Posted in Managing Mental Health, Mental Health

How to Support Someone With Mental Health Issues

It can be extremely hard to watch someone you love and care about going through a tough time regarding their mental health. It can also be painful if someone close to you discloses their mental illness or mental health struggles and you had no idea about it. You may feel like a failure yourself, like there’s nothing you can do, like you are useless. Essentially it may start to impact your mental health as well. That’s why the most important thing to remember when supporting someone with mental health issues is that you need to look after yourself as well. You have to.

1. Look after yourself

Sometimes we want to rush in and save the whole world – fix everything – but this simply isn’t possible. Perhaps at first it may seem like a good idea to try and take on the other person’s issues entirely as your own, without giving yourself the space needed to process your own emotions. In fact for a short while this may actually help the other person – but that’s not sustainable; long term it will lead to you burning out, struggling yourself or becoming resentful, likely making the entire situation worse. That’s why it’s so important to look after yourself, even if this is just journaling at the end of the day to help you sort out the feelings of the day, or doing a hobby once a week, the possibilities are limitless and you have to find what works for you. The important thing is that you do find it. And putting in boundaries with the person you are supporting can also help this, and most likely will help them in the long run too.

2. Listen to them

Many people with mental health issues, especially when they are first opening up about them, doubt themselves, feel ashamed or invalidated. By listening to them with an open mind you can help lessen these feelings. And by listening, I mean just that. Not everyone wants (nor even needs) advice or solutions all the time, sometimes they just need to be heard so they feel a little less alone. When having a conversation about their emotions/ experience it can be really helpful to ask the question ‘would you like me to offer advice or just listen to you?’. Validating their experience through listening to them can have a huge impact for someone struggling and give them confidence and reassurance. Remember that they are the one that lives in their brain, and they know what they are going through better than anyone else; it’s not your job to dictate to them what they are undergoing. However, linking to my last point, it is important that you don’t take on all of their feelings for yourself, so placing boundaries can be really helpful – for example requesting that before they talk to you, they ask you if you are in a place to have that conversation.

3. Involve them

Going through a tough time mentally can feel very isolating, and our brains can make us feel very lonely and rejected. That’s why it’s important to continue to involve someone who is struggling mentally. This could mean continuing to invite them to social events while making clear there is no pressure or expectations placed upon them to attend. If they accept and invitation, it might then mean making some accommodations for them, like helping them order food if that’s a point of anxiety for them or giving them some space if they need it for example. It might also mean offering to meet them one on one for a while if that’s easier for them, or talking with them about plans to keep them safe and checking in with them regularly. To relate to my last point, if you’re unsure of what to do, you can always ask them if they have any ideas or if there’s a way you can accommodate them better. This is a huge sign that you care for and accept them still.

4. Research their experience

If the person you are supporting has a diagnosis or has disclosed to you specific symptoms, it can be helpful for your own knowledge to research this. A quick google search will bring up symptoms lists and examples of how these might affect them, but I would also encourage you to look beyond this and read up on the personal experience of different people from different walks of life to get a clearer picture. This can help you understand the person you are supporting better without the worry that you are prying to much, and it can help them to feel seen as this informs how you support them.

5. Make them a happy kit

I’ve made a previous post on this, which you can read here. A happy kit is essentially a little collection of things that can help someone process their emotions, get through a crisis moment, or just generally cheer them up. It can include some things that they find calming or cheering, and maybe a list of distractions and mini coping exercises to try. Distractions are also a really great way to help someone with a mental health issue – it’s not a long term fix but it can help them escape their brain for a minute and feel more ready to face the day. If a distraction is creative it could also be a way of helping them to express themselves, and feel less alone if you’re doing it together.

6. Help with small tasks

Small tasks such as cleaning, ordering food, or remembering deadlines can become seemingly impossible for someone experiencing a mental health struggle. If you feel up to it you can offer to help them with these small tasks, even if that’s just by doing it with them (for example cleaning together one afternoon, or going food shopping together). As always, asking them how best to help is always a good idea, and if they’re not sure offering something specific – such as sending them a reminder text – might appeal to them.

7. Show them you care

It’s simple, but one of the most helpful and meaningful things anyone has ever done for me during my own struggles has been showing me they cared. This could mean writing someone a supportive letter, or making them a playlist. Just something simple that lets them know you care.

