Category Archives: Supporting Others

True Peer Support

I’ve recently started going to a DBT skills peer support group. I’ve only done about three sessions but already I’m seeing the effect of true peer support. And yes it is positive.

I’ve come across peer support before; both online and in real life, as they say. I’ve had mixed experiences. Some have been extremely positive where as others seemed to drag me further down into my suffering.

My first experience of peer support was on an online forum for people who self harm. At the time I had no diagnosis and no one in my everyday life knew what was happening. Reaching out on this forum felt positive. It felt like a place where people understood me. It also gave me advice on what to do next. It was great. I made some really good friends who I’ve since met and they are still in my life over ten years later. There is a group of us who quite often meet up. We’ve seen marriages and children born. Most of us have graduated through university. We are all a similar age so I think that is why we’ve clicked. We also talk about other things than our mental health but the option to talk about it is always there. This is all positive but there was a darker side to the forum. Things seemed to become competitive for some users. I felt myself being dragged downwards. People were comparing who had it worse or seemed to one up people. It started to become a toxic place for me. Therefore I removed myself from the forum. I still keep in contact with the friends I have made through it though and in that way I still have peer support.

Another place I did peer support was through a local charity. They offered a recovery course run by people with their own experience of mental illness. It was a useful place and much was discussed about mental health and what we all found useful or not. There was a sense of comaradery among us. We bonded and shared many laughs. Again I made friends who are still in my life now.

A major place for peer support that I have found is the Twitter mental health community. Everyone is so supportive of others and it is a great place to get information about many different aspects of mental health and mental illnesses. There can be trolls on Twitter so you have to be careful but the block button is there for a reason. I have made great connections with people on there and found it a great sounding board and a place I can ask questions when I’m unsure.

My latest foray into the world of peer support has been through my local Mind charity. I started by attending the young person’s group and although we don’t really discuss our mental illnesses it is nice to know we all understand when someone is having a tough time and we work together to make the time fun. It is also a chance to be creative and work as a team. I’ve also started attending the DBT peer support group recently, which I mentioned at the beginning. The people have been so lovely and supportive. I’m so grateful for them. I feel I’m making some great friends there.

Overall my experience of peer support has been positive. Of course, as with anything, there have been negative experiences but I believe it has a vital role in helping us learn about our mental health and mental illnesses. However it should not be used in place of professional support, as can be the case, but alongside it.

For more information on peer support you can look on the Mind website here.

If you have any experiences or questions about peer support feel free to share in the comments or on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

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If You’re Feeling Suicidal, This Is For You

If you’re reading this you are probably in a really difficult place. It’s one of the hardest feelings to deal with, but I have hope for you because you are reading this (don’t worry I’m not saying I can solve all your problems in a blog post, I know that’s unrealistic).

Great, you’re still reading, thank you. I know with how your feeling it can be hard to hear that things will improve. At the moment it probably feels impossible that anything can change. The world feels overwhelming. It feels like the only option is to end your life. But you are worth more. You are worth love and support.

I know you may not believe me and I understand that. I’ve been there. I still go there at times. But I believe you have value. If I didn’t I wouldn’t be writing this. There is someone who would be lost without you.

Still reading? Awesome. Now let’s think about some things you might be able to do to help yourself in the immediate future. If you can try and do one of these things it might help put some distance between yourself and your thoughts:

Talk to someone: This is a huge step I know but it could be the most important thing you could do. It doesnt even have to be about how you are feeling, it could be about a TV show or anything that will help you distract for the time being. Of course if you can say how you’re feeling that would be great but I know it’s a big step. It doesn’t even have to be someone you know, you could call one of the crisis lines here.

Take a walk: Sometimes putting some distance between ourselves and where we are staying can be a good thing. If you feel you can keep yourself safe then a walk may help you to feel a bit better. If you can let someone know you’re going that can help you to make sure you are safe.

Do something you’re good at: There is something you are good at. It may be something creative, it may be some sport or it may just be a computer game. Whatever it is do it. It may help you to see you’re not worthless; you can achieve something.

Hopefully there is one thing there that you can do. Or you may think of something else that may help you distract from the thoughts that you are having.

