfortable talking about mental health conditions now than they were five years ago. And people feel that the four main factors behind this change were – celebrities talking about mental health (70 per cent); media stories about mental health (70 per cent); societal change (68 per cent); and charities raising awareness (56 per cent).

 

But the research also reveals that 74 per cent of respondents think people would be fairly unwilling (62 per cent) or not willing at all (11 per cent), to discuss their own mental health issues.

 

Managing Director of Mental Health UK Brian Dow welcomed the research commissioned by Lloyds Bank and said: “We have come a long way in a short time to raise awareness. In large part thanks to the hard work of the charity sector, campaigns like Time to Change, a willingness of celebrities, notably the Royal Family, to talk about mental health and positive engagement by the media.

 

“Nevertheless this research shows that we cannot rest of on our laurels – there is a lot more that we need to do.”

 

Although the survey showed that people think significant steps have been made in the past five years on people’s awareness of mental health, more still needs to be done.

 

The survey discovers that compared to five years ago;

  • 72 per cent of respondents think that society  has a better understanding of mental health conditions
  • 69 per cent feel people empathise more with people with mental health conditions
  • 70 per cent think society is more aware of the everyday realities of living with a mental health condition
  • 70 per cent also feel there is more awareness of mental health issues raised in the media

 

In addition;

  • Fifty-six per cent of respondents said they’d feel comfortable talking to someone they don’t know very well about their mental health.
  • While 37 per cent said they’d feel uncomfortable, with over half (57%) of this group concerned that they might offend the person  and a similar proportion (56%) worried they would embarrass or upset themLloyds Bank and Mental Health UK Charity Partnership

    Lloyds Bank is proud to be working in partnership with Mental Health UK. Together the Bank and Charity aim to promote awareness of the link between mental health and money problems, encourage discussion between customers and colleagues. To date, colleagues and customers have raised over £4.8 million which has enabled Mental Health UK to design, build and launch a pioneering new service called Mental Health and Money Advice. This service is the UK’s first advice service dedicated to helping people understand, manage and improve their financial and mental health.

    For further information –

    Channel 4 –

    Tim English, Group PR Manager

    1. 020 7306 6984
    2. tenglish@channel4.co.uk

     

    Lloyds Bank –

    Eve Speight

    M: 07585965319

    E: eve.speight@lloydsbanking.com

     

     

Its #TimetoTalk Suicide for STOP Suicide Charity: Mental Health Feature Article

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Today I have been featured in STOP Suicides Campaign for Time To Talk Day, alongside other campaigners who bravely share their stories about suicide or suicidal thoughts. The full article can be read at   http://www.stopsuicidepledge.org/its-timetotalk-suicide/ 

Here I include my story from the article. Thanks to all at STOP Suicide for giving me the opportunity. Remember you can talk about mental health :

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‘In 2013, I experienced a suicidal depression. I was incredibly low, exhausted, sleeping all day and couldn’t cope with life.

This was part of my bipolar disorder and my medications at the time were not holding my moods. My parents had recently divorced and I had moved house and finished a degree. Then, my Grandma passed away. The stress of all this tipped me over into a deep depression.

The truth is I didn’t want to die, I just couldn’t deal with the pain of living. It was incredibly difficult for my parents, because I would say to them ‘it would be better off if I wasn’t here’. I had so much emotional pain that the only way to manage it for me was to talk about how scared I felt about feeling suicidal. I was concerned that if I didn’t express it, that it could have been very dangerous for me- I didn’t want to die so talking was the only way out.

Thankfully this was hugely positive because my parents understood that the suicidal thoughts were the depression and not me inside. They let me express how I felt, provided a listening ear and used their own life experience to help me. They went with me to my psychiatrist and stayed with me during home appointments. They helped pick up my prescriptions for anti-depressants and looked after me, until I had been lifted out of the depression.

Having loved ones to talk to when I felt suicidal, to not feel alone and to have support every day was vital to my recovery.”

Light Beyond Self Harm by Kaitlyn W at withbeingalive.wordpress.com

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(image: Dare to Live SOS) 

The author Kaitlyn blogs at www.withbeingalive.wordpress.com . Trigger warning: talks about self harm behaviours (but not graphically), please be careful when reading.

When you are curled within the cradling, spiked tentacles of self-harm – one wrapped around each wrist, and another brushing away any tears – those pesky alternatives of “holding an ice cube!” or “colour in!” can seem shallow; laughable even. You are shoulder-deep in the swampy mud that is self-harm, the goop surrounding you can feel ever-rising, and there is a stigma of wading in this particular swamp – you should be ashamed that you are.

 

During self-harm, it can feel impossible to have hope. A hope for a different reality can feel light years and stone barricade walls away. It can feel like the darkness (or swamp mud, whichever you would prefer to call it) is all consuming, your actions are all that you are, and the glittery, floaty wings of change have no way to weave in.

 

However, it is my privilege to share today that you are so much more than self-harm tells you that you are. Consequently, that there is hope beyond self-harm, and that this hope is yours. Ultimately, self-harm does not need to have a role in your life.

 

Despite how inherently wrongly created and badly designed for life you may feel, this is not who you truly are. Despite the mess, the exhausting racket that constantly parties too hard in your brain, remember that you are only witnessing this all from one perspective. You exist not only to yourself, right now, but also to child you and future you, to other people, and you exist beyond the darkness you feel. In all these other ways, you are who you are, and you are not the engulfing darkness. You have the potential to be who you are, to live the life you deserve to live; to be in the light beyond self-harm.

 

It’s safe to say that self-harm exists as a little bundle of menace, born from doubts, fears, life experiences, unhealthy coping strategies, and maybe a few other things thrown into the mix too. Although that can feel like an awful lot, or perhaps literally everything, which is an incredibly heavy load to carry, it really isn’t everything. Your doubts and fears can simply be. They inherently don’t have to control your behaviour. As for a way to cope, there are plenty of other ways to cope too. Self-harm isn’t the sole solution or the only option.

 

In a grumbling, gravelly voice, self-harm can mutter about how you won’t be able to survive without it. That you deserve the constricting boundaries that self-harm makes you believe you are worthy of. In these times, it can really help to recognise that this is self-harm talking. That these thoughts aren’t you, and that you don’t need to act upon them. You could imagine that self-harm is a preteen yelling at the Xbox, or maybe you like the swamp monster with tentacles idea. Either way, give self-harm an identity that’s not you. Self-harm then becomes an annoying, whining brat whose tantrums you can work on ignoring, rather than indulging. Do you really think self-harm deserves a brownie?

 

What also really helps to pry yourself free from self-harm’s sticky little claws, is finding out what works for you. Go to therapy or a support group and engage in professional help; they have spent several years training to help people in exactly the same situation. Find someone you can talk to; a small yarn can go a long way. Try out those alternatives (and there are so many more too) that were mentioned at the beginning; they can seem plain kooky, but give them a go! I guarantee that there will be at least one that can ease self-harm’s whinging, taking it down from a full-blown tantrum in the middle of the supermarket, to perhaps a soft snivel on the bottom step of the staircase.

 

To end with, there is light and hope in having a life beyond self-harm. You have the potential to exist as bigger and brighter, as vast and brilliant, than what self-harm croaks about you. Go out there and stomp and shout, and simply be – be loud, be radiant – you are greater than what self-harm tells you that you are

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.