Mental health issues affect us all

My Mental Health

I’m usually fairly good at writing about this. I don’t mean to brag, it’s just that I have experienced stress and mental health problems on so many occasions.

When I was younger I didn’t know I was experiencing mental health problems either directly or indirectly. The reason I didn’t know? Well it was simply my ‘normal’, and here lies the problem we now face which begs the question ‘What is normal?’ Who decides on ‘normal?’

For me it is as though Stress and Depression are old friends. Not particularly nice friend’s mind, maybe it would be more accurate to describe as annoying relatives you bump into from time to time.

Not only have I suffered the effects of stress and depression personally, I’ve also had the horrific experience of watching somebody close suffer.

Let me share a story with you. This is about a family member.

This was 24 years ago, so back then this person had very little help. Possibly because he was male, admitting to needing help was not an option. You have to realise that 24 years ago things were different. Men didn’t admit to problems as easily as they can nowadays.

So anyway, like I said (he) didn’t get any help so ended up paying the ultimate price in taking his own life. To put it bluntly, he hung himself.

This was his second suicide attempt and my god he meant it this time. Back then despite the first attempt, no red flags were raised as they might be nowadays. Nor was counselling offered, in fact I recall no support what so ever for him or family around him. Incidents such as this were simply brushed under the carpet and we were expected to never mention them again.

Twenty four years ago the stigma attached to mental health problems was horrendous. Following the suicide I remember how people acted in my company. Nobody knew what to say to me, so often it was easier for them to ignore me.
I was working in the factory back then. This was also a time before employment rights gave us protection from bullying and harassment, and so I was in the lion’s den. This was long before I became involved with the union. I was shy and quiet and often a target. This family suicide was a gift to some. I remember enduring whispering, gossiping and finger pointing regularly. People actually thought they had the right to judge something they knew exactly zilch about.

This treatment was unbearable, so foolishly I turned to my doctor. Remember what I said about this being 24 years ago and the response from my doctor was nothing short of appalling.

I visited the doctor in good faith because I needed help dealing with my grief. It turned out that narrow- minded views were not only those of general members of public, but also those in the medical profession.

I have never forgotten my doctor’s response …. and I quote….. “You would feel the same if your boyfriend finished with you”….. This before palming me off with a large prescription for Prozac.

Consider again the reason for my visit; a close family member had been suffering with severe depression which resulted in him being found hanging at home, and here was this alleged medical professional expressing the opinion that it was similar to a relationship break-up!

This was my first exposure to the affects serious stress and depression can have on the mind. I learnt that dark thoughts to a poorly mind are completely rational. Dark thoughts to a well mind are just that – dark.

Fast forward 24 years. We have seen a significant rise in awareness for mental health and the problems it can lead to, but is it enough?

Figures suggest that 1 in four of us will suffer from mental health related problems in our lives, but how accurate are these figures?

Let’s just have another look at that; 1 in four of us will suffer – these figures will be gleaned from statistics of reported cases. But what of those who don’t seek help? These people will not form part of these statistics. People still don’t seek help for a number of reasons, including stigma and fear – the fear part almost certainly being linked to workplace stress and the perception people have of how this will cause irreparable damage to their reputation.

I would be prepared to put my neck on the line and say that accurate figures would be likely to suggest that all of us will suffer from mental health related problems in our lives. Not 1 in four – all of us. That includes you. That includes me. That includes everybody you know, love and care about.

Workplace stress is also a terrible thing to suffer. It can lead to depression which is one nasty piece of kit.

I became involved in the union at my workplace in my previous working life as a result of suffering fools. I became involved in education as a result of becoming involved in my union, and I began working to help people as a result of becoming educated. In 2009, armed with new education and new opportunities, I began on this career path.

During this time I began to build (and continue to build) a lot of sessions and awareness for mental health problems. This includes domestic violence awareness and grief support groups. I was doing a lot of case work to help support people who were having problems at work, and I had also begun teaching. In doing this work I was able to identify where potential problems were (and still are), and was able to start doing something about it.

In 2012, and for a few years after, I began working in more of an educational capacity. Very rewarding work in the amount of people I could reach.

The downside was that I learnt first-hand how debilitating work related stress can be. I learnt this as a result of being sacked every year then having to reapply for my job. Work-related stress like this clouds you and leaves you switching from crippling fear to boiling anger, and all the emotions in-between, and this was only made worse by the lack of support from TU officials in the same workplace.

Let me say, when I was a workplace rep, the day would never have dawned where I stood back and witnessed colleagues suffer unnecessarily.
Obviously I left that particular workplace. In now work (doing similar work) for an organisation that cares. I’m not ashamed to admit to suffering, nor am I willing to turn a blind eye.

I used to be told to keep quiet about my experience of stress and work related stress in case I was judged. But damn it all, I stand loud and proud and admit I’ve suffered, I also stand loud and proud shouting out that I’ll do as much as I can to help educate and inform around this serious issue.

My thoughts; in this life I believe that we are judged just as much by our non-actions as we are by our actions.

My message is this: there is help out there, but first and foremost when I comes to mental health related problems, we must be able to identify them in ourselves before we can hope to stand any chance of helping anybody else.

For information, see gmbreachout short course on Stress and Mental Health Awareness – more will be added on soon……

Michelle Graham

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