7. Be patient

We all have mental health and it can be a long term challenge to face for many. Someone in the midsts of a struggle isn’t going to overcome it overnight, but with amazing people like you willing to support them, they can find their way through. Keep in mind that you need to be patient – one of the reasons why looking after yourself is so important – and that their struggles are not a comment on you, ever. Eventually the sun will come shining through!

Posted in Mental Health, Personal Growth

Small Steps

Hey there! 

I’ve been thinking recently on how I can help myself to maintain a better state of mental health, when I’m already feeling a bit better in myself, but also how I can make it easier to lift out of those darker moments. Through some conversations, therapy, and self reflection I have come to appreciate how important the small steps we take to support our mental health are.

However, when you’re feeling particularly blue it can be difficult to even begin to do the smallest things; people can often get annoyed at us for this as well. For me one way of overcoming this is by breaking them down into even smaller steps. For example if my aim is to take my meds, then I’ll start by walking to the drawer, then opening the draw, taking them out, laying them out etc etc. It may seem silly at first – I know for me it almost felt like I was patronising myself – but it might just be of use to try this, and it is a huge thing to take any of these steps so you deserve congratulating for that! 

So what are some of the small steps I’ve come up with to help maintain my mental health? Writing my diary; gratitude and affirmation lists; meds and vits; drinking enough water; walking; allowing myself downtime; using planners to keep on top of work; reading (to make learning fun); making my happy notes; doodling and using fiddle toys; playing piano; meditating and more…

I hope you can find some small steps that will help you maintain your mental health! We all have it and we all need to look after it 

See ya later 🙂

Posted in Advocacy, Mental Health

Funding Mental Health – An Introductory Question

Today’s post is inspired by @jcss.c (insta)

I’ve spoken about funding for mental health systems here before, but I wanted to write a bit about what we want to fund. The mental health system as it is is flawed – I am certain of this – and while extra funding is needed and would help, it won’t fix everything. That is whey when I talk about improving the mental health system I use the word reform.

When we talk about funding the system we need to consider what we are funding. Do we want to pump money into a fundamentally broken system (because it’s been getting worse for quite a while) or do we want to use that money to reform the way the system works, promote independent person led treatment, and then provide resources to help make that happen? 

Here’s some examples of areas that need to be changed: 

  • fatphobia within ED (eating disorder) treatment. That means not having to be under a certain weight to be validated, the mental side of an eating disorder taking precedent, and providing space for people who don’t fit the ‘typical’ ED profile you might expect 
  • Medical racism. This needs to be tackled at all levels and in all areas of society – they all influence each other
  • Inability for medical practitioners to see individuals rather than symptoms. The individual patient matters; they should have a say in their own treatment; all of who they are should be recognised and celebrated. There’s a difference between having to tick boxes and refusing to see anything outside of those boxes 
  • Inappropriate medication/ sedation in inpatient. There should be more resources and a better system of action that doesn’t lead to drugs so quickly, especially if that is against the patient’s wishes 
  • Criminalisation & lack of human respect for people with substance use issues. 
  • Staff who always validate the experience of the patient, don’t rush patients through, tell them they’re not ‘bad enough’, aren’t rude, aren’t tired etc etc etc 
  • Voluntary treatment truly being voluntary. Rather than ‘admit yourself or we’ll section you’ (which happens far too much) 
  • Language changes. Being labelled as compliant or non-compliant, for example, and threatened with no help at all or penalties on freedom in inpatient, when in reality the reasons behind each person’s choice should be explored and respected. They should be helped to be motivated, and if the treatment isn’t working for them, there should be other options 
  • Space for alternative treatments. For example art therapy, drama therapy, animal therapy – just using other methods to get through to patients can be pivotal in their treatment. There should be the ability for this to happen on a wide scale 
  • Recognition of the wider factors impacting and maintaining mental health. Such as money, identity etc

There’s so much more I could discuss and it’s not like I’ve studied this for years, so this is just the opinion I have developed, but I know I am not alone in this. I’d also like to say that I respect any professionals that want to make a difference for someone struggling with their mental health, but I recognise that in such a strange system, it’s often hard for them to do so, and after time that motivation may just disappear. 

