Tag Archives: panic attacks

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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Suicide On The Rise

This post discusses suicide so please be aware content may be triggering. No methods will be discussed.

So the stats are in for 2018 and for the first time in ten years the rate of suicide in the UK has gone up. And it’s not a small increase. The rate has increased by 11.8%. So why suddenly are we having an about turn, with suicide once again on the rise?

There are obviously many theories to the increase and of course we can never be a hundred per cent sure why more people are dying by suicide, but here are a few things I feel may be contributing to the increase. Of course I’m not an expert and this is just my opinion.

One of the groups most effected by the increase in suicides was the under 25s. The rate of suicide for this age group increased by 23.7%. Why is there such an increase in this age group? Obviously the big thing that people will say is that it’s down to social media and I understand this in that if young people are bullied it’s constant and doesn’t go away when they get home. But it’s not the full answer. There is a lot of pressure on young people to achieve in exams and go to university and get a high powered job as well as living a wonderful lifestyle. That’s not going to help. If you feel like you’re failing it’s going to impact on your mental health. The main reason though, that I feel is to blame, is the lack of funding in mental health services for children. Yes we are identifying mental illnesses in children and young people more than ever before but what good is that when we can’t support them with it. Being told something is wrong with you but you’re not ill enough to get help hurts. It can cause further drops in your health and make you feel worthless. It’s all very well encouraging people to talk but what happens when there is noone there to listen?

With every age group there are problems with access to mental health care. We simply have more need than resources can meet. People are slipping through the net. And even if you do get to see a mental health professional they are so busy that they can not always give the care that is needed. More money and more access to talking therapies would be a great start to helping reduce the suicide rate.

Men are again the most likely group to die by suicide. This hasn’t changed. This is worrying considering the amount of effort that has been put into trying to help men seek help. This can only mean there is more to do. We still keep hearing the phrase “man up” a lot and men being put down for talking about their feelings. Why is such a bad thing for a man to feel something and discuss it? At the end of the day they are human too. Humans need support. It is not a bad thing. It does not make you weaker than anyone else, in fact it is a strong thing to admit you need help.

This leads to another big issue that surely cannot be helping the suicide rate and that is stigma. Yes it still exists and not just with the general population but within mental health services too. Yes, we seem to have a greater understanding of depression and anxiety but other mental illnesses are overlooked. My personal experience with a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder is that because my mental illness is different it isn’t always understood, even by mental health professionals. This leads to stigma. Stigma grows in lack of knowledge. Therefore maybe we need to be educating people more in the different mental illnesses so they are understood and people are able to offer help before it’s too late.

Overall we need to look at many different aspects to get the suicide rate going down again. It is an issue for the whole of society. We all have a part to play. For more information on the suicide rate statistics check out the Samaritans website. They can also offer support if you are feeling suicidal. You can also check out the crisis lines in the menu at the top. Feel free to comment your thoughts here or on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

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They’re Not All Bad

I realise I’m quite often pretty scathing about mental health professionals but some of them are OK. Some do an amazing job and are let down by their colleagues. Quite often our bad experiences overshadow the good and we get into a negative view of all professionals, which is understandable.

I’ve had a few good experiences with different professionals. The negatives with these professionals only come when they are let down by the system they work within, otherwise they are amazing and make all the difference. When someone is caring and takes time with you it makes you feel valued and has a positive effect.

The first professional I found that was great was my art therapist. This was the first major mental health professional I worked with. At the time she was part of the young person’s service which was part of CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) and worked with those aged 16-25. I was 20 when I started working with her. She treated me on a level with her. I was training to be a teacher and she treated me like a professional as well as a patient. She didn’t patronise me and went at my pace. Her main work was to get me to communicate and she did well with this but at my pace. She made herself available between sessions if I needed to leave a message or write a letter to help with the next session. She’d talk me through situations. She tried to teach me it wasn’t all my fault and at times I almost believed her. The main thing that sticks with me though is that the young person’s service was disbanded so all over 18 were to be taken on by adult services meaning I’d lose my therapy. However she fought for me and told them it ws totally the wrong time to take it away from me and that she needed to continue her work with me. This led to me having a further 18 months with her. Leaving her was hard and I miss her a lot. I still have the card she gave me at the end of therapy.

Another mental health professional that gave a good impression was a psychiatrist I had in adult services. She is the one that diagnosed me with BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder). She always valued my opinion and explained things when asked. She wasn’t perfect in that she didn’t discuss my diagnosis with me before it appeared on my notes but she was happy to go through it after. She was also a consistent presence for nearly a year before she moved on. This makes a difference.

The next professional who I had a good relationship was a care coordinator of mine, L. L was very proactive in my care and worked hard to get things sorted for me, not only with my mental health but my physical health too, even spending ages on the phone to a hospital trying to sort an appointment for me. She didn’t make me feel like our time was limited, it was always as long as I needed to talk. She took an active role. It was sad when she moved on.

