Guest Post: An Introduction to Trichotillomania- Hair Pulling Disorder by Ariel Taylor at trichstop.com

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(image: eleMINT)

Trichotillomania is a hair pulling disorder that affects millions, though many are not even aware of the fact that they suffer from this condition. It’s a well-known emotional illness and if you punch in the keyword Trichotillomania on the Internet, you’ll be bombarded with blogs, journals, and, essays discussing this hair-pulling habit.

However, when it comes to analyzing this disorder, it’s more than just a case of perpetual hair-pulling. This urge to tug or pluck hair defines Trichotillomania but one needs to know the warning signs and instances that could lead to this emotional upheaval.

Trichotillomania comes under the obsessive-compulsive spectrum and is akin to Obsessive Compulsive Disorders – OCD. When it comes to OCD, Trichotillomania too is defined by compulsions i.e. the sudden need to pull or pluck out hair. Nonetheless, Trichotillomania stems more from an impulsive side while OCD is a repetition of a particular habit – more along the lines of obsession.  The main area that’s most affected is the scalp however, people don’t shy away from tearing out their eyelashes, eyebrows or other hair for that matter. A person feels at ease after hair is uprooted or successfully pulled from the skin. Chronic Trichotillomania can lead to hair loss resulting in bald patches. It’s a source of great concern to people who have family members dealing with this condition especially if they have never encountered or been familiar with an issue before.

 

Early Signs Of Trichotillomania

 

Sense Of Comfort

In times of stress and agony, individuals pull their hair inadvertently which is followed by a feeling of relief and comfort. For instance, Sally, a fifteen-year-old, starts pulling her hair when she hears her parents get into a verbal altercation with each other. For some kids, parents who quarrel often can be a reason of great discomfort. Many aren’t aware of ways to deal with such situations and resort to things or activities that give them temporary solutions. Trichotillomania happens to be one of them. The intense tugging and twisting of hair is a sign of silent suffering and pain. Somehow, that very pain turns into relief until the awkward moment of distress has passed.

Perpetual Pulling

The urge gets the better of an individual and they pull away not realizing the pain it would cause. There’s a lot of embarrassment and shame that comes with Trichotillomania. Initially, there’s denial and quite a few take a while to come to terms with accepting the fact that yes, there’s a problem. They resort to covering their bald patches by donning a hat or wearing scarves. Any unevenness on legs or hands is covered with extra layers of clothes or tattoos. People dealing with this problem either pull their hair for brief or long periods of time.  The impulsive behavior cannot be controlled and hair is pulled, no matter what.

Comparatively more than men, women are prone to get diagnosed with Trichotillomania. It brings with itself other emotional problems such as bipolar mood disorders and depression. Uneven patches of hair on the body makes many wary of social interaction since the fear of being bullied or ridiculed tends to seep in.

 

What Causes Trichotillomania?

There isn’t a specific reason that leads to Trichotillomania but there are several biological, psychoanalytical and behavioural theories associated with this disorder. For instance, neurochemical imbalance, as well as trauma connected with childhood or stressful events. Trichotillomania that occurs under psychoanalytic model denotes an unconscious unsettled past – an unfortunate incident of abuse by an acquaintance or a complete stranger.

The behavioural model for Trichotillomania stresses on painful events. For example, loss of a parent, or constant family skirmishes precedes the onset of hair pulling. An attempt to release tension is caused by such distressing instances and moments. This behavior becomes perpetual and later turns into a habit. The person may not even be aware of any initial triggers. However, it only has to be one event in response to what someone may perceive as the urge for pulling hair. The biological model for Trichotillomania purports neuro-chemical imbalance, mostly with serotonin. Levels of altered dopamine too play a vital role in aggravating Trichotillomania. It still isn’t sure if genetics need to be taken into consideration. Although some studies do suggest a rise in the percentage of Trichotillomania in people whose relatives suffer from different psychiatric disorders.