If you’re still reading that’s great. You’ve achieved something just by getting this far. If I was with you I would give you a hug. I can’t take away your pain but please know someone cares; I care. It doesn’t matter that I don’t know you, I would not wish these feelings on anyone and want you to be safe. I’m sure there are others who care too.

This is where I leave you. But you are not alone. I hope I’ve helped in someway. If you want to get in contact feel free to use the comments or Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

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Things To Say To Someone Who Is Suicidal

When someone is suicidal it can be difficult to know what to say. You can be scared that something will make the person feel worse and even push them over the edge. However talking to someone who is suicidal is so important. It can make such a difference and can be so helpful. Below are a few things that may be helpful to say.

1. “I care if you’re here or not”

This simple phrase means a lot as when feeling suicidal it can feel like noone cares whether you are around or not. You feel useless and a burden and just think that it’s for the best of everyone if you are gone. Hearing that people care can hit deep and although it may be hard for us to believe it is still good to hear.

2. “You deserve love and support”

When you’re feeling suicidal you can feel like you deserve nothing but to be gone. You most likely don’t feel worthy of love and support so being reminded we are can be important. It may also help us to reach out further if we feel like maybe it is OK for us to ask for help.

3. “You are good at…”

When feeling suicidal it can be impossible to believe you are good at anything. Telling someone they are good at something and if possible providing evidence of how good they are at it can really help. They may not accept the compliment easily or at all but it will quite possibly stick in their mind when they are thinking the worst of themselves.

4. “I will stick by you”

Knowing we have someone by our side is really important. Feeling suicidal can feel really lonely. We may feel totally on our own. We also may feel that we are upsetting people by the way we feel and they might leave us. This can make us feel worse and like life is even less worth living. Knowing we do have someone offers hope.

5. “I don’t know what to say but I will listen”

It’s OK to say if you don’t know what to say and rather than pretending you do know it’s OK to say you don’t know. What is more important is that you are there to listen and support and that we know you’re there.

If you are trying to support someone who is feeling suicidal it is important that you take care of yourself as well. You are important too.

For more support you can contact the Samaritans or the crisis lines in the menu. Or you can contact a health professional.

If you have more ideas of things to say to someone who is feeling suicidal then please share in the comments or on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

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Self Harm Etiquette For The Medical Profession

This is a blog post for anyone working in the medical profession. This includes Doctors, GPs, Nurses, Healthcare Assistants, Paramedics, Support Workers, Psychiatrists, Care Coordinators, Psychologists, Pharmacists, Admin staff and Receptionists. Basically anyone who comes into contact with a person who may have self harmed (therefore could also be useful for police officers too).

It has come to my attention that some of the people we want to help us deal with self harm can be some of the least useful with their comments and actions regarding dealing with self harm. Therefore I thought I’d put some tips together specifically for them and any professional that needs to help with self harm.

1. Don’t comment on it in front of other patients

This may sound really obvious. Patient confidentiality is key. Bringing it up in front of other patients without permission is wrong and can cause harm to the person who is self harming, the relationship between patient and professional and possibly even the other patient/s who could hear about it. You never know where this information will go. Unfortunately I know it happens. I’ve seen it happen.

2. Don’t guilt trip us

I’ve had this happen with a former GP. I was told I obviously didn’t love my parents over my self harm. It was awful. I didn’t return for treatment until two years later after a suicide attempt. This isn’t the only impact it can have. Self harm is not a selfish act. It’s a way of trying to keep going. It’s a way of coping. Most people who self harm probably already think about the perceived damage they do to others. To be guilt tripped by a professional is more likely to make the situation worse and even cause the patient to withdraw from seeking help, maybe until it is too late.

3. Don’t mimick self harm behaviour

Again this is something I have encountered and not just with one professional but many. It seems some can’t bear to say the words “self harm” and so use actions like using their hand to mimick cutting across an arm. Not only is this not clear communication, it can be triggering. It is a difficult topic but it is one that needs to be dealt with sensitively and professionally. Yes you do need to ask, but please use words rather than miming actions.

