The Road to Recovery: On PTSD, Trauma and the Future… by Eleanor for Mental Health Awareness Week

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(image: Eleanor Mandelstam (Segall))

 

Trigger Warning: sexual assault, details of assault and severe mental illness

 

Hi everyone,

Its been a while but I thought I would put type to keyboard and write a blog for more mental health awareness.

Since my book was published, I haven’t written many follow up personal blogs, purely because the launch of my life story into the public domain felt overwhelming and scary. 6 months on, I am used to it being out there but I have been working hard in EMDR trauma therapy to help myself.

See, the truth is that right now the Bipolar Disorder for me is stable and under control on my medicines. I still get side effects- weight gain, dry mouth and thirst, but my mind is generally healthy in terms of the Bipolar- no mania or depression. Anxiety and panic yes but Bipolar, not really at the moment.

Yet, almost lurking unseen after I left hospital in 2014 and began my recovery was the fact I was traumatised by my experiences of going into psychosis (losing touch with reality via delusions, false beliefs) and my experiences when being sectioned. I will just give an overview as the rest is in my book- but this included- being restrained, being attacked by other patients and seeing them self harm, being injected with Haloperidol (an anti psychotic) in front of both male and female nurses in a part of the body I didn’t want, being chased round A and E by security men in genuine fear of my life, dealing with lawyers and going to tribunals while ill, thinking I had been abused by family and was locked up by a criminal gang and fearing my family were against me. My bipolar mind could not cope.

Just before this all happened, I was very vulnerable and was sexually assaulted by a man I knew through friends and all of this trauma stayed with me.

I did what most of us with severe mental illness and assault survivors do- I tried to rebuild my life. I tried to work in schools helping children with special educational needs. I tried to work for a mental health charity as a peer support worker for people like me. I began to blog and write and share as therapy- from charities to national newspapers. Bit by bit, as I wrote out what I has been through, I started to slowly heal. But, the symptoms of the extreme panic remained. I lost jobs because of it. I became depressed. I started dating but I often had to cancel dates- (before I met Rob, my husband who listened to me talk about it all and didn’t bat too much of an eyelid.)

I was in a state of flux, a state of transition. I knew I had trauma still living in my brain and body. I had been physically and sexually assaulted, I had been mentally violated- I had been sectioned twice in a few months and now I was sent home to try and rebuild my life as a 25 year old single woman.

I share this important blog, not to share that I am a victim- because I am not. I want to share that I believe for about 5 years, I have been suffering with some of the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). My therapist believes the same.

The panic attacks that grip me with fear before work or the day ahead when I have to leave the house. The fear of going out or travelling at night alone. The fear of being taken advantage of and having to trust men again (thank you to my husband for helping ease this pain). The fear of exploitation, of losing my mind, of not trusting mental health professionals any more.

My panic attacks get triggered by certain events- it could be having to speak about my life or book, or seeing people I don’t feel comfortable with, of feeling exposed, of worrying about others judgement. I am still healing from all I have been through and experienced. The PTSD means that I have to take medication (Propranolol) to function sometimes. It means that I experience flashbacks in my body- I feel gripped with fear, I get chest pain and shallow breathing and I start to cry. I had one the other day at 4am….. thank the lord for meds so I could calm down and sleep.

My therapist is incredible and we have been working since October to process the roots of my trauma and panic disorder. We use a combination of rapid eye processing with talking therapy which helps to tackle each and every trauma- and we are still at the tip of the iceberg. It takes time to process the deep rooted experiences in my brain- we are getting there slowly.

For me, in many ways my future is uncertain. My medicines have long term physical side effects. Motherhood will be more of a challenge due to medication and my mental health- I am still processing the choices I will have to make, which I will write in another blog.

I want to end this blog by saying- if you know someone with anxiety, PTSD, another anxiety disorder or something like bipolar or schizophrenia- Be Kind. You never know what someone has gone through.

The NHS waiting lists for help are too long, services are too underfunded- all my treatment has been private provided by my family due to being stuck on a list for years. I am lucky, not everyone is. 

I hope this blog gives some information about my experiences of PTSD since leaving hospital 6 years ago. It is by far the most personal thing I have posted since publishing my book but I hope it helps you feel less alone.

Positivity and Hope are key.  Meeting my husband and my therapist changed my life for the better as I slowly rebuild and find an equilibrium again.

Love,

Eleanor x

We are 4! On Be Ur Own Light’s Fourth Blog Anniversary by Eleanor

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Its Today- 1st March 2020 and Be Ur Own Light is 4 years old! (cue the streamers!)