My current care coordinator is also great. She’s not been involved in my care for long but has already shown me how great she is in that she gave me direct contact details for her and allows me to text rather than talk on the phone. She doesn’t mind me messaging between sessions and is quick to reply even if it is to tell me she’ll get back to me properly later. She’s also always on time or early for appointments which makes all the difference. I’ve kind of thrown her in at the deep end with my crisis but she hasn’t made me feel bad about it. I hope we can work together for a while.

Unfortunately these professionals are the exception rather than the rule. It shows as these are four out of many professionals that I have encountered. Hopefully things will improve and we will get more professionals that want to help rather than make us feel like an inconvenience or stigmatise us more. If we can be part of the education of professionals I think it would help them to be more empathetic and understand us more.

Have you had any good experiences? 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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Shut Up

This is my response to some comments I’ve had and seen other people have. It is my personal opinion. Please be aware some content may be triggering.

“Shut up!” are the words I wanted to say. Someone tried to tell me what I could do even when I expressed how difficult it would be. They totally invalidated my feelings. They totally disregarded my illness. It was like they thought I had a choice over how I felt.

The thing is this is common for people with mental illnesses (and I’m aware it’s the same for those with chronic physical illnesses, especially if they’re invisible, but I don’t really have much experience of this so would not like to comment further on this). People seem to think you are just being difficult. They seem to think it’s a choice. They can’t see how much of a battle these so called “simple” things are to do.

Mental illness can create barriers to doing certain tasks. Getting through these barriers takes a lot of work. Just because you put it in simple terms does not make it any easier. It does not take away the mental, and sometimes physical, blocks. It does not change my feelings. It does not take away my anxiety (or depression, BPD, bipolar, schizophrenia, etc). All it does is frustrate me as I feel misunderstood.

What can be worse is when it is someone who has experienced their own mental illness. You kind of expect some understanding (and most are) but instead you are met with their own standards of what you “should” be able to do with a mental illness. This is so wrong. Everyone with a mental illness is different. It effects people in different ways. What might be an easy task for me, might be the hardest thing for someone else and vice versa. Please don’t hold us all to the same standards.

In short before you voice that someone can do something (and not in a “you’ve got this” way but in a “you will do this as you are capable” forceful way) think. Why are they saying they can’t do it? What can you do that is a practical way to help? Are they ready to tackle this right now? Maybe ask them these questions. Please don’t invalidate what they are feeling.

If you’ve got any thoughts on this feel free to share in the comments or on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

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Murder Not Mental Illness

I wouldn’t normally comment on things that happen in America as it is not my country. But this is an issue that comes up again and again with regards to mass shootings in America. The common rhetoric is to claim the perpetrator is mentally ill. Now it is possible that they do have a mental illness but for the number of mass shootings that happen each year in America, that is a lot of mentally ill people with access to guns.

The truth is that these mass shootings are murder. Even terrorism. Often racism is at the core. This isn’t mental illness. Racism isn’t a mental illness. It’s a societal issue. Also America is not the only place where people are mentally ill, yet the number of mass shootings that occur there is disproportionately high. Surely this points to a deeper issue (*coughs* gun laws).

Here is the reality. People with a mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. I only have access to British statistics but this paragraph from Time to Change’s website shows the rate of murder caused by someone acting as part of their mental illness:

“According to the British Crime Survey, almost half (47 per cent) of the victims of violent crimes believed that their offender was under the influence of alcohol and about 17 per cent believed that the offender was under the influence of drugs. Another survey suggested that about 30 per cent of victims believed that the offender attacked them because they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In contrast, only 1 per cent of victims believed that the violent incident happened because the offender had a mental illness.” Time to Change (Accessed August 2019).

It shows that while mental illness can cause someone to become violent, the chances are you’re more likely to be killed by someone drinking or on drugs. Yet this is never given as a possible explanation to those carrying out mass shootings. They also forget to mention that those with a mental illness are more of a risk to themselves than others.

It’s too easy to blame mental illness. To take something that people already fear and stigmatise against and use it to “explain” something so scary. People don’t want to think that someone who is a neurotypical person can be capable of causing so much death and destruction. But that is the case. Their brain may have been warped but it is not by mental illness, it is by racist ideologies (most of the time).

I know there will be many who won’t accept that mental illness is not to blame in the majority of cases. The thing is, even if a person is mentally ill, there are many other things that contribute to these situations. You need to look at your treatment of those with mental illnesses. You need to look at the ease of access to guns. It is not simply “this person was mentally ill and so there was nothing we could do”. Even when a person with a mental illness is violent, there are things that can be done to reduce this risk as there are often signs that this may happen.

So there we have it. Think before you say that a perpetrator is/was mentally ill. You are adding to the stigma. Maybe think what could be changed to prevent this ever happening again. What could of prevented it. What was the real motive. It is more than likely much deeper than “they were mentally ill”. Think. Yes, I’m looking at you Mr. President.

If you have any thoughts feel free to 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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