Mental Health FAQ – Mental Health Awareness Day

First of all, I want to say a massive thank you to all of you who contributed to this FAQ! This post would not exist without you.

Secondly, I’m going to get straight to the point and start answering your questions as there are so many of them. Some of them were expectedly very similar, thus I have grouped these into a single question so do not think I’ve ignored you if you don’t see your question in it’s exact words!

Here we go!

What’s your diagnosis?

My diagnoses are: anorexia nervosa, depression, anxiety and emotionally unstable personality disorder

When you feel sad, what cheers you up? 

I have a Crisis Tool Kit to use when I am feeling low, sad or any other extreme, unmanageable emotions. My Crisis Tool Kit consists of: bubble wrap to pop, photos of my family, a photo of myself with my idol Neil Hilborn (google him if you’ve never heard his poetry), a cd of Neil Hilborn, a fluffy pom pom, headphones to listen to music, a fidget dice, a colouring book and colouring pens, a jar of Nutella, face masks and nail polish.

Generally speaking though, if my Crisis Tool Kit isn’t accessible and I need support when feeling sad, I talk to my friends or family, listen to soothing music, go to the gym or meditate.

Have you ever been at a school/university that you felt failed to support you mental health wise?

Personally, all the institutions I have attended have offered amazing support when I have been in crisis. I won’t delve into too much detail here regarding universities as the following question is more specific. However in terms of school, my secondary school were more amazing than I could ever put into words with the amount of support they offered me. I had all of my meals (breakfast and lunch) supervised, I spent most of my lessons with the pastoral staff as my anxiety became too unbearable for lessons, I was seated by the back of the hall by the closest exits for exams and at most I was accompanied to weigh ins at my local GP. I am forever so grateful for the support my school offered me and I genuinely do not think I would’ve managed to pass my A Levels without this extensive support. Lil well deserved shoutout to MGSG ❤

What support do universities offer to students with mental health issues?

The support offered generally depends on the provisions of the specific institution, but as a guideline I can outline the support offered by my own university, the University of Sussex for the following registered conditions: anorexia nervosa, depression, anxiety and emotionally unstable personality disorder.

On a day to day basis, my university provides me with a ‘study assistant’ who is generally a support worker employed by the university to accompany me to all of my lectures and seminars. Their role is to provide me with emotional support to help combat both my anxiety and lack of motivation to attend teaching sessions.

I am also allowed to record lectures and seminars using equipment provided by DSA’s (Disabled Student’s Allowances provided by Student Finance England). This helps me when medication can make concentration and focus difficult, allowing me to revisit certain content in my own time. I would thoroughly advise applying for DSA’s should you be attending university as any kind of disabled student – they offer practical support that universities themselves aren’t able to fund. For example, DSA’s have funded a laptop, set up with specific software such as speech to text, text to speech, highlighting tools and software to accompany my recording device. They also funded my printer and all costs of ink and paper throughout the duration of my degree. Finally, DSA’s fund 60 hours of mentoring across each year, through the university (costing a whopping £50 per hour!) which can help you to work on skills such as time management and prioritising of activities. SFE can also fund support such as scribes to write your notes for you. So I repeat – APPLY FOR DSA’S! 

Back to university support, in terms of exams I am provided with 25% extra time and am currently in the process of the Student Support Unit applying for me to be able to take my exams in a separate room, on my own with an invigilator, for anxiety purposes.

In terms of coursework, I am entitled to staggered deadlines throughout the year so as not to be expected to submit more than one piece of work on one day, as well as 7 days extension periods on individual pieces of work, without a penalty for lateness.

At my previous university (the University of Durham), I was provided with much more crisis support as I was significantly more unwell than I am now. I was accompanied to A&E for nights on end by university staff following self harm or overdoses, I was visited in Intensive Care by the principal of my college, I was given similar exam/deadline support, I was provided with a studio flat type accommodation meaning I could cook for myself rather than having to attend the college dining room with all the other students, I was seated near the door at formal events as well as being allowed to use my own plates/bowls cutlery and just generally I was given short notice appointments with the welfare officers in college.

My university personally provides a lot of support to disabled students, whilst I know that many universities do not provide quite so much. I definitely recommend going to your university’s Student Support Unit (or whatever their equivalent is) as if you don’t know what they provide, you simply cannot access it. Being a student is a difficult enough experience as it is, without adding mental health or any other disability on top, so I thoroughly recommend accessing as much support as you are entitled to; it can change the entire experience for you.

How do you like people to support you when having a panic attack?

This is such a personal question because everybody’s panic attacks vary so much in the way they present themselves and thus the way they are best managed varies accordingly. So just because I like to be supported in a certain way does not mean that others will too.