 

Plan Of Action

Continuous tugging of hair needs to be reported medically and if Trichotillomania seems an underlying cause then psychiatric as well as a medical treatment has to be initiated. Not many are aware that the earlier the intervention, the better the probability of the behavior being in control. However, it is essential to note that a person – child or an adult, sometimes do not present for treatment for Trichotillomania until two years since hair-pulling takes place. Psychological behaviour therapy and medication help with treatment for this condition. Habit reversal training as well has done wonders to people who have been suffering from this emotional ordeal.

Lastly, acceptance and patience are key factors in addressing this psychological disorder. With time along with medical help and the support and love of family and friends, Trichotillomania can surely be managed.

For more please see http://trichstop.com

Life Whirlwind: Mental Health Writing, Blogging and Speaking, Bipolar Disorder and a trip to Romania.

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(image: Pinterest)

The past few weeks have been incredibly busy- but exciting. This month has been a bit of a rebirth in many ways. My writing and blogging have truly taken off and been published in various different places- this month my story is in Happiful Magazine, two articles for Metro on mental health (www.metro.co.uk), I shared my story in the Jewish News here in the UK and online at STOP Suicide. It has been Time to Talk Day (about mental health), Childrens Mental Health Awareness Week and I have also volunteered this month with Jami (Jewish Association of Mental Illness) Mental Health Awareness Shabbat, which this year came to around 97 Jewish communities in the UK. I attended the panel event at a local community centre and discussion was had on mental health here in the UK, by experts including my friend Jonny Benjamin.

This month, I have also been asked by a friend to come in and talk to his work place about living with anxiety and what it means. So that is hugely exciting for me! I am also writing a mental health article for a top womens magazine- which is a dream of mine. I hope to share that with you when its published.  I have been writing sample chapters for a book too and am in the limbo phase of waiting to hear what editors think.

So, its been a total whirlwind really as I have also been running my blog here and sharing peoples stories (and last month this blog was nominated as a finalist for a UK Blog Award). I was also asked last week if a social media editor could turn my story into a video for her 200 thousand followers so that is in process too. I had not ascertained how much interest there would be in my story.

Professionally, a lot is changing and I have to be very much aware to look after my mental health, to get enough sleep and rest, to make sure I take my tablets on time, to eat well and do some gentle exercise and to see and speak to my friends (and boyfriend of course). I have to keep grounded and rested in order to function effectively. Last week, the Jewish News article came out and I know it has had a positive ripple effect in my community- as my Mum was stopped in the pharmacy for people to talk to her about it. So thats exciting.

I am a shy person at heart and I have written extensively on having social anxiety. When my JN article came out, i actually felt very anxious at first and wanted to hide away. Mental health stigma is still present in my community and I felt scared. But I needn’t have worried as the reaction has been very positive!

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I am still processing all thats going on and I am lucky to have a really good therapist and family/ boyfriend support network to help me deal with the changes going on. I am still adjusting to the financial side of being a freelance writer and pitching to editors at different places. My latest Metro article on child grief came out on Friday and you can read it here: http://metro.co.uk/2018/02/02/children-often-get-sidelined-when-a-family-experiences-loss-why-its-important-we-talk-to-pupils-in-schools-about-grief-7270002/

Over the weekend, I went with my Dad to Iasi, Romania (on the border with Moldova) which is where my great Grandpa and his family were from. It was an eye opening trip- the city is grand and full of culture. However, as Jews we had relatives who died in the Holocaust and found this out using the Yad Vashem Holocaust database when we came back. It was great seeing Iasi but also sad as some of our relatives were taken from there to be killed – but an eye opening trip.

Today, I am feeling thankful and grateful for all thats going on and thankful for you who are reading and following and commenting- and enjoying my work.

With love, Eleanor x

‘Time To Talk: I hope my story can help others feel less alone’: for the Jewish News UK on Time to Talk Day

Today is Time to Talk Day, Time to Change charity’s annual day to talk about our mental health. This year, I decided I wanted to share my story with a local newspaper to my community, the Jewish community in the UK and beyond online. This is also for people who aren’t Jewish and so I am sharing it here. I havnt shared the full article due to SEO reasons but there is a link at the end to the full article!