4. Be careful with what you say

Most professionals are careful with what they say. They think before they speak and take into account the individuals situation. That’s great if they know the patient. However without continuity of care, which is heavily missing in places, you may not know details or you may just be someone that only encounters someone briefly so has no background information to draw on. This means being careful with what you say. I’ve heard things that concern me. They may be useful for some but I can also see them as potentially inflammatory to the wrong person. I’ve heard “you’re scars look cool”, “just use your faith” and “what would your family think?” as common phrases among others. Let’s work backwards, the last comment can easily be seen as a possible guilt trip but it can also cause some negative emotions to surface, particularly if there is friction within the family. The middle comment is also dangerous as some people don’t have a faith and this may be because of trauma or abuse. It can also suggest unless you have a relationship with a god, you can’t be helped. The first statement may be the most troubling though. You’re reinforcing the behaviour. Yes self harm shouldn’t be something people feel ashamed of, but it shouldn’t be highly celebrated either.

5. Don’t judge or use stereotypes

Some professionals have a preexisting picture of what a person who self harms is. They may see them as frustrating and a drain on resources. They may see it as attention seeking. These stereotypes tend to grow over time within a staff member. I can see how hard it must be to treat someone who seems to be causing their own suffering. But it is a symptom of an illness. It is like an addiction. It is hard once you have started to stop. It can feel like all you have in the world at that time. It is a sign of distress. Being compassionate, non judgemental and just kind to the patient goes a long way. It can help the person to keep accessing help. Doing the opposite could push people away and leave them in dangerous situations.

6. Don’t compare us to other patients who have self harmed

Every person is going through their own unique experience with mental illness and self harm. Self harm is self harm. So it may not be as deep or as “bad” as someone else you have treated, but to that person the pain they feel inside is probably just as intense and unbearable. Hearing that we aren’t as serious as someone else because it doesn’t reach a certain level is heartbreaking and can have a negative impact. It can cause us to try and do more damage. It makes us think we aren’t good enough or that we don’t deserve help. Everyone, whatever level of self harm they present with, deserves support and compassion.

7. Don’t use the terms “superficial” or “attention seeking”

I hate the term superficial when it’s used to describe my self harm. It makes me feel like a rubbish self harmer and that I need to harm worse or more. It can encourage the behaviour and make things worse. The same can be said about the term attention seeking as it can drive the behaviour underground and prevent people getting help.

Those are just a few helpful hints for medical professionals. It might not be a regular thing you encounter but it is always useful to know how to help someone who self harms.

If you have any tips you wish professionals knew then feel free to use the comments or Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

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Self Harm Scar Etiquette

As it’s summer the weather is warmer and people are starting to reveal more of their body. This brings an anxiety to people who have self harmed, past or present, as they are faced with the choice of covering up (and boiling) or revealing their scars and self harm to the world. Therefore I thought I’d come up with some things that will make it easier for the person with the scars or self harm if you encounter them. Obviously this is just my opinion and others may feel differently.

1. Don’t point it out

This seems obvious to some but not to others. Pointing out scars adds to the self consciousness. We’re already worried what people are thinking without it being obvious that they’re looking at the scars. Also if we are starting to forget about them and enjoy what we’re doing then pointing them out takes away from our enjoyment.

2. Don’t ask us why we did it

Again, this adds to self consciousness. We become aware that you’re really looking and thinking about our self harm or scars. It can make us feel awkward and like we’re being judged. Quite often we don’t know why we self harm or don’t want to discuss it as its obviously something that has caused us great pain. We can easily be taken back to that dark place.

3. Don’t tell us to cover up

First of all why should we cover up? This makes me a little annoyed. I’ve been made to feel ashamed of my scars a long time and this shouldn’t be the case. It’s part of an illness. I have every right to not boil in summer. I don’t want to make people uncomfortable but I also shouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable. People who self harm feel enough shame and it takes guts to show your scars, we shouldn’t have that shame added to.

4. Please don’t stare

This can feel awful. I already feel self conscious enough without people staring at me. I had this once on the train and it really fed in to my paranoia. I know it can be hard to look away sometimes but please think of the person you’re staring at.

It takes real bravery to overcome the barriers to have your scars on show. It is revealing yourself to many people, including strangers. It can take a long time to accept your scars are part of you. Shame is a really strong emotion that people who self harm feel and can be added to by other people making ill thought out comments. Please think before you speak.

If you have any other things you feel people should do or not do help you feel comfortable showing scars feel free to share in the comments or on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

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Unhelpful Things That Have Been Said To Me

This is a personal piece. Please be aware that some content may be triggering.

