July 10, 2018, by Simon Langley-Evans
Mental Health Trigger Alert
In February 2015, a few days after my son’s 14thbirthday, my brain broke. I lay on the couch sobbing. Tears falling but for no reason that I could understand. My GP gave me a diagnosis of depression. I didn’t believe him, I wasn’t sad, I was numb. I felt nothing. I couldn’t string a sentence together, read a book, watch TV, make a drink…my brain literally didn’t work. The GP gave me anti-depressants and told me to wait for them to kick in. He didn’t tell me about the side effects. Two weeks later I nearly killed myself. The numbness was too terrifying to carry on living with and I could only see one solution. Not being able to feel meant I no longer felt guilty about the affect my death could have on my family or friends. Not being able to feel makes you inhuman. And if you can no longer be human, why live? Then something happened that I will never be able to explain. I had two choices in front of me, I could walk in one direction to the bedroom and neck the pills that would end my life, or I could walk the other way and leave the house. Something made me choose to leave the house. I walked for a long time, looking at the trees, the flowers…hearing the birds, people about their business. Not feeling but just being. And I started to heal.
Why am I sharing this? Simple, without talking about mental health, without being open and honest about it, without telling my story, someone else may make a decision that means they walk the wrong way. Although I was off work for a number of weeks I received no get well soon card and that still hurts me. People got in touch to offer support but I couldn’t face seeing anyone. I shut myself off from help. When I returned to work I was open about what had happened, and I was told I was brave to talk about it. Brave? The stigma linked to mental health problems, despite working in the NHS was still enormous, and I made a decision that I was not going to accept that anymore. I will tell my story because it reflects many other peoples’ stories, and maybe one day we’ll be able to talk openly about a broken brain in a way we can about a broken leg – without the stigma attached.
Common mental health issues are reported as being experienced by one in six adults. These issues include generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), depression, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder and other non-specified (common mental disorder not-specified). Suicide and self-harm are often directly linked with these mental health issues as well as other psychiatric disorders. Sadly death by suicide (a horrible term) is the leading cause of death for males under the age of 50, and females between 20-34 years. Suicidal thoughts are common amongst a range of age groups but highest in 16-24 year olds and 45-54 year olds, with self-harm rates highest in the 16-24 year old range. All of these figures are on the increase. (Figures taken from the Mental Health Foundation charity report ‘Fundamental Facts about Mental Health 2016’).
Academia (staff and post-grads) is classed as a ‘high-risk’ group for mental health disorders, linked to stressors associated with the job. I’m fairly certain this won’t be a shock to you. The stressors include the demands of the job, the changing environment, level of management support, and lack of clear understanding about one’s own role. Job security is also seen as an issue. (Taken from RAND Europe report, ‘Understanding mental health in the research environment’, 2017). The future of academia is uncertain in that there is more competition and less funding than previously. And then there’s Brexit.
It isn’t easy to open up about mental health issues but it doesn’t have to be that way. We are a community here at the University. We can look out for each other, especially important when someone is unable to do that for themselves. And being in a community that cares is one of the most important independent factors to promote good mental health and wellbeing. The more open we are, the less stigma there becomes. And me? Well, I’m now in a job I adore, and I’m beginning to find a balance between work and home that works well. I still have mental health issues but they don’t define me, in fact they probably enhance me. And in the words of Dr Who, “Anybody remotely interesting is mad in some way or another”.
There is a wide range of support available both within the university and from external sources, for when you need to access this for yourself, or to help someone else.
Rethink Mental Illness – https://www.rethink.org/about-us/contact-us
CALM – https://www.thecalmzone.net/
Teaching Associate and HCPC registered Dietitian