That being said, if I don’t have access to my phone and headphones, the best thing somebody who is with me can do is play music really loud as for some reason I find this incredibly calming, almost as if the music is somehow able to drown out my panicky thoughts. I also like the person with me to hold my hands – it sounds stupid but when I have a panic attack I tend to automatically scratch at my wrists and hands until they bleed and scar – gross, I know – so holding my hands prevents me from doing this. Another important thing other people can do is get me to do breathing exercises, simply so that I can hopefully stop hyperventilating and get back into a healthy breathing pattern.

The worst thing somebody can do to/with me when I’m having a panic attack is attempt to hug me. Most of the time my panic attacks are triggered by intense feelings of claustrophobia, so hugging me only intensifies that and makes the whole situation a whole tonne worse!

These are only a few simple things that others can do to support me when having a panic attack, however at the end of the day it’s the thought that counts, so regardless of what you do to try to support me, I will always appreciate the effort.

How did you get the courage to talk to people about your mental health?

I kept quiet about my mental health for a very long time, only talking about it for the very first time in a Facebook post I made following discharge from a seven month inpatient admission to an adolescent unit. Whilst I had been inpatient, various rumours had spread around my school regarding my absence so somehow I found the courage to put these rumours straight with a heartfelt essay of a post explaining where I had been and why. It was the significant amount of support I received after making this post that inspired me to find the courage to keep talking, and I’ve thus been honest and open about my mental health ever since. Don’t get me wrong, with every mental health based post I make, still to this day I experience anxiety about what kind of response I may receive and I delete over half of my posts within seconds of making them, but on the whole I know that in a world where mental health is so stigmatised, the most important and courageous thing we can do for ourselves and others is continue to talk.

 

Do you think medication or therapy works best?

I’m probably going to be heavily targeted for this, but I personally vouch for medication over therapy in most situations. I find that medication provides an instant, even if shortlived, fix in times of crisis whereas therapy takes a lot longer to heal. Personally, despite having experienced counselling, CBT and trauma therapy, as an individual with anxiety I have significant problems in talking in therapy sessions, leading me to only become more anxious throughout the session. That being said, I know many, many people who’s lives have been changed through the wonders of the works of therapy, and whilst being a fan of medication, I do also thoroughly believe that this is just because I am yet to try the form of therapy that works best for me.

How to deal with death when suffering with depression? How to cope with this? Your thoughts?

Death is a very difficult thing to experience regardless of whether you suffer with depression or not! First of all, I am so, so sorry for your loss and I hope you’re managing to look after yourself.

In terms of advice, I would personally suggest that you make every effort to care for yourself. I know it can be very easy to self neglect when suffering with grief but it is so important to avoid this; neglecting yourself will only cause yourself to feel worse. So make sure you’re brushing your teeth and hair each day, make sure you shower and make sure you get changed out of pjs even if you don’t want to. Even if it feels like the hardest thing in the world, I promise you’ll feel a tiny bit better for it.

Secondly, although it is difficult, I’d try to eliminate any feelings of guilt; it is so easy to think things such as “it should have been me” or “it’s all my fault” but the honest truth is that neither of these things are true. You are a beautiful person and you deserve to be on this earth as much as the person you have lost did. Please try to remember that.

Thirdly, I think avoiding thinking about your lost friend or relative can only make grief more prolonged. Whilst it is unhealthy to think about your loved one constantly for the rest of your life, ignoring the loss in an attempt to feel better about it is equally as unhealthy. I suggest you set aside certain times where you allow yourself to simply think about the person you have lost, but I recommend to do this in the company of others. Talk about all your happy memories with friends and family. Look over photographs together. Help eachother to grieve. Let the tears flow but make sure they’re happy tears on the memories you have shared as well as tears of longing for your loved one. You’re allowed to cry. You’re allowed to miss. You’re allowed to hurt. But you do not have to do any of these things alone.

Please take care, and my inbox is always open should you ever want a chat.

Are you, or have you ever been, embarrassed by your mental health?

I have indeed felt embarrassed by my mental health on many occasions. I’ve felt embarrassed when having panic attacks in public, I’ve felt embarrassed when strangers have stared at, or questioned me about my self harm scars, I’ve felt embarrassed when I’ve vomited after a single drink on nights out due to not having eaten for days before, I’ve felt embarrassed when relatives have spotted sick on toilet bowls after I have just eaten, the occasions are endless. Although I try my best to remember that the causes of my mental health difficulties are beyond my control, there are inevitably times when I feel shame and I think this will be the case until all stigmas surrounding mental health are eliminated.

I struggle with general anxiety and social anxiety and am at your University. I have friends but I feel so isolated and alone because I don’t want to be a burden on people. Do you have any advice?

First of all I’m more than happy to meet you for a chat if you would like! Just hit up my inbox and I’d be happy to talk to you :-).

