Covid 19: Positive and Negative for Mental health and Work? Guest blog by Danielle Strouther

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(image: morefamousquotes.com)

 

For anyone that’s suffering from anxiety, OCD or other mental health conditions, living through a pandemic is not a walk in the park. 

A time of crisis is enough to cause panic in anyone. If you’re already struggling with a ‘normal’ day, the added stress means it’s even more difficult to keep your head above water. 

But, it might not all be bad news. Using mental health data commissioned by Adzooma, there may be some light at the end of this tunnel. 

 

Why we should care about mental health

COVID-19 is a pandemic, with just under 500,000 people affected around the world as of March 26th 2020. 

To put things into perspective, mental health currently affects 676 million people worldwide. It’s not a pandemic, it’s an epidemic.

Mental health isn’t contagious. You don’t contract depression from shaking hands with someone that has it. But it is a crisis that’s often overlooked. In fact, 70-75% of people with mental illness receive no treatment at all, choosing to remain silent. This is particularly true in men, who make up 75% of all suicides. In the UK, men aged 40-49 have the highest suicide rates in the country.

 

Mental health caused 44% of all sick days 

1 in 5 employees have called in sick to avoid work. And no, this wasn’t because they simply didn’t want to go. It’s because their mental health had become too much for them to do their job. 

Rather than be honest, 90% of people lied about it, using another reason for their absence. 

In 2019, there were 602,000 total cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in the UK. That’s 44% of all health-related sick days.

The cost of this is projected to be between £39.4 billion to £99 billion each year for businesses. If you break this down, it can cost employers £1,300 per employee if they don’t have the mental health support in place for their staff. 

“My mental health has impacted my work. It’s caused me to leave jobs, to call out some days when it’s just too much for me to do normal day to day activities. I also have tried to go into work on days where I’m not 100% and my quality of work and productivity have suffered.”

Rhea – Via Adzooma. 

 

69% of people say working at home helps with mental health

Here’s the light at the end of the tunnel. According to research, 69% of people believe that working at home improves their mental health.

Around the world, offices are shutting en-masse, sending entire workforces to complete their jobs from the comfort of their own homes. If there’s ever a time that people needed space to focus on their mental health this would be it. 

Its given employees the space they need to recover mentally. Beyond that, it’s showing employers that their business is capable of functioning remotely.

The positive outcome of this is that hopefully after the COVID-19 crisis, we can set up a world where employees aren’t needed in an office every day. A world where employees are free to work at home and care more for their mental health – reducing office-based overheads and the cost of sick days. 

 

Astonishing mental health data

The data on mental health was complied by interviewing employees of a range of digital marketing and technology companies, including Google, Facebook and The Independent. It revealed stark information about the current state of mental health, such as: 

  • 67.9% of people state that their mental health has impacted their work. 
  • 57.5% of people state that work has a negative impact on their mental health. 
  • Only 32.1% of people have told their employer about their mental health. 
  • Of the 67.9% of people staying silent on mental health, 83.3% of them don’t plan on ever telling their employer. 
  • 66% pf people feel that their work is understanding about their mental health. 
  • But 46% of people feel like they don’t have enough mental health support at work. 
  • 90.4% of people believe working flexible hours can help with mental health. 
  • Only 24.4% of people have mental health first-aiders at their work. 
  • 91.7% of people believe there should be more services for mental health.
  • 89.9% of people think the government doesn’t do enough to support mental health. 
  • Only 28.6% of people currently access mental health services. 
  • But if more services were available to them, 66.7% would access them. 

Access the full data here. 

 

A push for positive change 

One of the best things to come of out the COVID-19 pandemic is people working together. 

Communities are being brought closer and we’re showing compassion and offering help in brand new ways. If you’re ever unsure of that, just watch a video of people coming together to applaud everyone who’s working to stop the virus every single night. It’s a wonderful show of camaraderie. 

It’s a global crisis and we’re in it together. Now, hopefully, we can carry on this momentum to help with mental health and continue the fight for better mental health support. 

With support, we can get better. We can push for positive change to help the crisis. Without support, it will only get worse.