If anyone wants to add anything, please comment below, would love to have a discussion on this topic.

Posted in Mental Health, Personal Growth

Lessons from Bipolar

I have struggled, and continue to struggle, with my mental health for quite a few years. At first it felt like I was going insane all on my own – a very isolating experience. Slowly, I am learning to manage my mental health, understand myself, and vocalise my experience; it would be untrue to say that receiving the diagnosis of cyclothymia (a subtype of bipolar disorder) did not aid facilitate this. As I continue to battle with my mind, I’ve realised that being in opposition to the reality of my experience does nothing to help me. I am learning to embrace and accept this part of me, and to change my attitudes towards my challenges. Now I try to – though is is difficult – find positivity and gratitude for what I go through; one way I do this is by reflecting on the lessons I have learnt along the way while dealing with this disorder.

So here are some of the lessons I embrace from bipolar: 

First and foremost, there is always good in the bad, even if we can’t see it at the time. Along these lines, when I felt that I had lost myself (as I frequently did) I was actually growing the most, almost like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. And the things I had struggled with most became my greatest sources of strength. Not only this, but what I have been through can actually help other people – for them to feel less alone, for me to share some small wisdom, etc. 

Looking back, I know nothing is too big or difficult for me to overcome. Nothing. I used to live in such fear of the next episode or the next ‘thing’, but each time I survived, and came out stronger – if a bit exhausted. It may take a while, but I will find my path; just because there are bumps along the road doesn’t mean the road has ended, sometimes the bumps make the end result so much more worthwhile. 

Nonetheless, I couldn’t do this alone. The great thing? I don’t have to. I know that now. And asking for help is a brave thing to do, not a weak thing. Anyone living with a mental illness is so strong, not weak or broken. Asking for help has led me to some of the most amazing, kindest people out there, and it was worth the time it took to find them. There are masses of people out there willing to support someone. 

Along the way I’ve made many mistakes; misdirected attempts to cope. But recovering from these (recovery: a journey) has taught me that I am more than my mistakes – I am a nuanced person and neither my slip ups nor my illness define me. The most important steps and changes I make in recovery are the little ones, because they add up and make a huge difference. One day at a time. 

However, I’ve learnt that sometimes I need to do the things I don’t want to or think I don’t have the energy to in order to help me in the long run, for this is certainly a marathon not a sprint. Still, just because I have this difficulty doesn’t mean that it’s a defect. I have learnt that I can face any challenge so long as I approach it with creativity, and from my struggles I can find inspiration. For example, turning my hypomanic experience into poetry. 

For anyone grappling with their diagnosis, keep going yet. This too shall pass, and you are not alone.

Posted in Mental Health, Personal Growth

Another Letter to My Mental Illnesses

A version of this letter spoken to camera can be found on my Instagram @our.happy.notes

Last night I dreamt of you. And it’s hazy, in the way that memories of dreams often are, but I remember the premise. You had disappeared. I had woken up one day and you had disappeared. And whenever anyone asked me what I wanted, at a restaurant or in life, all I could reply was that I wanted you. 

You see, I used to be so afraid of you. I’m not anymore. Not like I was. But sometimes I wonder if I’ve gone the other way, or a different way, and now I’m obsessed with you. Maybe you’re obsessed with me. Whatever it is I know you take up far too much of my time, and the dream – well it made me think perhaps we were due another conversation.

Here we go again, aye? You just couldn’t give it a rest, could you? I mean it’s partly my fault. Or our fault. No, my fault, or – well sometimes it’s hard to separate us out really. The things you say to me, have the nerve to say to me, they are something else. Living in my thoughts, daring to breathe the air that I do, rent free – well, not anymore. I will not allow those thoughts to become my emotions and my behaviours anymore. And now I sound like a therapy book! Spitting out these promises that really mean nothing without the actions you try so very hard to impair. Screw it, that’s a good thing. It means I’m learning. And the more I learn, my friend, the less power you have. You wouldn’t believe how much the thought of that thrills me. 