I still remember starting this blog as an outlet for my fears, thoughts and emotions dealing with my bipolar and anxiety. The blog started as a way to tell my friends and family how I was feeling and has evolved into working with guest bloggers and now brands/ partners on sponsored wellness posts too! Writing the blog and sharing thoughts has been so therapeutic and it has taken me on  a journey that I could not have imagined.

In November 2019, I published my first book Bring me to Light with Trigger Publishing which is the book of my life story with bipolar disorder, anxiety and my life in general (travelling, going to drama school, starting a career as a writer). The blog has also grown so much this year and is currently nominated in the Mental Health Blog Awards for Blogger of the Year, thank you to our nominee!

Additionally, Vuelio awarded us as a Top 10 UK Mental Health Blog for the second year running and interviewed me (Eleanor) about working as a blogger!  Thanks also to Feedspot.com and My Therapy App for listing us in their mental health blog lists too for social anxiety and bipolar!

This year, I have written about World Bipolar Day for the Centre of Mental Health, about my search for EMDR therapy on the NHS, living with depression in winter, about writing my book and new life changes (getting married) and 2020 new year round up with hopes for the future. We also promoted mental health campaigns such as Shout UK text line (founded by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry and Meghan),  Christmas 4 CAMHS, Time to Talk Day and Mental Health Awareness Week. Additionally, I spoke in Essex with my Dad about our joint story with bipolar for the Jami Mental Health Awareness Shabbat and we also spoke at Limmud Conference in Birmingham!

This winter I did some interviews for the book which can be seen on the Book tab above and also received some lovely reviews. It was amazing to appear in Happiful Magazine’s bonus wellness Mag this January (edited by campaigner Natasha Devon) and to write for Glamour and Bipolar UK. I also enjoyed being interviewed for the Jewish News and Jewish Chronicle! Hopefully at some point I will do podcasts about it too and more interviews.

From March 2019-2020, the blog has attracted wonderful and talented guest bloggers wanting to spread their messages about mental health and wellness.

We have also worked with the following brands on sponsored and gifted posts and hope to work with many more this next year :  YuLife, Nutra Tea, Essential Olie, Loveitcoverit on mental health apps, I-sopod floatation tanks, Core Wellness Maryland, Wellbeing Escapes Holidays.

My guest bloggers have written about their recovery and living with mental illnesses, as well as advice on how to improve your mental health. There a posts for whether you are going through a divorce, a bereavement, are stressed or have anxiety. We also had posts with people’s first hand experiences of mental illness including a brave post about being a sibling of someone with mental illness and one of living with an eating disorder. Furthermore, Be Ur Own Light has also covered World Mental Health Day and Time to Talk Day this year, featuring personal mental health stories as a way to raise awareness and fight misconceptions.

We have also covered new books coming out, a mental health fashion brand and a song about social anxiety, as well as posts about different therapies to help you.

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Thank you to my amazing guest bloggers (non sponsored) March 2019-2020 for your fantastic content:   

Ashley Smith- How Massage Therapy helps Anxiety Disorders

Emily Bartels- 5 tips for a mental health emergency plan

Dale Vernor- Understanding PTSD by Gender 

Tan at Booknerd Tan- How audio books and walking has helped anxiety

Emma Sturgis- Loving yourself, tips for a body positive life

EM Training Solutions- How to maintain mental health at work

David Morin- On social anxiety and talking to others

Lyle Murphy- How equine therapy can help those with mental health issues

Charlie Waller Memorial Trust- Best of Musicals event

A Time to Change Hypnotherapy-  Hypnotherapy for self esteem

Nu View Treatment Center- The connection between anxiety and substance abuse

Shout UK- Royal family launches mental health text line

Mental Health Foundation – Mental Health Awareness Week  May 2019 Body Image

Emerson Blake- Coping with the stress of becoming a single parent

The Worsley Centre- A guide to therapies and finding the right one for you

Byron Donovan at Grey Matter – How I recovered from depression to form a fashion brand 

Luci Larkin at Wooley and Co Law- How to reduce stress and maintain mental health during a divorce

Nat Juchems- How to keep your loved ones memory alive after bereavement

Emily Ilett- on her book ‘The Girl who Lost her Shadow’

Mark Simmonds- an interview about his book ‘Breakdown and Repair’ with Trigger Publishing