Together, let’s take action and break the silence.

 

dannii (2)

This guest blog was written by Danielle Strouther. She is currently writing lots of words about all kinds of unique subjects at Adzooma and searching for a word she likes more than discombobulated. She has a masters in Film and Television, so can tell people she knows what’s good on Netflix.

 

 

The best employee benefits supporting Mental health: by Daniel Tannenbaum

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(image: Policy Bee)

 

In 2020, many startups and companies are implementing strategies or creating employee benefits that put mental health first. This is a welcome change that shows just how far attitudes towards mental health have changed in the past decade, becoming no longer a taboo.

Here are the firms that are supporting mental health amongst staff members best:

Equipsme

The London-based startup Equipsme has created an inexpensive employee benefit that means employees can benefit from comprehensive yet affordable health insurance policies. Whatever the size of the business, companies can insure staff with plans from as little as £7 per month per person.

Customers get 24//7 GP access, online health checks, nurse support and 3 physio sessions as standard with the option to upgrade to stress support for as little as £1.50 per person per month, optical and dental cover for £7.50 per person per month too.

Sweaty Betty

The hugely popular activewear brand strongly promotes to staff a healthy mind and body and keeping stress in the workplace to a minimum. How does the firm do this? Each week, it gives its employees the chance to join lunchtime yoga classes to help them relax. There is also the chance to join running clubs and start later in the day if they so wish, all with the aim of helping with stress management.

Ernst & Young (EY)

Ernst & Young makes mental health a big focus in its organisation, providing not only private healthcare, but also free online health assessments in a counselling service that can be used by not only staff members but also their families. It is completely confidential and available for 24-hours.

yulife

yulife is another exciting London startup that incentivises employees to look after their mental health by promoting healthier lifestyles. The company has radically shaken up the life insurance industry for the better with their insurance package.

For example, businesses who take up yulife insurance policies can reward their employees through earning yucoin. Yucoin is earned by engaging in a healthy lifestyle, tracked by staff in a daily app. This includes doing exercise and meditation.

By accumulating yucoin online, staff can then redeem these for real life rewards at shops, restaurants, and much more.

Innocent smoothies

The company is known for providing a range of employee benefits that puts the needs of its staff first. This is particularly the case when it comes to mental health. For example, the smoothie firm is dedicated to reducing work stresses through the inclusion of a free gym and breakfast to all staff. It also provides a yoga club to its employees and a 100% confidential 24 hour employee assistance programme that means they can talk to someone privately if they need to.

 

This blog was written by writer Daniel Tannenbaum.

Lockdown and Dealing with Mental Health: Guest blog by author Graham Morgan MBE

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(image of Ardmore, Scotland by http://scotlandwildlife.blogspot.com/2011/07/tobermory-to-ardmore-bay-isle-of-mull.html )

My name is Graham Morgan. This is my story of how I’m coping under lockdown.

I have just got back from walking Dash the dog round Ardmore. There was not a person in sight; just the sound of the curlews and the crows, the roar of the cold wind in the trees and the sound of the waves on the seashore. It gave me a chance to think and ponder on this first day of lockdown. It blew my tiredness away. As I reached the point; I looked along the Clyde to Dunoon; where my sister works as a midwife and hoped she was ok and thought about my brother, a medical director and psychiatrist;  having to make decisions about the future that no one should have to make.

Driving the two minute journey home I passed the post office van ; strange to see the postie with his mask and blue gloves. I felt slightly guilty for being out and had to remind myself that we are allowed one exercise session a day; that walking the dog counts as that.

I am so lucky compared to others. My friend phoned last night to say he had just managed to get home after breaking the news to his friend’s sister that that friend had killed himself days ago. Back to an email saying he was sacked from his job and that his tenant. who he shares his house with, was leaving the house as London, feels too unsafe. To deal with that?

I found out recently a Twitter friend was passing round my book on a psychiatric ward. The thought of being back in hospital but with no visitors and all the restrictions that happen now, fills me with horror; makes my last hospital stay feel pleasant. 

