Why we all need to think about mental health
On the eve of World Mental Health Day, David Clensy looks at a new campaign to urge Bristolians to not turn a blind eye to those with mental health issues.
EVEN in today’s seemingly broad-minded times, when celebrities like Stephen Fry and Catherine Zeta Jones are open about their bipolar disorders, mental health problems in day to day life can all too often still be brushed under the carpet.
But today, (TUES), on the eve of World Mental Health Day, charity Rethink Mental Illness is launching a campaign on the streets of Bristol to urge Bristolians to learn a few basic tips to help them support someone facing a mental health emergency.
The Mental Health SOS campaign is designed to arm people in Bristol with tips and practical advice on what they can do if faced with situations such as someone harming themselves or hearing voices.
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Paul Jenkins, chief executive of Rethink Mental Illness says: “Most of us know some basic first aid. We know how to put someone in the recovery position and how to stop a nose bleed, but a lot of people would be at a loss if faced with a mental health emergency, such as a friend feeling suicidal.
“Through this campaign, we want to teach people just a few basic steps to help them feel more confident in handling these kinds of situations.
“We don’t need everyone to become experts, but a little bit of knowledge can be very powerful, it could even potentially help save a life.
“Our aim is to make Bristol the most mental health aware city in the country.”
The charity is offering everyone in Bristol a free training pack – SOS Your starter guide to mental health – which outlines different types of mental health scenarios you might be faced with and some basic steps you can take to help.
A recent survey by the charity of people living in Bristol found that 75 per cent of Bristolians know someone with a mental illness but roughly one in three say they wouldn’t know what to do if faced with a mental health emergency, such as a friend feeling suicidal.
The actress Stephanie Cole, best known for her roles in Waiting for God and Coronation Street, grew up in Bristol and is backing the campaign. It’s an issue close to her heart, as her brother has schizophrenia.
“People might not realise but there are actually things they can do to help during a mental health crisis,” she says.
“That’s why I’m encouraging all Bristolians to take five minutes to read the guide. By arming yourself with just a few key facts, you could make a huge difference to someone’s life.”
As well as advertising the campaign on billboards across Bristol, Rethink Mental Illness will be holding a public event on October 23, from 10am to 4pm in the Neptune statue area at The Centre. There will be copies of the guide available as well as free food and staff from the charity on hand, offering information on mental health.
Local volunteer activists for the charity will also be handing out leaflets across the city during the campaign.
MP for Bristol East, Kerry McCarthy is also backing the campaign.
“I am really pleased to see that Rethink Mental Illness is bringing the Mental Health SOS campaign to the city,” she said.
“One in four people will have a mental health problem at some point in their life. This is an issue which affects us all.
“I wish the campaign every success and encourage Bristolians to embrace it and learn more about how they might be able to support someone in a mental health emergency.”
Rethink Mental Illness has two services in Bristol, supporting around 400 people a day. After launching in Bristol, the charity is planning to roll the campaign out to other parts of the UK next year. You can download SOS Your starter guide to mental health at MentalHealthSOS.org or to get a copy in the post text GUIDE7 to 70500.
Most people who are thinking of taking their own life have given warning signs beforehand.
These can include becoming depressed or withdrawn, showing sudden changes in behaviour or mood, talking about wanting to die and feelings of hopelessness. These feelings do improve and can be treated.
If you are concerned about someone you know, or if you need help yourself, please contact the Samaritans on 08457 909090 day or night.
NEIL Evans was brought up by his mother who has schizophrenia, and for whom he now cares. Neil has also been affected by mental illness since his teenage years, and has a diagnosis Borderline Personality Disorder and severe depression. Neil lives in Bristol, and receives weekly support from a Rethink Mental Illness recovery worker. He has trained as a journalist but is not working at the moment.
Neil says: "Mum's illness was already there when she became pregnant, which would have been terrifying for anyone, but in a tight-knit South Wales community it was horrific. When I was born, Mum was not able to care for herself let alone me, and her parents reluctantly stepped in.
"From an early age, Mum's behaviour was often frightening and upsetting. I remember that she was often away for weeks, sometimes longer. Only later did I find out that this was because of her regular stays in hospital.
