‘One in four people will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year’ (The Office for National Statistics Psychiatric Morbidity report, 2001)
I have seen or heard this statistic more than once, but what does it mean? What is a mental health problem? So one in four British adults experience at least one diagnosable mental health problem in any one year, which sounds a bit alarming, but it is not always that bad. Mental health problems can range from being at risk of self harm or hurting others to generally feeling low and being irritable.
The most common mental health issues are mixed anxiety and depression with almost 9% of people meeting criteria for diagnosis. I have suffered from this on and off since I was a teenager. Anxiety is a fear, but it becomes a problem when you can not control it or you suffer long-term effects. Anxiety for some can lead to panic attacks which can be very frightening as they can feel like you are about to black out or can’t breath. I have never had a panic attack which I am very glad about. However I often feel overly anxious about things, especially when something unexpected changes my immediate plans, such as if I am getting ready to go out and then there is a delay for some reason. I can get irritable, cry or just give up and not even bother to finish what I was doing. Anxiety can make my OCD much worse which then gives me even more to be anxious about. I sometimes find I need reassurance from others that everything is OK and I become dependent on them. Anxiety can be a vicious circle, feeling anxious about a situation that might make you anxious. I have found myself avoiding situations that have triggered anxiety in the past, meaning I can miss out on things. This can then lead to depression.
Clinical depression is more than just feeling a bit low or feeling somewhat sad for a short while. For me it is an overwhelming feeling of sadness and negativity that I feel powerless to do anything about. I have had periods when I felt so self doubtful that I could not see the point in anything and then just give up trying to do things. This includes even getting out of bed and dressing sometimes. I have spent whole days in my pyjamas getting out of bed after one in the afternoon and doing very little apart from maybe watching television. On these days I may hardly move or get any exercise, which is not good for my physical health let alone my mental health. Depression can be triggered by many different things and sometimes can be caused by a combination of factors. The first time I remember feeling full on depression was when I was in my early teens. I had been badly bullied in school and was going through puberty both of which combined to make me very unhappy, then when I had a period of not going to school at all, I became depressed. A lot of my depression flare ups seem to happen when my life reaches a stagnant point, such as between college courses or a few months after graduating university when I was left by a long-term boyfriend and struggling to find work. It is not uncommon for the long-term unemployed to suffer depression, endless rejections and not hearing back from employers can make the future seem bleak. Unemployed people, the long-term sick and poorer people are often effected for longer periods than most people when it comes to depression and other mental health issues.
Another issue I have problems with is Anger. Everyone gets angry, it is a natural human response to certain situations, but excessive anger can be a problem. Excessive anger can often be a sign of other mental health problems, such as anxiety, alcohol or drug addiction or depression. I used to get very angry in school and yell at teachers in front of everyone. I still get angry now, but less often in public than I used to. I tend to get angry when frustrated with myself or others. My anxiety and depression can make me very angry sometimes, blaming everything and everyone around me. I also get angry when I feel powerless, which maybe why I did it so much in school. Anger is very scary for those around you and can damage relationships with people you love and care about. Sometimes with my OCD I get angry and yell at inanimate objects, which is not only very pointless, but if other people see it can make you look insane. I find that anger often leads to depression, bursting into tears after a yelling session, with feelings of even more hopelessness and frustration, which means the anger session was pretty pointless. The scariest times for me have been when I was so angry I threw things, such as a ruler at a teacher or when I lashed out and hit my mum. Luckily for them and me I am a bad shot and missed and I am weak and fairly easy to grab and stop. I never went this far very often and try hard not to, but sometimes I seem to lose myself in the heat of the moment. I then feel guilty about it afterwards.
Over the years I have had various types of help for my mental health issues. I have had Cognitive Behavioural Therapy more than once. CBT combines talking therapies with behavioural therapy. The therapy looks at how you feel about the things going on in your life and how this affects the way you behave. Then you and your therapist try to break the patterns of negative thoughts and change the way you behave in negative situations. I found CBT slightly more helpful the second time I had it as I was older and more ready to deal with the problems. The first time I had it in my early teens, it helped a bit, but I am not sure I was mature enough to take it all on board properly. I had CBT mainly for my OCD and depression. I had counselling which is a talking therapy. A regular time and space to discuss problems and explore feelings. It can help a lot, but you need to be open and honest with the counsellor. I found that you might need to try more than one counsellor before you find the right one for you that you can open up with, but it is worth trying again with another one. I had group therapy when I was about twelve, which I enjoyed for the main reason that it got me out of school when I was being bullied. I think it helped me realise that I was not alone and that compared to some I was not even that messed up, but it was not much help for actually dealing with my issues. I found that during the breaks and afterwards the other children just encouraged each other in the negative and bad behaviour patterns. Anger management therapy helped me somewhat, with one-to-one weekly sessions for several weeks. I had a combination of CBT and talking therapy to try to understand what made me angry and how to deal with it better. I do think it helped me in some situations, but not with all of my anger. I think therapy has been worth while as although it has not cured my mental health issues, it has helped me to understand them better and to at least make a start in them being less of a problem.
With mental health issues I have found that mostly it is down to me, I have to want to change. Before therapy, sometimes just helping yourself can be enough or at least a good start. I find keeping active helps with depression and anxiety, if I am busy I have no time to think about it. Also doing something positive can make you feel that in fact life is more worth while, such as volunteer work or contributing in some way to someone else’s life. Talking about how you feel with friends and family can help. Not only will they hopefully understand what you are going through better, but I find talking about it helps me work out how I feel better. I find keeping a daily diary helpful as it lets out my emotions without hurting anyone else’s feelings. Keeping to a more healthy diet helps you bodies all over well-being as does not drinking too much. I find if I drink too much it can just aggravate the mood I was already in making me more angry or more depressed. Most of all you have to accept yourself, we are all different and good at different things.
If you would like to learn more about mental health or would like some advice I found these two websites very informative:
Mental Health Foundation http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/
Mind also run ‘Elefriends’ a good website for sharing how you feel with other people suffering from mental health problems. You can write or post whatever you want on the site and other people can comment on it and offer advice. I find the people very non judgemental and often they understand exactly what you are going through. http://elefriends.org.uk/login?next=%2Fposts#_=_