Yesterday a young man contacted me on Facebook to say how much he enjoyed my book START and how he was now in self isolation. I remembered he had been in hospital for months and months; was just getting used to his first flat; getting back to education, finding joy in his creativity. I remembered the loneliness I felt when I lived alone; those days when there was no one to speak to, to share a smile with. How it tore at me! Slapped me to the ground with sadness. I think of so many friends who are already lonely; lost in their lives, lacking the energy to even make a cup of tea.

I am indeed lucky. So far in our tiny household we have got over the twin’s meltdowns when we took them out of school last Monday. How frightened they were and how much they miss their friends. Home schooling for the moment is fun, I imagine, as the weeks go, by it will get harder. We are lucky we still have perspective; not to get angry and argue because of our own anxiety.

I am used to being awake in the early hours, yet somehow I am sleeping OK at the moment and have decreased my drinking. 

My understanding of the world (due to my beliefs at the moment) is that I am evil and bringing about its destruction; I think I am partly responsible for the fires and floods; the wars but, for some reason, coronavirus seems to have nothing to do with me. I have no idea why, but it is a relief.

I have more realistic worries, like the special care my Mum made to get a long tight hug when I left her in England to go back up to Scotland. 

We have been working from home and have been more or less self- isolated since Monday because my partner has asthma and yet her separated husband is a key worker  and looks after the kids too. There is relief that these are ‘real’ worries that I can grasp; not my usual ones.

The most pressing concerns are how to work from home as well as home schooling the children; how to get bread and eggs. The biggest inconvenience has been having to queue outside the chemist for my anti depressants; thankful that my GP realised I was taking them too infrequently and that now I am back up to the required dose I feel so much more relaxed.

I have one quandary; a minor one. I went to get my jag (injection) yesterday for my mental illness. The CPN (community psychiatric nurse) who gave me it had no more protection than normal. It was quick and painless.

He said he didn’t know where the community mental health team would be soon; they may be based with another more urban one by my next appointment. He said that if I, or anyone else near me, got any symptoms I was to phone in but that he had no idea what they would do if I did; that I might have to take oral medication.

At that I was lost because, of course I would have to;  not doing so at such a time would cause so much trouble but, at the same time; I am on a community section because I cannot make myself take medication, how can I agree to that, if it happens?

I have my work, I have food, my lovely family and Dash the dog who cuddles tightly up to me every night. I have my writing, my books, my music. So many people I know have nothing approaching that. 

I think I am glad I don’t have the imagination to see the scale of what is happening and am not torturing myself with the ‘what ifs’. Good luck to all of you who may not be in such a good place. Let us all help each other as best we can over the coming weeks.

 

Graham Morgan has an MBE for services to mental health and is the Author of START (by Fledgling Press) a memoir of compulsory treatment, love and the natural world. Available from Amazon and Waterstones on line.

He can be found at @GrahamM23694298 on twitter and at Graham Morgan – author; on facebook or at the Scottish Booktrust Live Literature database at https://www.scottishbooktrust.com/authors/graham-morgan

 

How Debt can have a huge impact on your Mental health by Ian Sims

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(image: Money Under 30)

With the coronavirus outbreak, it is a worrying time for many of us financially. With that in mind, today we would like to share this about debt and mental health: 

Worries about money can hugely influence your overall wellbeing. A study conducted in 2019 showed that 9.5 million people in the UK have issues with their mental health, in direct relation to money woes, whilst a staggering 18 million worry about lack of money daily (source:N26).

How mental health impacts your finances

Research conducted by National Debtline indicates that approximately one in four adultswill experience an issue with their mental health within any given year. It is worth noting mental health incompasses a range of conditions and experiences, including:

● Anxiety

● Depression

● Bipolar disorder

● Phobias

● Schizophrenia

● Dementia

It is also worth highlighting that having a mental health issue or condition does not automatically mean you will struggle with finances or debt. However, it may make it harder to deal with. Research indicates that around half of all adults in the UK who are having debt problems also have a mental health issue (source: National Debtline).