In terms of advice the most important thing I can tell you is I’m sure that nobody sees you as a burden! I felt like this when I went to university the first time to the extent I felt so isolated from my flat and believed they all hated me which then caused me to just distance myself from them completely. The best advice I can give is to throw yourself into any social situations you can (of course I appreciate more than most how difficult this can be, but it’s so important). These don’t have to be drinking events (although sometimes alcohol can make anxiety more manageable, not that I’m advocating haha), even just sitting around during the day and chatting to your flatmates or making the effort to ask your coursemates how they are at the beginning of a lecture. By making the effort to spark conversations it shows the people around you that you’re interested in getting to know them and can make friendships build more naturally. By not contributing, people around you are much more likely to think you’re not interested in them or what they have to say, which will only lead to you feeling more alone.

As I said, I fully appreciate how difficult this can be, so again, feel free to message me should you want any further advice in how to force yourself to do this. You’re never alone.

 

Do you think keeping a journal is helpful when it comes to controlling your mental health?

I find journalling extremely helpful! When I first started journalling, it began with simply writing all of my thoughts and feelings down onto a page; I had a notebook that I would take everywhere with me whether that be at school or out in public, and I’d write in it multiple times a day, whenever I had a spare moment. Whilst in inpatient I went through numerous notebooks through journalling and it really helped to unload my thoughts when it felt that there was nobody to talk to or if I simply did not feel like talking. I also found journalling helpful particularly when I had urges to self harm – although it wouldn’t always cure the urge, it would often delay it and any small victory is a victory.

My journalling has now changed slightly; rather than writing all of my feelings down on a page I’ll turn it into artwork in my scrap book. This may involve a poem, a paragraph, a quote or no words whatsoever but the images, colours and details will in some way reflect my mood. Whatever form may work best for you, I strongly advise giving journalling a go.

What sort of help did you get? Is it easy to find?

The help I got involved my parents taking me to the GP who then referred me to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service. Since this I have received a variety of help including:

  • dietician input
  • CBT
  • counselling through Mind
  • trauma therapy
  • medication reviews
  • care coordinator to help monitor my mood and behaviours
  • a personality disorder support group
  • crisis team input
  • multiple inpatient admissions

I think the best help I have received over the years will probably be the support I received as an inpatient. As you can imagine, the support is very intense with multiple therapy sessions a day as well as having an abundance of staff and peers around to talk to 24 hours a day, although being away from home can be very challenging.

Unfortunately, help is not always easy to access and this can vary depending on your location. In Kent, the mental health support has been significantly better than I found it was when a university student in Durham – in fact whilst in Durham the only support I received whatsoever was reviews with a care coordinator which in themselves were provided sparingly. Unfortunately spending on mental health services varies both nationally and worldwide, so the care you receive will be determined greatly by the amount of funding available in your locality as well as the access available to charities such as Mind or the Samaritans, neither of which were accessible in Durham.

Did you look for help or did someone else take action?

I originally sought help after breaking down on my parents at the age of 14 about the episodes of restricting my intake and vomiting my meals. My parents then supported me in accessing help, taking me to my local GP. That being said, at other times help has been sprung upon me, for example in August when I was threatened with being detained under the Mental Health Act had I not willingly accepted hospital admission.

Are budget cuts affecting mental health?

Budget cuts are massively affecting mental health in the UK. Although Theresa May has pledged to increase spending in mental health services, so far more cuts have been made. These budget cuts are preventing people from accessing the help that they need and are getting rid of the lessening number of psychiatric beds in hospitals that are already in heavy demand. I experienced a mental health service in crisis in the North East when I was under the Durham mental health team where it took months to even obtain a doctors review because there were so few doctors employed within the service compared to the number of patients being seen at the clinic. Waiting lists for therapy are getting longer and longer, with service users waiting up to three years just to access therapy. These waits are unacceptable and aren’t going to improve until funding becomes more accessible.

Have you ever been committed?

For those who may be unaware, being ‘committed’ is the same as being ‘sectioned’ as it is mostly known in the UK. Being ‘sectioned’ means being detained in hospital against your will, under the mental health act when professionals believe that your mental health poses significant risk to either yourself or others should you remain in the community. 

I personally have never been sectioned, although when assessed under the mental health act in August this year I was threatened that I would be detained should I not accept being admitted to hospital informally (voluntarily). I thus chose, and would always choose, being an informal patient rather than risk being sectioned. Being an informal patient means you can leave the ward whenever you want to and you have input into your treatment and medication plans, which I personally feel is a much better option. Informal admissions also tend to be much shorter than admissions under the mental  health act, another bonus!

Why are people scared to talk about mental health issues?

Without talking on behalf of the entire nation, I think people are scared to talk about mental health issues because of the amount of stigma attached to mental health. We live in a society where if somebody breaks a bone everybody runs over to sign their cast, but when somebody is suffering with a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety, everybody runs away. People are scared to talk because they are scared of being judged or rejected, or of scaring others away. I remember being scared to talk about my mental health when I had work colleagues on Facebook, in fear that they would think my mental health would affect my ability to do my job properly, when in reality the two do not even slightly correlate.