I’m currently in a state of crisis. I’ve been struggling with self harm and suicidal thoughts. I’ve been quite open about this on social media and had lots of supportive messages but there have also been some extremely unhelpful comments too. Here are a few.

“Everyone feels like this some days, it will be better tomorrow” – A well meaning comment I know but for those who have a chronic mental illness it feels like you are downplaying what we are feeling and going through. Often tomorrow won’t be a better day. In fact it could be ten times worse. This makes us feel like we are doing something wrong to still be in this pit of despair. Also not everyone goes through what we are going through. A lot of people will experience similar things but what each person feels is unique to them. While there may be some comfort in knowing we are not alone, pretending everyone has experienced it just makes us feel like we are not coping as well as others do.

“I’ve heard camomile tea is calming” – This was said to me by someone with a mental illness and again I know they meant well. The problem is camomile tea is not going to solve suicidal thoughts. My mental illness is much more complicated than that. If it was as simple as that I wouldn’t repeatedly fall into crisis.

“Have faith in God” – I have nothing against anyone who believes in God or follows a religion. That is great for you and if it helps you to feel better than I am pleased for you. However please don’t try to make me believe in God or have a faith. There may be a number of reasons someone doesn’t have a faith and even if they do it can not always help them when dealing with a mental illness. It is not a crisis of faith that causes mental illness.

“There’s plenty to do that could take your mind off things” – I know that keeping busy can be useful to distract from the distressing thoughts but I had been doing hours of distraction and keeping busy when this was said to me. I felt like I couldn’t do anymore and even when I was busy the thoughts were still there. Also sometimes it is not possible to just keep going. Having a mental illness can be so exhausting in itself that doing something else is just impossible. Distraction also only works for so long. Eventually your thoughts will catch up with you if you don’t deal with them.

Those are just what have been said to me this time round in crisis. There have been many more that I have experienced over the course of having had a mental illness.

If you have had some unhelpful things said to you and feel you would like to share, feel free to use the comments or Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

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Losing A Mental Health Professional

This piece contains my personal opinions and some of the content may be triggering.

Sometimes in life we can’t control what is happening around us. People come and go in our lives whether we want them to or not. This can be hard to deal with. One big change can be when we lose a mental health professional who has been involved in our care for a long time. We may have come to rely on their help and support. We may have built up a good relationship with them. And then it ends.

As someone with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) endings can be particularly tough. Having a fear of abandonment means that when someone does actually leave our lives it is like a self fulfilling prophecy. Our worst fears are happening. This may lead to us getting involved in risky behaviours or rejecting the person before they are out of our lives in a way we believe will protect us.

Recently I was given the news that my care coordinator was moving on and I was going to have to say goodbye. It was difficult news to take as we had a good relationship and she was a great and supportive care coordinator. Getting the news made me feel like I was being abandoned as at the time there was no replacement on the horizon and no idea when one would be recruited. I was close to tears. Many thoughts went through my head including “was this my fault?”.

As I came to accept that this was going to happen I started to pull away from my care coordinator. This is what often happens with people who have a BPD diagnosis. It’s a way of protecting ourselves from a perceived abandonment even when it is not a true abandonment.

What helped though was the way my care coordinator rounded up our sessions together. She made sure my care plan was updated before everything ended so the next person would know what I needed help with and what I was working on already. Also in the end a new locum care coordinator was appointed so my old care coordinator could introduce me to the new one. This allowed her to inform the new person as to how often we met, what my major issues are and what needs to be brought up at my next psychiatrist appointment. It also helped to make a plan with the new care coordinator as to how our meetings would work.

What should a mental health professional remember to do when leaving a therapeutic relationship?

  1. Let the person know your leaving face to face
  2. Answer any questions about the change that the service user/patient has about the change
  3. If possible introduce your replacement to the service user/patient
  4. If unable to introduce your replacement, leave notes for your successor
  5. Tie up all loose ends

What can I do if I’m losing a mental health professional?

  1. Talk about any issues you feel need to be taken into account with a member of your mental health team
  2. Make sure you have numbers of people you can contact if you need help
  3. Create a support network (if possible) away from the mental health team
  4. Be open to a new mental health professional, remember just because they are new doesn’t mean they’ll be awful

Those are a few pieces of advice that I have but if you have more then feel free to use the comments or Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

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