Remember- its ok to talk about mental health… to loved ones and beyond. It took me a long time to share my story and sharing publicly is not for everyone. I hope the article helps you feel less alone:

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(image: Eleanor Segall)
Time To Talk Day, marked on 1 February, gives everyone the opportunity to open up about mental health. It’s a subject close to my heart, because it took me 11 years to talk openly about the fact I have bipolar disorder and anxiety.

My story begins in 2003, when, aged 15, I experienced an episode of depression, anxiety and psychosis, where your mind loses touch with reality.

I wasn’t sleeping, my heart would suddenly race, I would cry and have regular panic attacks and couldn’t concentrate on anything. I was incredibly frightened and exhausted.

My parents, as well as teachers at Immanuel College, were hugely supportive and understanding and I sought help from a psychiatrist for the first time.

But that year, while on Israel Tour with my youth group, I also experienced a manic episode and had to come home early. I felt so ashamed, even though it was not my fault that my mind wasn’t well.

My madricha (youth leader) was an incredible support to me and I thank her to this day for all she did to make sure I was safe and well.

Months later, when I started studying for my A-levels, I had a further severe depressive episode.

For the next four months, I was kept in hospital and, aged just 16, I was finally diagnosed with bipolar affective 1 disorder (formerly known as manic depression), which causes both depressive and ‘high’ manic episodes.

The disorder can be medicated and therapy helps, but it’s about finding the right medication and support, which can take a while for each person.

For the next 10 years, I managed my condition and in that time achieved A-levels, went to university and travelled.

But when I turned 25, I again found myself spiralling into illness with a bipolar manic episode.

People suffering with this can have racing thoughts, reckless behaviour, increased activity and movement and delusions, which can, in the worst cases, turn into psychosis. This is what happened to me.

Through no fault of my own, I was back in hospital again. It was extremely frightening. Owing to the severity of the mania, I couldn’t see how ill I was and felt incredibly vulnerable.

At that time, I had no idea if I could recover and get back to some kind of normal life again. It affected everything and even when I began dating, I felt I had to hide my condition.

READ FULL ARTICLE: http://jewishnews.timesofisrael.com/time-to-talk-i-hope-my-story-can-help-others-feel-less-alone/

Grey Clouds… Inspirational Lyrics by Stephen M Galloway.

This set of song lyrics/ poetry was sent to me by an amazing person on Twitter- Stephen Galloway who wanted me to share it to help others. He has his own mental health issues but wants to help readers of Be Ur Own Light. I hope you enjoy reading, please note: you may feel emotional reading, so read these beautiful words with care!

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(image: shutterstock)

Grey Clouds…

If you get lost along the road
Let me be the hand you hold
I swear I’ll help you bear your load
And lead you safely back to home
If this world should seem too dark
Let me show you where
To heal all of those painful scars
Make whole again that broken heart
You’ve been there for me, now please believe I won’t leave until your skies are clear
And those grey clouds have disappeared
If your words just won’t come out
Let me be the voice with which you shout
If your fragile mind is filled with doubt
I’ll hold you tight; I’ll hold you proud
If your shoulder’s sore from all the weight
If the path you walk just won’t stay straight 
Just call my name and right away
I’ll be back by your side again
You’ve been there for me, now please believe I won’t leave until your skies are clear
And those grey clouds have disappeared
I want to help for you saved me
From a loneliness like you won’t believe
I was blind until you helped me see
I was numb until you made me feel
You were there for me, now please believe I’m not leaving ’til your skies are clear
And those grey clouds have disappeared
Please believe I’ll be right here
Until those grey clouds disappear
Just like you did for me Oh, just like you did for me

© Stephen M Galloway – 11th August 2017

Guest Post by 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: 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

New Look Site on Be Ur Own Light: a Mental Health Recovery Blog!