It can causes a vicious cycle of problem health and finances

Unfortunately, feelings of stress, anxiety and even depression relating to growing fears about lack of money can lead to a vicious circle. It can impact your finance management abilities in a variety of ways. For example, serious anxiety or depression may cause you to lose energy or avoid your debt entirely. This may lead someone to avoid keeping up to date of their finances.

Problems with mental health could also affect finances if it means that it reaches a serious point where the person is required to take time off work. Depending on their individual circumstances (such as whether they are entitled to sick leave or not) this could mean a sharp reduction in their income. Unfortunately, this might have the unintended impact of making their mental health worse.

Other signs that debt is causing an impact on one’s health mentally include:

● Become overwhelmed or sick at the thought of the debt you are in

● Starting to withdraw completely from family and friends due to debt anxiety

● Symptoms of preexisting mental health conditions such as depression, are worsening

● Struggling to eat properly

● Struggling to sleep

● Regularly underperforming at work

What you can do if you are in debt and struggling with mental health

Do not suffer in silence, there are a number of places you can turn to that are confidential and free. This includes services such as the Samaritans or Mind. There are also debt charities dedicated to providing advice on how to get out of your debt, such as StepChange and National Debtline.

If you are looking to lower or consolidate your debts, you can look at debt management companies, but please note that they make take a fee for using their services

If you need help in the current crisis with getting Universal Credit or other welfare benefits for job loss or want to know more about managing your finances, check out the government and money websites such as MoneySavingExpert by Martin Lewis.

This blog was written by expert and freelance writer Ian Sims.

 

 

How to make your surroundings more comfortable if you have Anxiety: by Daniel Tannenbaum

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(image: 123RF.com)

Your environment has a huge impact on your mood, and this is especially the case when it comes to anxiety.

For example, many believe that your surroundings can often be a direct reflection of your current state of mind – for example, lots of clutter may suggest you feel overwhelmed.

Alternatively, it can make existing feelings feel worse such as lots of mess being a key trigger for depression.

However, your surroundings can also make you feel better, if you do it right. Here are some tips to help you to make your surroundings more cozy and comfortable, to help reduce anxiousness and make you feel calmer.

 

Soft lighting

Using soft lighting, especially in the evenings, can help you to feel more relaxed than harsh, bright, white lighting. Aesthetically, things like fairy lights draped along a wall or from ceiling to ceiling or lanterns, can also be nice to look at, which can be a great way of boosting morale. After all, if you are happy in the environment you are in, this will also have a positive impact on your mood.

 

Hygiene

For those that panic over clutter and messiness, having a home or workplace built with the right surfaces in mind can help you alleviate this. With companies specializing in hygienic surfaces, you can optimize your home or workplace to have doors, walls and floors which are easier to clean and reduce the spread of germs.

Simple examples include the role having blank walls and cladding over individual tiles in the bathroom or kitchen which can get grimy and hard to clean.

 

Cushions

After a long day at work, you want to feel that when you come home you can completely unwind. For many, this might mean tuning into an hour of TV or watching a film to help alleviate the stresses and strains that may have accumulated during the day, causing anxiety. Make this cozier and an altogether far more pleasant experience by having lots of cushions in different textures.

 

Rearranging furniture

You don’t necessarily need to purchase anything to change your surroundings and make them more comfortable. It could be as simple as rearranging furniture. It can help change your perspective, and also increase the visual appeal of the space you are in, making you feel calmer.

 

Plants

A number of studies have shown the mood boosting impact of having plants in the home. This tends to be one of the most cost effective ways to make your surroundings better, whilst also adding a pop of colour too.

 

Turn off electronics in the evening

Never completely unwinding and mentally checking out of looking at emails and social media can have a harmful impact on your overall levels of anxiety. To make you feel more at ease in your surroundings, it is highly recommended that you allocate times where you completely switch off your electronic devices, especially at night. Instead, why not look at more relaxing activities to do such as reading or having a hot bath?

 

This article was written by freelance blogger Daniel Tannenbaum

Why People are using Weighted Blankets to cope with Anxiety: by Calming Blanket

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(image: Calming Blanket)

Weighted blankets have been found to have a number of key benefits to those that use them. One of the biggest advantages of using weighted blankets has been its ability to reduce stress and anxiety in users. But how do weighted blankets work, and how does it impact on people’s levels of anxiety? We decided to take a closer look.

