Tag Archives: time to change

Time to Talk Day 2016

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Time to Talk Day 2016

The ‘Time to Change’ campaign has been instrumental in tackling stigma around mental health and on 4 February, their ‘Time to Talk’ day encourages people to talk openly about mental illness.

I’ve suffered with depression and anxiety for most of my life and I can vouch for the fact that talking about it has helped and probably saved my life.

However, I feel I must issue a warning to people who may be thinking of taking the plunge and doing some talking. You may talk to lots of people before you find anyone that wants to understand. You may talk to people and get a bad reaction, or no reaction at all. You might be starting therapy and you could well get someone great to talk to. Or your therapist may respond with crass, shocking or downright stupid comments.

When you have mental health issues, you already feel low, useless and unworthy so if you talk about your illness and get an unfavourable response, it can make you feel a whole lot worse.

Having said that, you will also find that there are a ton of amazing people out there who do want to understand and try their very best to help. It might take a while and you will have to test the water with friends, family and sources of professional help to weed out the good, bad and useless.

I’m used to discussing mental health now, but it has been a long process of trial and error and a steep learning curve. To anyone thinking of opening up, I have a few tips on what to realistically expect:

1) Stigma around mental health is usually borne out of fear, ignorance and denial. It is everywhere. You could find a complete stranger at the bus stop chatting to you about ‘dangerous schizophrenics’ and also hear a comment like ‘what have you got to be depressed about?’ from your partner. Prepare to be surprised, but don’t let it stop you talking or challenging any negativity which comes along.

2) Lots of people don’t really know what to say when you open up and that’s to be expected as the norm. Be patient, ask if they have any questions or worries. When talking about mental illness let people know why you are telling them. Mention that you do not need advice, suggestions or ‘fixing’, you are just being honest and trying to raise awareness. Ask for specific help if you need it. Sometimes people will want to support you but don’t know how. This could be things like doing shopping, cooking or cleaning if you are struggling or phoning more regularly.

3) Stigma comes in all kinds of interesting packages from unexpected sources. Along with misconceptions and judgements about mental illness you could find yourself ignored, ridiculed and disbelieved by people who are meant to be helping you. For years I was told by doctors and therapists that I wasn’t depressed or anxious. One GP remarked that I was ‘too pretty’ to be depressed. My first CBT appointment was spent desperately trying to convince the therapist of my feelings. He remarked that he had ‘worked with people in hospitals who were too depressed to wipe their own arses’ and as I could wipe my own arse, I was apparently fine. A psychiatrist also told me I would be ‘fine’ because I could articulate my problems very well. I’m not suggesting you become a gibbering unwashed wreck, but watch out for being judged for your presentation and be prepared to challenge it.

4) Some people will really struggle with you opening up, like family, friends and anyone close to you. It may come as a shock that you have disclosed or discussed a mental health issue and they might react badly. Don’t let this make you feel worse. Don’t apologise for how you are but also don’t expect people to understand straight away. Changing attitudes and removing barriers to discussion takes time and effort and not just from you. I think it’s worth pointing out that some people may never understand or be open to trying no matter how much information or time you give them. I think it’s best to just accept this and move on without letting it crush your confidence. For everyone who struggles or reacts badly there will be just as many positive or neutral reactions that you can work with.

5) Timing is everything. A campaign like Time to Talk is a great opportunity to take a leap of faith, as you can use it to bolster your confidence and know that thousands of other people are talking too. They also have a range of information you can give people if the act of physically talking is difficult. But if it’s not your time to talk yet, that’s OK. You have to be ready and if you never want to talk, that is absolutely fine.

Despite the negative pitfalls I’ve mentioned, I feel that talking about mental health is not only worth it, but hugely necessary. Through persevering with opening up, I’ve found the confidence to deal with and challenge any shocking, surprising or negative reactions which may come along. Be prepared, but don’t let it stop you if it’s something you’ve been thinking about doing.

For information, support and resources about the Time to Talk campaign you can visit http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/

This article has also been published in The Huffington Post UK –

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/laura-roche/time-to-talk-day-2016_b_9098444.html

Time to change – but how?