I wanted to make Be Ur Own Light clearer to access and easier to read aesthetically. I hope you like some of the minor changes to make it more accessible.

Welcome too to all our new followers- we are nearly at 300 on WordPress and over 3,000 on Twitter and over 2,000 on Instagram.

Be Ur Own Light is written to challenge mental health stigma and more posts will be published shortly.

Thanks,

Eleanor, founder of Be Ur Own Light

We have won the Sunshine Blogger Award!

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Thank you to Sue at http://www.myloudbipolarwhispers.com for nominating Be Ur Own Light as one of their Sunshine Bloggers! Sue wrote, ‘I believe this great group of people and their blogs bring a lot of joy and sunshine and education into the lives of many people and I also pray these lovely people have a lot of joy and sunshine in their lives every day.’

Thank you so much Sue for this beautiful accolade and for paving the way in battling stigma against bipolar disorder and mental health in general! You are a star in a dark world 🙂

So these are the rules except I can’t think of 11 people to nominate, so I will do 4!

Rules for “The Sunshine Blogger Award”

  1. Thank the blogger who nominated you and link to them.
  2. Answer the eleven questions asked.
  3. Nominate 11 other bloggers. (I am doing 4)
  4. Create 11 new and different questions for them to answer.
  5. List the rules.
  6. Include the “Sunshine Blogger Award” logo in your post somewhere

    Sue has asked me to provide answers to the following questions:

    How old are you?  29

    How old were you when you were diagnosed with mental illness, or other type of chronic and/or invisible illness or grief?  Diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder at 16, lived with anxiety disorder from 17/18

    Where do you live? London, UK

    What makes you happy? Sunshine, sunflowers, autumn leaves, chocolate, Reading books and of course my boyfriend, friends and family.

    What makes you angry: War, refugees still having to flee, terrorism and mental health stigma

    When was the last time you experienced mental illness stigma or any other type of stigma or discrimination? A few years ago when someone refused to set me up on a date with someone they knew due to my illness being disclosed.

    What is your favorite kind of candy?  Cadburys chocolate

    What is your favorite season and why? Autumn (Fall)- because its so cosy and I love fairy lights, hot chocolate, snuggling in blankets, autumn leaves etc.

    How long have you been blogging? Here on WordPress for almost 2 years and before that on Blogger and elsewhere for 2 years. I am a writer so am always blogging.

    Do you prefer a sunny or a cloudy/rainy day? Usually sunny but there is something very cosy about watching the rain from inside.

    I nominate the following because they are rays of light in the blogging world, sharing, writing and wearing their hearts on their sleeves. They sparkle in tackling mental health stigma and I am so proud to have them as Followers of my blog.

    Alexis Rose-  https://atribeuntangled.com/

    Paul McGinley- https://paulmcginleymentalhealth.wordpress.com/

    Christina at Sea of Words- https://seaofwordsx.wordpress.com/

    Happiness Hunt Blog      https://thehappinesshunt.wordpress.com

    These are the following questions they must answer:
    1) Why did you start your blog?
    2) How long have you been blogging and what is your passion?
    3) Which country are you based and what is mental health care like there?
    4) What is your favourite movie?
    5) If you could chose one actor to play you in the film of your life who would it be?
    6) What has helped you on your recovery journeys?
    7) Where would you most want to travel to?
    8) What is your favourite food?
    9) Why do you like writing?
    10) Which song makes you smile?
    11) If you could pick a spirit animal who would you pick?

    Congratulations on the award !

Looking after Mental Health as a Student and Beyond: for World Union of Jewish Students on World Mental Health Day

This blog is one of a series of blogs that Eleanor, founder of Be Ur Own Light, wrote for the World Union of Jewish Students- www.wujs.org.il/blogs . It was prepared for World Mental Health Day written by young Jews about their experiences dealing with mental health.

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In 2007, when I was 19,  I started my BA (Hons) in Drama and English Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London. Goldsmiths is a quirky, art school with an area of excellence in the arts. It was the perfect place for me to study, despite the distance to South London!