How do weighted blankets work against anxiety?

It works in a few different ways, but the main factor it all comes down to is these blankets’ ability to stimulate the body’s proprioceptive input. This input in our body is important, as it helps the body recognise and establish environment awareness.

The awareness trigger is key, as this can help the brain get access to the body’s environment at a much quicker rate than without this type of blanket. This can help the brain to feel more relaxed, having a domino relaxation effect on the rest of the body.

In short, this entire process stimulated by the proprioceptive input, helps to reduce feelings of anxiety, because of the light pressure that is applied to the body.

In addition, for many people suffering from anxiety, lack of sleep unfortunately also goes hand in hand, and weighted blankets also tackle this too. This is because this light blanket pressure helps to release the hormones serotonin and melatonin. The former is known for having a huge impact on mood, while the latter helps with falling to sleep.

Interestingly, it is also believed that the feeling of a weighted blanket has similar emotional benefits to that of a hug or a baby that is swaddled tightly. The main reason for this is the release of the hormone oxytocin, known for helping to make people feel calmer and more relaxed.

Where can I find a weighted blanket?

The best weighted blankets on the market are by the Australian company Calming Blanket – and are recently available to buy in the UK.

Available for adults and children, they provide a range of super comfy weighted blanket options (2.2kg, 4.5kg, 6.8 kg and 9kg) that only use super soft fabric, as well as providing inner ties which do an important job of making sure weight is distributed evenly across the blanket.

 

This blog was written by Calming Blanket, a weighted blanket company that helps people with anxiety.

Looking to the Future and Life Dreams: by Eleanor

 

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(image: 123RF.com)

Hi friends,

It has been a while since I have written a personal blog as there has been so much going on here that I was just focusing on getting through it all. Robs dad had surgery to remove a second brain tumour and is thankfully recovering well, the surgeon amazingly got all the cancer. Success.

Alongside this, I have been in therapy since November with a wonderful therapist and we are doing EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing therapy). This therapy helps to process trauma that can get ‘stuck’ in the brain if not processed. That trauma can stem from childhood upwards- I was an anxious child from an early age even though I had a good childhood! I have also been through a lot due to my bipolar episodes and hospitalisations. So, I am working with my therapist to process memories and we are doing it slowly.

My therapist will either ‘tap’ on the side of my legs while I recall the memory to help process it or my eyes will follow a light or her finger as we process. Understandably, there has to be a lot of trust in this type of relationship as well as me being protected and not triggered by the therapy. For this, we have developed a ‘safe place’ memory that I go to when we bring up anything too distressing. We have just started to go deeper with this and I will update you with our progress. I am far less anxious than I was and it has been really helpful to build a positive, working relationship with my therapist.

The reason I started therapy was because I was having intense panic attacks and finding it difficult to manage my life due to it. I hope that by working on these triggers that I can react differently and live a healthier and better life. Stay tuned!

A month or so ago, I also went to see my psychiatrist for the first time in 2 years, mainly as I had worries about my weight and physical health. My medications means I have put on a substantial amount of weight and this is worrying me health wise more than anything. I have been advised to diet and exercise and maybe work with a nutritionist. So, this will also be a new journey and I will try my best with this, not easy as the meds may stop me losing weight due to slowing metabolism or encouraging cravings. We considered reducing my Quetaipine, a mood stabiliser and anti psychotic to help but because I have been more mentally stable, I have decided to keep it at the same dose for now.

Rob and I have also started to look at new homes, which has been good. There is a lot happening right now and important that I rest, look after myself and keep calm.

Life with bipolar disorder can be uncertain. I have some fears about the future, which I will talk about in another more detailed post. My medicines thankfully keep me mentally well, but coming off them for future life changes eg pregnancy could be a big risk for me and one I am not sure I should take due to being bipolar 1 (risk of mania and psychosis). This is not currently imminent, but is still a future fear, especially as I love children. A decision for a later date.

Overall though I am hopeful and excited about life and will keep you all updated with my therapy and health journey and news.