"The bond between us was close and I became increasingly protective and nurturing towards her even though I didn't really understand what was happening. As a teenager, I remember taking her to hospital after an overdose and her being terrified of crossing roads, so much so that she would only do so with my help. Though I didn't realise at the time, I had already become her carer.
"The constant rows and occasional violence at home left me nervous, unable to trust people and completely risk-averse to anything. By the age of 16 I was already on medication, though I have always wondered if this was because the doctors knew whose son I was.
"Mum was sectioned by my grandmother when I was 16 and I was moved from my home to be closer to where mum was hospitalised. I lost interest in my friends and the people around me and only focused on supporting mum.
"As I got older I was never told what was wrong with my mother. I tried living with her when she came out of hospital but just could not cope. Mum's social worker at that point was deeply concerned about me and was worried that I was heading towards a breakdown.
"Those years have cost me dearly in terms of my own mental health but I just instinctively did what I felt was necessary. My own mental health problems accelerated – I didn't see any life for myself other than the one that was inter-connected with my mother. I wasn't emotionally or psychologically equipped for adulthood and I was eventually diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.
"Mum married a man who himself was diagnosed paranoid schizophrenia who made her cut off contact with me for several years. It is sad to know that mum neither shared in nor knew about me eventually going to university and getting a degree.
"I have been extremely blessed in having a 'surrogate' family here in Bristol and had it not been for a wonderful woman called Margaret, I would almost certainly not be here. Through that family's love and support, I have been able to experience things I never thought I would. I literally owe them my life.
"Mum still very much depends on my support and reassurance and that can be very hard when I am feeling unwell. It takes a lot of emotional and physical energy to take so much responsibility but we do enjoy the time we spend together when I visit."
SARAH Defrates was diagnosed with mild bipolar disorder (cyclothymia) in her early 40s. Since her diagnosis she's had various mental health crises during which she has felt suicidal. Sarah manages her condition by having three psychotherapy sessions a week and a close network of friends and family who are there to support her when she "crashes and burns".
Sarah says: "My mood swings are quite sudden and severe. I'm usually a very energetic, positive person, but when depression strikes I feel lethargic, want to say in bed, feel worthless and think I might as well be dead.
"In the past, my brother has been my rock. If I felt suicidal he'd be with me straight away and would listen to me in a non-judgmental way. When he moved to Canada a few months ago I educated my friends about what to do when I have a crisis.
"They know that if I call or text them saying 'I'm crashing and burning' they need to come immediately, which is what they do. Their support has saved my life more than once.
"Though I was diagnosed with a mental health condition in my early 40s, I can see that some of the symptoms were there when I was a child. My mum says I was always on the go but then suddenly I'd be absolutely exhausted for about a week. My brother used to say that I ran on Duracell batteries because I never seemed to stop. But I wasn't happy all the time. I used to sit by the window ledge upstairs and say that I was going to jump and kill myself. I didn't know then that that could have been a symptom of depression.
"I'm quite impulsive and in my twenties I didn't hesitate to end my marriage abruptly. I left a note for my husband telling him our marriage was over, caught a plane to Australia and lived there for a while. I've also put my financial future at risk.
"I'm a single mother with two lovely grown-up kids that live at home with me.
"But I found the boys' teenage years very difficult. As a coping mechanism I started getting in serious debt with my credit cards by spending on designer clothes and shoes. I don't usually like shopping, but found that it gave me contact with people and helped me cope with the stresses at home.
"I was eventually declared bankrupt and felt down. A year later, when I had more financial bad news, I collapsed and wanted to kill myself. I'm usually someone who loves life so this scared me. I went to my GP, who then diagnosed me with mild bipolar disorder. Later that year, I had more financial bad news and immediately wanted to kill myself.
"Before my illness I did very well in my job as a receptionist and my customers had only praise for me. Now I'm not well enough to work. My last boss used to call me a 'fruit bat' and completely undermined my confidence.
"Sometimes, I still feel lost, lonely and scared but I have learned a lot about my illness and how I can help myself. I walk every morning, make sure I go to bed the same time and go to psychotherapy three times a week.
"This routine, along with the support of my friends and family, is what keeps me going."