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I wanted to re-visit my first blog post where I talked about the ‘Time to Change’ pledge I signed. To take you back for a second, it was initiated by the mental health organisations MIND and Rethink, with the objective of ending the stigma and discrimination associated with having mental health problems.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I could do to become more involved in this. I want to do more than show my support with a signature. I know that starting this blog is a step in the right direction but I still feel I am merely dipping my toe in the water. Although my blog is ‘out there’ in cyberspace for anyone to read, it still feels like a very ‘safe’ arena. I suspect that the type of people who will gravitate towards it will already have more than a passing interest in mental health issues. Maybe from personal experience or from knowing someone close to them who has suffered. I’ve started to share the link to the blog with selected friends and family, but to start with, it was only people who I knew were guaranteed to support me and not judge me. As I have gained confidence, I’ve started to share it with people who I don’t know very well and in a blind leap of faith, with someone I had only known for an hour ( Although I did get a very good vibe from them.) I think it is important that I don’t stay in any sort of comfort zone for too long. Although I acknowledge that building confidence is a process, I also want to feel I am pushing myself as much as I can to share the blog with people who may not have any experience of mental health issues. My ultimate goal is to feel able to share it with anyone and everyone and to feel able to deal with whatever feedback came my way. I don’t think there is any point in me being open about mental health issues if I am only open in a way that guarantees a good reaction.

When I first started this, it took me about a week to calm down from the anxiety of giving the blog link out to a new person. Now, there is about a 2 day turnaround which I am pleased with.

I’ve been amazed at how open other people are in their blogs on similar subjects but I’ve also wondered how many of us could talk like this in ‘real life’ as well as in the blogosphere? As well as writing this, I want to feel able to discuss anything I write here with people in the ‘real world’.

To stay focused, I’ve decided to see it as a project with definite steps along the way. If I was at work dealing with a project I’d be doing an action plan and making sure my goals fitted in with SMART targets ( ensuring they are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-related ) I will use the same format with this to keep me on track.

I think it is important to define WHAT exactly has got to change. The MIND/Rethink mission statement is to end discrimination towards people with mental health problems. At first glance, it seems as though it is other people who have to change their attitudes and assumptions. It is true that there is a lot of incorrect information around, but where has it come from? I think it stems from lack of understanding and education, but I’m not sure this is anyone’s ‘fault’. If I don’t challenge people though, I am reinforcing these inaccurate beliefs and discrimination.

So for one of my first goals, I will openly challenge anyone who I feel has made an inaccurate statement or judgement on the topic of mental health. At the same time I will openly admit to my own mental health problems and use my experiences as an example, even if it happens at work or somewhere I feel there are ‘risks’ involved in such disclosure.

I’m also going to answer people honestly if they ask how I am. I’m not going to weigh up the answer in terms of who I am talking to, how well I know them, where I have been asked etc. If I am depressed or anxious I will be truthful, likewise, if I am ill and frustrated with my other health problems I will say so. Sometimes I have answered honestly and then immediately followed this with some sort of back-up positive statement about how I am looking on the bright side of things or some such sh*t. I find it hard if people don’t know how to answer and I feel compelled to neutralise the awkwardness. When I think about it from other people’s perspective, it must be difficult if you have never been through anything like this yourself. I think it’s important to not only be realistic about achieving my goals, but to also be realistic about the reaction I might receive. People may understand some aspects of what you say, but not all of it. For instance they may have felt very down, but not clinically depressed. Some people may have  had mental health problems themselves and never been able to talk about it, so the fact you have brought it up may be a relief and a blessing. Some people will never understand mental health problems at all and won’t know what to say, but that’s not their fault. There are things I will never understand either, such as what it feels like to have a baby, to have cancer, or to be a man. It is not my goal to make everyone understand how I or anyone else feels completely, but to feel confident in expressing how I am in a truthful way.

So my immediate goals are to start chipping away in realistic chunks. To sum up the goals are:

  • To tell more people in my life about this blog and share the link.
  • To be prepared to discuss anything in this blog with people in my life.
  • To challenge people if I feel they have made an incorrect assumption or statement on any aspect of mental health.
  • When asked, “How are you?” to answer honestly and not quantify it with a reflex positive response.
  • Be realistic about other people’s capacity to understand.

What do you all think? If anyone has any thoughts, suggestions or feedback I would LOVE to hear it! Click on ‘leave a comment’ below.