Thanks for reading and following Be Ur Own Light as we come up to our 4th anniversary,

With love,

Eleanor x

 

 

Living with PCOS and Managing Mental Health: Guest blog by Jasveer Atwal

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(image: Jasveer A)

I have lived for over 2 decades with PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome), yet I had not been diagnosed until in my 30’s. PCOS means you have many follicles on your ovaries, which are underdeveloped sacs. These sacs are unable to release eggs and so ovulation does not occur. There is no medication to cure PCOS but there are alterations, you can make to your life, to make it somewhat manageable.

The indicators for PCOS normally follow the lines of acne, excess hair and irregular periods. All of which I have had since my teenage years (quite obviously). These symptoms were considered separately and the dots were not connected until I went to India to see a dermatologist. As soon as I discussed the aforementioned symptoms, she asked me whether I had been diagnosed with PCOS to which I said no and looked completely dumbfoundedShe asked me to get this checked out and to cut out dairy and sugar, as this was part of the cause of my acne and also helped in my diet. Luckily, I don’t like cheese anyway (how could I not? I know) and so this wasn’t too taxing on me.

Diagnosis

I, then returned to the UK and insisted on having an ultrasound and within 30 seconds it was quite clear I had PCOS. I didn’t really look into it much further, as I was told the only way to look into managing it was with birth control and being active. I didn’t want to use any medication and I was already considering going to the gym. There wasn’t much around PCOS at the time except for the NHS diagnosis.

Little did I know that there was more to PCOS, than the anxiety inducing symptoms of acne and excess hair. For years, I had always had trouble losing weight from my belly and this was after changing my diet to include more wholegrains and less sugar.  But, even after making these changes I had always found that it was really easy for me to put on weight and then extremely hard to lose it. Which I know, is a common problem for most but I found this, even when I was really conscious of what I was eating.

Management and Mental Health

I started going to the gym but this was really hit and miss, as I found it really hard to be consistently active. There would be some points where there wouldn’t be much difference to my weight that just led me to give up. But after some time I decided, I wanted to strengthen my body and started going to the gym to work on my strength.

Working on my strength meant, I was also losing weight as I was more active, however I have still not been able to shift the belly fat. This started becoming extremely frustrating and after looking into it more, PCOS also impacts weight because another symptom is insulin resistance. In short, this means that the body doesn’t respond properly to insulin it makes. Which in turn raises your blood sugar levels and your weight is then affected. It is more common that PCOS sufferer’s bellies, want to hold onto the fat more dearly!

I am now on a mission to get those highly coveted abs. It is a tougher journey than someone without PCOS but it’s about figuring out what works well for your body. I have found that overall exercise is an integral part of my everyday life.

I currently exercise many times a week, which is excessive for some but I find that I need it to manage my mental health and weight. I am finding this difficult at the moment for a number of reasons:

  1. It’s the winter and I suffer from SAD
  2. PCOS also means I have anxiety, low mood and fatigue
  3. Its cold outside and sometimes have to spend 10 minutes scraping my car

So I am trying to battle through these hindrances by going as much as I am able because the exercise helps with my low mood. Trying to be consistent is the best thing for me, otherwise I become entangled in a catch 22 situation which derails the work I have put in place to manage my PCOS.

However, I have also realised that listening to my body and taking a break now and again may be all I need to ease the impact on my mood/anxiety. You constantly have to be aware of how you are feeling which I have found difficult as, I don’t always want to give into the low moods. But sometimes staying in the duvet longer in the morning, may help my mood more than dragging myself to the gym.

Living

Though I am able to manage the effects of PCOS on my body, changing my diet made changes to my body and skin. With my hair I have had to resort to laser treatment. I have recently started to look more into managing my stress, a lot of the stress when I was younger was due to the acne and excess hair.

There were days my acne would cause me not to go out or really dread it. Constantly having to get rid of hair which is conventionally not seen as ‘ladylike’ became tiring. And there were many days, which turned into weeks where I didn’t want to have to manage this anymore. I slowly started making changes and started to see some results. My acne reduced and I was able to work off the weight. However, my anxiety and low mood remained.

