I have been reading, watching and listening to a lot about mental health issues recently.
I read Bryony Gordon’s Mad Girl in which she talks about her OCD, her depression, her bulimia and her anxiety. Her style of writing is incredibly comical and it is not until you put the book down that you pause to consider the crippling effects of mental health issues.
Bryony Gordon describes her relationship with a violent boyfriend and how her low self-esteem, caused by her OCD, led her to believe that she was lucky to have him. She describes how her tooth simply corroded after years of making herself sick. She describes the scorn she received as a result of her alopecia as a teenager. She describes how she thought she was dying and how she thought she might have killed someone.
If your mind is telling you those lies, and you believe them, then every second of every day must be a living hell.
I have also been listening to Bryony Gordon’s new podcast Mad World. Mad World is a ten episode podcast focussed on mental health issues. You probably heard about her first episode in which she interviewed Prince Harry. Prince Harry described the impact of his mother’s death and how, only years later, he finally received some counselling.
The podcast episode that hit me hardest was the interview with Mandy Stevens, an NHS Mental Health Director who herself was hospitalised for three months with severe depression and anxiety. Listening to this podcast episode had me sobbing on the train on my commute into work.
Listen to her interview. Mandy has some really good tips for how to ground yourself when you are feeling anxious (square breathing). I particularly liked her recovery plan from depression because she is focussing on all different aspects of her being. As Mandy says, we are sexual, psychological, physiological, physical, mental, spiritual, social and financial beings. Her recovery plan recognises all aspects of her being. The drugs have a supporting rather than the central role.
I am now reading Sane New World: Taming the Mind by Ruby Wax. Ruby Wax has suffered a number of really serious bouts of depression which prompted her to learn more about mental health issues. She now has an MA from Oxford in Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy. Mindfulness was one of my resolutions for this year. I am hoping Ruby Wax will help me along.
I read two articles in The Sunday Times last week. Remember how I was feeling frazzled, so allowed myself a morning reading the newspaper, including the supplements, in bed?
The first article was an interview with a woman who had suffered from anorexia following the divorce of her parents. She described her family’s frustration and how they shouted “why don’t you just eat?” “Why are you doing this to yourself?” That’s just it though, mental health issues are not logical and rational, that is why they are so difficult to understand.
I then read an article about mental health in men. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50. Generally men are not very good at talking about their problems and there is a big stigma around mental health. Men often turn to alcohol instead. I have seen this happen.
I have also been reading a lot about post-natal depression and anxiety. The BBC Women’s Hour podcast is doing a series this week about perinatal mental health issues.
I just can’t get my head around mental health issues. I don’t understand what causes mental health problems. I don’t know what causes the switch to flick on. I don’t know how to recognise the symptoms. I don’t know how to prevent the crippling effects. I guess this is why I am reading so much about mental health issues at the moment.
I know we should talk about it. I know we should open up. I know we should be kind to ourselves. I know that we should take time out every once in a while.
But is that enough? Are we doing enough for each other? Are we doing enough for ourselves?
If I could give my son anything it would be the emotional strength to get through tough times and the emotional sensibility to recognise that tough times are approaching and that he needs help. I would also give him the courage to ask for it.