Curtis Dean- 5 facts about music for stress relief

Robert Tropp- How quitting illegal drugs helps anxiety in the long term

Aaron James- the difference between psychotherapy and counselling

Dr Justine Curry- 4 ways to help a friend with bipolar disorder

Christmas 4 CAMHS campaign for children in childrens mental health wards

Ani O- 4 ways to ease the fear of doctors appointments

Katherine Myers- Ways that spending time outdoors can improve your mental health

Anita- 5 ways to lift you out the slump of seasonal depression

Chloe Walker- taking care of your child’s mental health

CBT Toronto- how to deal with social anxiety and depression

Katy- a true story with anorexia and OCD

Vanessa Hill- Life changing habits to bring into the new year

Rachel Leycroft- Expressing social anxiety through songwriting

Shira- Living with a sibling with mental illness: the meaning of normal

Capillus- 10 signs you may have an anxiety disorder

Brooke Chaplan- When therapy isn’t enough 

Jami Mental Health Awareness Shabbat 2020 

Mike Segall- Time to Talk Day- 9 years undiagnosed, my story with bipolar disorder

Jasveer Atwal- Living with PCOS and managing mental health

Leigh Adley at Set Your Mind Free- How CBT helps children with anxiety

Lizzie Weakley- How to heal and move forward when you have an eating disorder

Sofie- Living with an eating disorder

Thank you so much to all of you and I am excited to see what 2020-21 brings for the blog!

Be Ur Own Light continues to be read globally and I love receiving your messages about the blogs and finding new writers too.

Heres to a 2020 of positive mental health, of fighting the stigma against mental illness and creating a positive and supportive community here. 

Happy 4th birthday Be Ur Own Light!  ❤ May this be an enlightening year of growth for us.

 

Love and Light always,

Eleanor    

xxx

Understanding PTSD by Gender: Guest blog by Dale Vernor

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(image: Kennington Osteopaths)

Post traumatic Stress Disorder, better known as PTSD can occur in a person who has experienced or been a witness to an event that is traumatic enough to affect their lives in a negative way. Witnessing a death, a serious accident, war, abuse, being a victim of a crime, natural disasters and childhood trauma can all be causes of PTSD. Many people only associate PTSD with war and veterans, but the truth is an estimated 3.5 percent of the US population suffers from PTSD.

Research has shown that there are differences in the brain when it comes to how men and women process and deal with PTSD. Science is admittedly behind on truly understanding the gender differences when it comes to PTSD and how it is expressed, but there have been some findings.

Men and women respond to stress differently. Men are more likely to respond with a fight-or-flight response in a stressful situation and women are more likely to use a more calming response known as tend-and-befriend.

This is an emotion-focused coping mechanism. It should be noted that there is so little data that stereotypes should not be formed, however, there is enough data to support differences in the genders.

PTSD in Men

Men are more likely to have PTSD due to combat trauma, trauma from natural disasters and disasters caused by human force, some sort of violence and accidents. Based on studies and research men actually suffer more traumatic life events than women on average, however, only 5-6% of men will experience lifetime PTSD. Lifetime PTSD is less prevalent in men than in women. Double the rate of women will experience lifetime PTSD at 10-12%.

PTSD in Women

Women are at a substantially higher risk for PTSD than men. Biology and psychology play a part in why those differences exist. Women are more likely to experience what is considered “high-impact trauma” at a younger age than men.

Women are more likely to experience sexual abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault that leads to their PTSD. It is sexual trauma that puts women at a higher risk for PTSD than men.

Women who suffer from PTSD will also tend to do so longer in comparison to men; on average 4 years to 1. When it comes to seeking help for PTSD women are more likely to seek support for their illness amongst a group. They tend to look for social support.

Symptoms of PTSD Same in Men and Women

The women and men who have this condition often express similar symptoms. Men may display their symptoms in a more aggressive expression where women have shown to retreat internally and avoid the outside world.

Some of the symptoms of someone suffering from PTSD are:

Re-experiencing nightmares, having flashbacks and frightening thoughts that appear real, avoiding people, places and things that may remind a person of the trauma and avoiding feelings and thoughts to cope with the trauma, signs of heighten anger and anxiety expressed physiologically, being hyper-vigilant against threats, difficulty sleeping, experiencing an onslaught of negative feelings, thoughts and judgments, unreasonable blaming of yourself, excessive guilt and a negative perception of yourself in the world, and disinterest in regular every-day activities.

PTSD and Substance Abuse

According to the U.S. National Library of medicine 50-66 % of people who have PTSD simultaneously suffer from addiction. What begins as a means to cope with the symptoms of PTSD, which are distressing, usually turns into a full-blown addiction.