For this, I realise I need to manage my stress more intentionally and work on what affects me, my triggers and how I can reduce stress and anxiety. It’s different for each individual. I have found it is something you can manage and I have become more persistent and resilient as a result of having anxiety and low mood related to PCOS.

 

This guest blog was written by blogger Jasveer Atwal, who lives in the UK. She blogs at https://shelved.blog/ and you can find her on Instagram  @shelvedblog .

9 Years Undiagnosed: My Life with Bipolar Disorder, for Time to Talk Day: Guest blog by Mike Segall

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(image: Time to Change)

*Trigger warning: discusses thoughts of suicide and mania, please read with care *

This blog has been courageously written by my Dad, Mike, about his journey with bipolar disorder and the hurdles he faced in getting a diagnosis. For those of you who have read my book, you’ll know some of this. This is the first blog that Mike has written for us and I want to share it on today, Time to Talk Day by the charity Time to Change.  So here is Mike’s story….

 

My experience of Bipolar 1 Disorder was that I was undiagnosed for 9 years. I was never sent to a psychiatrist and was put on the wrong medication (I hadn’t heard of mood stabilisers and seemingly neither had my doctor).

So- What is Bipolar Disorder? (formerly known as Manic Depression)

To me, Bipolar symbolises the two extreme poles of mood- mania and depression. The North Pole is Mania. Mania is wonderful for me- you think you can be anyone, you think you can do anything, achieve anything, You are flying. You think ‘why can’t everyone be like this and experience everything?’. You are much more uninhibited. You may shop more, you spend more money, You think you can FLY!

But you can’t fly and you fall, you fall off a cliff into varying degrees of  deep, dark depression, which can last for months.

Bipolar disorder is  a chemical imbalance in the brain that causes periods of depression and periods of abnormally elevated mood, mania. The elevated mood is significant, known as mania or hypomania depending on its severity and whether symptoms of psychosis are present. Psychosis means when your mind lose touch with reality, with delusions or hallucinations.

During mania, someone feels abnormally, happy, energetic, irritable and not requiring sleep they often appear to be bouncing off the walls, starting new projects, trying to achieve too much. In some cases, addictions during mania may also present.

During depression, someone with bipolar disorder may be crying, experiencing negative thoughts and giving poor eye contact. You will notice this if you ever have a conversation with someone who is depressed. They may also be suicidal or talk about self harm.

My Story:

My first manic episode occurred in 1991 and I went to the doctor and was prescribed Valium (an anti anxiety calming medication), which was handed out like sweets in those days.

The Valium didn’t do me any harm but they certainly didn’t do me any good. In the next 9 years, I had three manic episodes followed by three increasingly devastating depressive and suicidal episodes, the last of which lasted 5 months.

In my first manic episode I was going out a lot late at night to clubs and bars and spending too much money. My second and third manic episodes were much more controlled as I recognized what was going on but I was still much more outgoing than usual and spending too much money.

My depressive episodes were serious and eventually suicidal and lasted 3, 4 and 5 months respectively. I often stood on the edge of a London Tube platform thinking about ending it all. I would drive down the motorway at speed not turning the corners until the last possible moment. I would stand in the bathroom with hands full of tablets thinking about overdosing and ending my life. Mostly, I was at home in bed doing nothing but sleeping , eating and surviving.

The person you would meet today is not the person you would have come across at that time.

Looking back there was no real connection made between these episodes and I wonder 1. Why I was never hospitalised and 2. Why I wasn’t diagnosed more quickly.

First of all, 30 years ago far less was known about Bipolar Disorder so the doctors weren’t quick to diagnose it. Secondly, it was only after 9 years that my GP reviewed my file and noticed that I had never been referred to a psychiatrist.

This was the breakthrough that changed and saved my life.

I went to The Priory hospital to see a psychiatrist, describing my episodes. Within 45 minutes I had a diagnosis,

”You have a mental illness. It has a name, It is Bipolar 1 Affective Disorder. You have it for life and it is treatable with the drug Lithium.”