Having grown up and gone to primary and secondary school in Bushey, Hertfordshire in a close knit Jewish community, leaving my comfort zone behind was both nerve wracking but exciting. I was thrilled to be studying what I loved and being on a new journey. In my first year, I lived in halls and made lots of new friends .

However, it had only been 3 years since I had been diagnosed (at the age of 16) with bipolar disorder. Bipolar is a serious mood disorder where you can get low, depressive moods and at the other end of the spectrum- high, manic moods. Bipolar can be medicated with mood stabilisers and anti depressants, and I was very good at keeping to my medicine regime and of course avoiding alcohol, not so easy in a student environment!

Throughout my 3 years at Uni, although my Bipolar symptoms were largely kept at bay, I did suffer from social anxiety which impacted slightly on my Drama degree. Anxiety is something that I have lived with for a long time. When you are diagnosed with a mental illness as a teenager, you don’t want to be different. As I had been in hospital as a teen due to a bipolar episode and had to go down a year at school to catch up, getting to university was a victory for me. In fact, just three years before I began my degree, doctors had told my parents that due to the severity of my illness, I may not make it to university. I was so pleased to prove them wrong!

Yet, I did still feel different and although I loved my course, I did have times when my anxiety impacted. Studying Drama was (and is) a love and passion of mine. I loved creating characters, learning acting theories and forming performances with my fellow drama students. However, when I was feeling at my worst throughout my 3 years at Uni, there were times when I felt I couldn’t perform on stage.

In those times, my university tutors were hugely supportive and I disclosed to them that I was struggling with my anxiety disorder. I only ever had positive support and was set an alternative writing assignment instead, which meant I could still get my degree.

My advice if you are struggling with anxiety, depression or other mental health conditions at university is to do the following:

  1. Disclose your condition to your tutors (and particularly a supportive form tutor) if your illness is impacting on your work. It is not weakness to disclose, rather if you do, then the University can help. University has a duty of care to you to make sure you are safe and well. Once disclosing, you will often find that you will be highly supported by staff. Sometimes too, the University pastoral department can get involved to help you and refer you to counselling If needed. You are not alone.
  2. Be honest and kind to yourself. If you are living away from home, there is temptation not to tell your family or friends what is going on. You may think that you will be worrying them but actually having a strong support network really helps, so speak to those who are supportive and get some advice as to what you should do.
  3. If you are really struggling and cannot continue on the course, speak to University about it and see if you can defer a year. Also, make sure you make a GP appointment to discuss what is going on with your mental health- or if you are under a psychiatrist- go and see them.
  4. Try not to isolate yourself. At uni, I found strength from joining Goldsmiths Jewish society and later becoming President of it, working with local Rabbis and meeting Jewish students from all over the world. Its important if you can and are feeling well enough, to make new friends and try out new clubs in the Student Union. In London, we have UJS- Union of Jewish students, which I found really helpful to join. In my third year, I was on the events committee and organised a bar night, Booze 4 Jews London. Having those connections was really helpful to me and I enjoyed my time at university even more.
  5. Remember there will be times when Uni can be challenging. Whether its being away from home, meeting new people, having difficult assignments and lots of independent work, writing a long dissertation… know you can and will get through it but make sure you have the right support in place.
  6. If you are really struggling ie feeling very depressed, suicidal or want to harm yourself- please do share this with your doctor, family or someone you trust, so you can get the right support. You can also call Samaritans and various helplines.  It may help you to take time out of university to get well.

In my experience, my universities (after Goldsmiths, I did a year at Royal Central drama school) really supported me with my anxiety and mental health. Remember to speak out, get help and support and know you can still get your degree despite your health challenges – you are not alone.

Eleanor Segall is a mental health writer, blogger and advocate. She went to Goldsmiths University from 2007-10 and did her masters at the Royal Central School from 2011-12. She lives and works in London, England.

http://www.wujs.org.il/blogs/looking-after-mental-health-as-a-student-and-beyond-eleanor-segall