Now look, ok, look, I’ve wondered for a while now, been turning it over in my mind, so I’m just going to have to come out and say it – I wonder if secretly you’re on my side. Our side. Humanities side as a whole. And don’t, because I can feel you laughing at me, and I know you’re far too vain, devilish, frankly destructive to admit it, but hear me out. The best people I have ever met are the ones you have brushed against. The strongest, and most courageous people. The kindest. What’s more, the ways you alter our brains, force us to work to move beyond you, I’ve seen first hand how that can change the world – how it revolutionises through our daring to move outside of the box. And on those occasions, many occasions really, that you happen to take those wonderful people away (you lying bastard) – it shows the rest of what needs to be changed in the world. So maybe, just maybe, you’re not all that bad. Then again, maybe it’s just our fighting spirit, the one you highlight in us. Either way, I refuse to believe that your hopelessness breeds only more darkness – my dear I will transform you into light, like I already am, and I’ll marvel at that process every step of the way. 

Tried to tell me this one was a solution didn’t you. And god I want to kick myself sometimes for being so naïve, for not seeing your tricks earlier, because I know, I know, that’s the way you work. And yet I also know it’s not too late. It’s never too late. I see the beauty in you. And I really do enjoy annoying you by saying that. Let me thank you again for all your lessons, your opportunities to grow, and this time for your chaos. From that fire I fashion creativity, hope, and… so much more. In an almost paradoxical way, the part I appreciate most in myself is you. You make everything else worthwhile. You make every other bit of me stronger. I mean, I hate you, I loathe you, I battle with you every day, and let’s not fail to mention that I am exhausted, but I am not finished yet. 

Well I don’t really have much else to say today. I guess I just wanted to check in with you. I hope you’re struggling, like I do. That would mean we’re growing. Because this is the time. This is my time.

Posted in Mental Health, Personal Growth

Letter to My Mental Illnesses

Hello, 

There’s no need to introduce myself, we know each other well, don’t we? As such I know that you have a habit of finding new ways to creep into my life – you’re always going to be here I suspect, so I suppose it’s time I had a proper conversation with you. Embraced you. Accepted that you are, and always will be, a part of me. 

Well I’d rather not start with the negatives, so let me thank you. You have taught me strength in ways I could never have imagined just a few years ago. You tried to break me – hell, you still do – and yet my scars hold power as a consequence. So thank you for that. And thank you for teaching me kindness, empathy and wisdom. If it wasn’t for you I never would have known what to say to my friends in distress. I never could have overcome issues unrelated to you. If you’re going to stick around you might as well teach me some more of those lessons, because I appreciate them, I really do. And thank you for showing me how lost I was. Thank you for teaching me who I am. Do not mistake me, I am not you. You are a part of me yes, but in realising that I have seen some of the other parts of me that I failed to notice previously. Pretty amazing really. 

Now if you were a physical person I would probably beat bloody at this point. I would scream at you until my throat was raw. I would cry at you, how dare you try to take me away, how dare you try to take my friends, how dare try to cause my family such pain. I would shout at you for every opportunity you took away from me – I wanted to go on that trip. All those days I missed. I actually wanted to be able to go to lessons and focus. I wanted to be around my friends. I wanted to be able to be a stupid teenager for just one day without there being the constant reminder that at any moment I could be struck with the feeling that my heart might explode, or the knowledge that addiction is in my blood.

Yet note I speak in past tense. For in the end, whether you taught me, or I found ways to learn it through necessity to survive, I realised I didn’t really want those things. For every opportunity I missed, I was presented with something else that formed me. And the ones I didn’t miss were golden as a result. If I could let go in the ways I wished, I wouldn’t be me. I wouldn’t be able to see the world in the ways I do. 

Still, know this, if you were a person I saw you run at someone else – god forbid someone I love – I would not hesitate to put myself between you and them, for no one deserves that pain, and my dear we are not done fighting yet. 

Seriously though, you are just made of hopelessness and chaos. Some days I think, surely my mental illness must be exhausted because I sure am, but no, there you are again. So come at me. Come at me with everything you’ve got and watch me rise, because I have come too far to give in to you. I will take the creativity from mania and your chaos and I will make something beautiful. I will take the desperation of your darkness and the shaking mess from your anxiety and I will use it to cling to the others who are suffering to make sure we get through. To ensure that you never have such a grip over another person’s life. Come at me – I think you forget that you are a part of me. We have to find some way to live in harmony or we will destroy each other. Come at me old friend, and watch me grow.