Lithium balances out the chemical imbalance so you end up between the poles and mood is then stabilised. I am pleased to say that in the past 20 years, the medication has worked for me and has stabilised my bipolar disorder, so I no longer get episodes of mania or depression.

I am also pleased to say that as quite an emotional person I still experience the normal feelings and emotions that come with everyday life.

Starting on Lithium is not easy as you have to be weaned onto it. There are side effects, the most common being weight gain and you have to have regular blood tests to make sure the level of Lithium in your bloodstream is correct (non toxic) and it is not affecting your kidneys.

I do wish that I had been diagnosed earlier and not had to suffer manic and depressive episodes as I did.

These are the 4 takeaways I would like you to have from reading this, this Time to Talk Day:

1. With mental health it’s good to talk about it , It’s good to fight stigma and it’s good for your own healing.

My journey started in 1991 and I would hear things like ”you’ve got a weakness. Why don’t you pull yourself together?”, which were unhelpful

2. Think about how you can help people in your community by recognizing the signs that someone has depression or mania.

3.  Live a positive life- I am an example of a bipolar sufferer who can maintain a positive life. Bipolar is an illness that needs treating. It is treated with medication but it can take time for the medication to be right as each person has individual brain chemistry.

4. Listen to those who are struggling. Most of us listen to reply. If you watch two people deep in a conversation or you are in one yourself your focus will be very much on the other person and you will be listening at 90%.

But if you are listening to understand and you are feeling and sharing their emotions then you are truly listening at 100%. Check out the Samaritans help line too.

 

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(image: Mike Segall)

Mike Segall is a professional speaker and mental health advocate, sharing his lived experience with bipolar disorder to groups in the UK. He is also the father of the founder of this blog, Eleanor.

Talking for the Jami Mental Health Awareness Shabbat 2020 by Eleanor

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As some of you will be aware, back in 2017-2018, I helped as a volunteer with fellow volunteers (Lisa Coffman and others) to found the Mental Health Awareness Shabbat (Jewish sabbath) in our communities across the country here in the UK. The initiative, led by the mental health charity Jami and conceived by Rabbi Daniel Epstein, now runs in 150 Jewish communities.

This year, my dad Mike and I were delighted to be asked to share our father and daughter journey with bipolar disorder to Chigwell and Hainault Synagogue.

I have social anxiety- which includes at times a fear of public speaking. In December, I had a breakthrough, where I spoke for a short time at a conference called Limmud alongside my Dad and read from my book Bring me to Light. So, when we were asked to do this talk at Chigwell, I felt it could be possible.

I armed myself with the fact that I knew kind people in the community including the Rabbi and his wife and friends of my husband Rob (its the community he grew up in). I also wanted to share my story to help other people.

So, we stayed with a lovely lady in the community and had friday night dinner with the Rabbi and his family. On Saturday morning, I woke up feeling a little nervous but took my trusted anxiety medication for when I need it- Propranolol, and walked to the synagogue with Dad.

I managed not to have a panic attack and the thought of speaking to help others got me through (as did distraction, deep breathing and drinking a glass of water).

So, at the end of the service, we were called up to speak. Dad went first and talked about his journey with bipolar disorder from when it started for him in 1991 to finding recovery. Then, it was my turn.

I stood up there in the pulpit speaking to a packed audience with a prepared speech. I felt scared but also empowered and began to relax into the talk. I knew that by sharing what happened to me, being sectioned and so ill and talking openly, that I could break stigma and touch others. I was also so proud of my Dad for speaking so openly.

It was only after, when talking to people after the service, that we realised that about 150 people came to listen to our talk! We had some important conversations with people after our talk including someone very newly diagnosed and someone else whose niece had bipolar and is currently very ill.

I couldn’t and still can’t believe I was able to do that. However, since I have been very tired so trying to de-stress and rest as much as I can!

We just want to thank everyone who came to hear our talk and supported us, to every person who thanked us for coming and shared their stories with us. We are so grateful for such a positive reception and thank Rabbi Davis and the Chigwell community for having us.

The Mental Health Awareness Shabbat has had events in communities all across the country. It runs yearly and you can find out more here