Substances like drugs and alcohol can decrease anxiety in the moment, escape the pain , distract from negative emotions and increase pleasure in the short term. The coping mechanism of substance abuse affects both women and men. There are dual diagnosis treatment centers for people who are suffering from PTSD and substance abuse.

Post traumatic stress disorder, wherever you live in the world and whatever gender you are, can be hard to cope with. Please seek support if you need it and know you are not alone.

This post was written by Dale, a freelance writer specialising in mental health, based in the USA.  He can be found on Twitter https://twitter.com/DaleVernor

4 Helpful Treatment Options for those who suffer from PTSD- Guest post by Rachelle Wilber

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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious mental health condition that affects people who’ve experienced major trauma events. Common among military service members who’ve fought in combat zones, PTSD can also affect people who’ve lived through other terrifying episodes that have resulted in physical and/or mental harm. If you believe that you suffer from PTSD, you can work with a therapist and try any of these four different treatment methods to overcome the condition.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

This type of therapy works to alter thought patterns that often cause people to relive the traumatic events in their minds. As Mayo Clinic states, the goal of cognitive behavioural therapy is to make you more aware of negative or inaccurate thoughts so that you can adopt a healthier perspective of challenging situations and respond in a better way. Undergoing this therapy may also help prevent relapses that could jeopardise your mental health.

Exposure Therapy

Your therapist may also try exposing you to things that trigger traumatic thoughts as a way to alleviate them. This is done in a safe way, and your mental health care provider will be there to help you process your thoughts and feelings and give you tools to overcome your anguish. You may be shown pictures, see writings or even revisit a place where the traumatic episode occurred. Gradually, these negative thoughts should lose their power and cause you less mental grief the more that you’re exposed to them.

Eye Movement Desensitizing and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Also known as EMDR therapy, this treatment method involves recalling distressing thoughts while a therapist’s fingers move in front of your face. You’ll be asked to follow these finger movements with your eyes while discussing your feelings, however, you generally won’t be required to talk about your thoughts in great detail.

Some therapists use foot or hand tapping or musical notes instead of finger movements in front of the face. This more active approach to therapy is intended to minimise the effects of bad thoughts.

Medication

Medication is sometimes prescribed by mental health professionals to work in conjunction with other types of therapy. Prozac, Zoloft and similar antidepressant medications are formulated to boost serotonin levels in the brain to alleviate negative thoughts and emotions. Your doctor may also prescribe Depakote to stabilize your moods. Prazosin often works well in stopping nightmares.

You don’t have to continue letting PTSD dominate a large part of your life. Seeking professional help and undergoing any of these therapies will likely give you positive results.

 

This article was written by freelance writer Rachelle Wilber from San Diego, California

On Complex PTSD and my recovery: Guest post by Lydia for World Mental Health Day

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Hi there, I’m Lydia a 20-year-old youtuber and film maker, I’ve been battling my mental health conditions for a little over five years. This article is about C-PTSD (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and how I’ve found recovery, but first, what is C-PTSD?

C-PTSD, is a type of post-traumatic stress disorder that stems from repetitive exposure to a traumatic experience, it is also commonly diagnosed alongside BPD (borderline personality disorder), I was diagnosed with C-PTSD around 3 years ago after witnessing a suicide and multiple suicide attempts, without going into too much detail it was really hard, and has taken me until this year (2018) to even begin to process what happened.

So, let’s talk about recovery, there a massive misconception that it isn’t possible to recover from any type of PTSD, however it totally is possible to  find recovery. My recovery really got started this year when I made the decision to privately access EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) which was without question the most beneficial type of therapy I’ve tried.

Following this there was a major incident in which my mental stability declined rapidly I was subsequently detained in a psychiatric hospital for a little under a month, following my release, I decided to take control of my mental health and help myself.

The first thing I did to help myself was cut off from everybody negative, which I realised I had to do, because I really was at a point where I could have reached crisis point if things didn’t change. I moved from one end of the country to the other, I blocked everybody’s number, Facebook and Twitter, it was a drastic move but so important and to anybody who struggling with their mental health I’d wholeheartedly recommend doing this, just cut yourself off from everybody negative, you don’t have to justify it, your health and welfare should be the most important thing in your life.

The next thing I did was go to my GP and re-start my medication. Sometimes you just need an extra push, psychiatric medication can’t change your life circumstances, but it can help you heal. This was a pretty big decision but it was one I needed to make.