Are you comfortable talking about your mental health issues?

I’m much more comfortable talking about my mental health difficulties than I used to be. The more you talk, the more naturally it rolls and the easier it becomes. I’ve had amazing responses from friends and family when I’ve been open about my struggles and this is what inspires me to keep talking.

Do you take medication? If so what

I personally take, and have in the past taken, quite a lot of medication. Whilst there are many more people who take more medications than I do, not everybody with mental health conditions takes any at all let alone multiple! Although the culture of mental illness may at times make you feel it, medication regimes are no competition so do not compare the severity of your illnesses to others based on what medication you may or may not take.

That being said, I take two anti depressants called citalopram and mirtazapine, I take an antipsychotic called flupentixol which helps to stabilise my mood (I also haven’t experienced any episodes of dissociation whilst taking this so I’m assuming/hoping it’s a contributory factor), propanolol which helps to manage anxiety, procyclidine which counteracts the effects of drug induced Parkinsonism which is a side effect of my flupentixol, I take PRN diazepam which means ‘as required’ and belongs to a group of medication called benzodiazepines and helps combat anxiety and aids sleep, I take promethazine which is an antihistamine but I take it at night to aid my sleep, and I then take a prescribed multivitamin and calcium due to osteopenia as a result of my anorexia.

It’s taken a long time for me to find a medication regime that keeps my mental health under control so if I had any advice regarding medications it would be to not give up if the first one you take doesn’t work for you. I’ve been on over 19 psychotropic medications over the past 7 years but I’m finally there on a regime that I hope will last me for the rest of my life.

What could be done to fight mental health stigma, in your opinion?

I think the single, most important thing in reducing mental health stigma is talking openly about our struggles. The more people are encouraged to keep quiet, the more likely they are to believe that mental health is something to be ashamed of which it most definitely isn’t. We are in no more control of our mental health than we are our physical health and so many people struggle that it should be part of normal, every day language to discuss our mental health with others. Even if it’s just a simple “how are you doing?” over a cup of tea, it’s super important to keep the dialogue flowing. I find that on world mental health awareness day (10th October), everybody is inspired to talk about their mental health which don’t get me wrong, is amazing, but if only everybody was as open every single day of the year, stigmas may be broken down further.

Do you find relationships difficult?

I find relationships very difficult, mostly due to my diagnosis of emotionally unstable personality disorder. This is an extract I wrote on EUPD/BPD in my ‘Third Degree Burns’ blog post which outlines how my relationships are affected by my condition:

‘Relationships themselves are a key aspect of BPD, as they are well known for being problematic as they swing from one end of the spectrum to the other. For myself, this often begins with idealising new relationships I form. The relationship becomes intense really, really quickly as I believe this person is the best thing to ever have happened to me; they can do no wrong and I want to be with them constantly. I apply a massive halo above their head, but not for long. With no warning and through no fault of their own, my opinion of the person will change. Idealisation becomes devaluation and suddenly they cannot do right. Your head views their every action negatively as love quickly becomes hate, springing as expeditiously as an elastic band and you do not wish to be near them. You push them away, causing them to hurt. But at the end of it all, you are the one who is inevitably hurt when devaluation becomes idealisation again but understandably, the person does not want you back in their life. Your relationships are toxic and lack consistency. Again, you feel like the worst person in the world and self hatred is horrific, yet no matter how hard you try you are incapable of controlling this on/off switch in your head. This instability means that relationships come and go, friendships constantly changing and once more, I do not blame others for not wanting to be part of it. I wouldn’t even want a relationship with me, let alone expect others to.’

Although my struggles with my relationships are much less than they used to be, I do still struggle and it is for that reason that I tend to prefer spending time on my own than with others.

What help do you receive atm?

I’m kind of lost within the system at the moment if I’m honest. Having recently moved to university in Brighton, I have been transferred to the Brighton mental health service who assessed me a couple of weeks ago and I am yet to hear anything back from them. So currently I am receiving no support other than weekly medication reviews through my GP.

Have you ever been hospitalised for your mental health?

I have indeed been hospitalised for my mental health. I’ve been admitted to psychiatric inpatient units twice, and I’ve been admitted to general hospital for my mental health (self harm/overdosing) more times than I can count anymore.

 

Thank you so much if you’ve managed to get to the end of this incredibly long post and thank you all once again for all of your questions. If you ever have any more questions feel free to hit up my inbox and I’d be more than happy to answer them or to have a chat.

Love and hugs,

Shann x x x

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Martin Pye says:

    Shannon, so well written and your truthful answers will really help give people a better understanding. Im proud of you, love you hun x

    Like

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