The final thing I did was to take a break and find a hobby.  I went on holiday with my family, I started creating more positive content on YouTube while also documenting my recovery which has been one of the most helpful things I’ve done/ This is because I’m a part of a really supportive community on YouTube, and just reading comments like “you gave me hope” means so much.

The big move I made this year was to write and release my own book on the journey I’ve been on, and I wouldn’t change it because it’s made me who I am today.

After a few years of complete hell, I’ve turned my life around and I’m certainly in a much more positive place, things change and life changes for the better. My overall message for you all would be to never lose hope, just hold on because if you put in the time and work things will change, however don’t expect people to change things for you. Hold on and find recovery.

 

Lydia is a youtuber and film maker, talking about her mental health. You can see her channels here:

www.youtube.com/lydiisadinosaur

www.twitter.com/Lifewithlydia

 

How I stopped Self Medicating my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder- PTSD and found Recovery by Peter Lang


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(image: sayquotable.com)

Peter Lang shares his amazing story of recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, homelessness and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Trigger warning: please be careful when reading, talk of drug use. 
Most people think of veterans when they think of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Unfortunately, I know all too well that PTSD can also affect civilians. PTSD is defined as the psychiatric disorder that happens following a traumatic event. While war is a common traumatic event that causes PTSD, it’s not the only kind of trauma. Traumatic events can include abuse, life-threatening illnesses, and serious accidents.

As a homeless drug addict, I experienced my share of traumatic events. I spent most of my twenties without a home: couch surfing with acquaintances and strangers all over the country, living on the streets of Philadelphia, and living on the beach in Maui. Throughout this time, I used every substance you can think of: alcohol, heroin, cocaine, meth, prescription medication. I drank so much, I developed avascular necrosis in my hips, which later led to a bilateral hip replacement after a car accident at age 30.

After I got hit by a car when crossing a street in Philadelphia, my mom asked me to come down to Georgia to stay with her. I spent the next two years in a wheelchair. Though I tried periodically to stop drinking and using drugs—with some success—I still struggled. I know now that one of the main reasons I was struggling was that I was trying to self-medicate my PTSD.

On the street, I experienced many traumatic events. There were so many times I got beaten up or taken advantage of or almost died. Once in Hawaii, I did die, and they had to revive me in the hospital. The doctor told me with the amount of alcohol I had in my bloodstream, it was a miracle I was alive.

In early 2016, I met a woman who changed my life. We fell in love almost immediately after meeting each other, and we got married a year later. We are about to celebrate our one-year wedding anniversary.

She made me see that it was okay to ask for help with my PTSD. I didn’t have to feel like I had to take care of it all the time. She made me see that a great deal of my struggles with substances was because I was just trying to numb the pain from traumatic events I hadn’t dealt with.

At one point, I was prescribed benzodiazepines, which did help my PTSD. However, I was never able to take the medication the way I was supposed to, and they became just another substance for me to abuse as opposed to a helpful tool.

It was clear that in order to stop self-medicating, I was going to have to see a counsellor and confront my traumatic events. I started seeing a therapist regularly, and she has helped me immensely. She has helped me to open my eyes and stare the traumatic memories in the face, knowing that they don’t define me.

Another tool that was incredibly helpful for me was meditation. By meditating, I could learn how to become spiritually centered and stop identifying with the painful memories. I’ve also been greatly helped by Buddhist-based 12-step meetings, which have given me a unique perspective on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Now, I’m doing better than ever. My wife and I are ridiculously in love, we just moved into a nice house, and I’m working full-time as a freelance writer and marketer. I wouldn’t be where I was today if I was unable to deal with my PTSD. I would have never been able to stay clean and sober if I kept self-medicating.

I still struggle with my PTSD frequently. It hasn’t gone away. But now I have the tools to handle any episodes that do come up.

Many people suffering from a substance use disorder are also suffering from a co-occurring mental health disorder. You can treat one without also treating the other. Luckily, you don’t have to. There are plenty of resources that will help you to seek the treatment that you need. All you have to do is ask for it and be open to it.

Peter Lang is a freelance writer from Atlanta, Georgia. He occasionally writes for The Recovery Village. In recovery himself, he has dedicated himself to helping others struggling with substance abuse.

 

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

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(image: PTSDscreening.org)

Trigger warning: contains descriptions of PTSD symptoms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Factors that prevent individuals from seeking help

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

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

Acknowledging mental disorders is the first step to recovery

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

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

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

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