Just a Trend

Mental Illness is just a Trend

That’s right, you read that right.  I, Alex Davies, founder of a website that promotes mental health awareness and support, just said that mental illness is just a trend.  Do I really believe that?  Of course not!  That said, it’s an interesting topic to consider.  Take a walk with me as I unpack it.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen an increase in people being diagnosed with mental health issues.  Now, this could be partly due to the increases in external pressures and triggers, as some people would say, or it could be a greater awareness and openness for mental health.  In the past, mental health was not something that was widely talked about.  You kept it hidden.  It wasn’t heard of.  Out of sight, out of mind, that sort of thing. Nowadays, however, it’s more widely talked about.  So is it that it is on the increase or is it just that more people are talking about it?  That’s something for the philosophers to debate.

What I’d like to know, though, is whether or not the epidemic is as bad as it seems or whether it is “just a trend”.  (Note that my opinion will come at the bottom, so you’ll have to read on to find it!)

So is mental health a trend that people follow?  Are the people who claim to have mental health issues genuine?  From where I sit, I see three immediate categories that we can put this into:

  1. Genuine Sufferers
  2. People who don’t quite get it
  3. The social media hype types
Genuine Sufferers

This is exactly what it says on the tin: people who are genuinely suffering with some form of mental illness.  They have those day-to-day issues that hinder them, whether that’s getting out of bed, looking after themselves or being unable to leave the house.  Their struggles are real, their issues hamper their everyday activities and they clearly have some form of mental illness.  Note, these are not always diagnosed as, for some, they cannot make themselves go to the doctor but many of them will have been diagnosed.  They might be on medication and they may be undergoing therapy or they may be managing it with alternative means.  Nevertheless, they are struggling.

For genuine sufferers, they face a wall of stigma and judgement that often prevents them from expressing how they truly feel.  They keep it buried inside, fearing that other people would be harshly critical of them or simply not know how to express it.

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People Who Don’t Get It

These are probably the most multitudinous that I’ve come across.  You’ve seen them, I’m sure.  The people who post statuses like: “I have to wait a whole year for more Game of Thrones, I’m so depressed!”  In reality, they aren’t depressed, they’re just a little sad, but they blow it out of proportion.  How often do we see it?  Far too often, I think!

Why am I picking up on this group?  Well, I believe it simply adds to the fog of stigma and judgement around us.  If we can see they’re not really depressed, others can see through it too and it just builds up this wishy-washy idea of what depression actually is.  By associating it with the word, it can create that false image that others will then believe.  For all we know, it could be where this “just snap out of it” rubbish came from…

We see it a lot, though, don’t we: the ones who over-exaggerate this sort of thing.  People who give themselves labels without taking that moment to understand what it means.  What is depression?  What is anxiety?  Is it what they make it out to be – being “anxious for school exams” or “depressed because the latest season of Game of Thrones has ended” – or is it something more?

The Social Media Hype Trend

As I’ve mentioned previously, I do a lot of interactions on Twitter and on other social media sites and I now notice patterns in some of the things that go up.  The most common example is the number of people who post things online – particularly photos – and appear to be fishing for compliments.  Comments like “I’m so ugly” or “I’m no good at anything” or “I’m so fat, I need to diet” and other such things are frequent posts.  The photos that are coupled with them, however, more often than not, contradict what is being said.  Like I said: it’s almost as if they’re fishing for compliments.

Now believe me, this isn’t always the case.  Insecurity is a horrible thing and it might be that they just want someone to give them that reassurance.  However, it’s possible that some do it just for the compliments.  If social media makes it “trendy”, everyone wants to get involved.

Your Turn

Over to you…what do you think?  Do you think I’m right or do you think I’m wrong?  Let me know by leaving a comment.  I’m interested in getting a discussion going here.

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Leave Me Alone, I’m Lonely

I’m lonely.

How often do you hear those words?  Whether spoken out loud or written on a social media update, I find those words frequently.  People have asked me how I cope living on my own as surely I get lonely.  Back when I worked at my previous job, I’d leave work, get on the bus or, later, in the car and go back to my flat, all alone, no one there to greet me.  Some believe that was the cause of my depression.  I’m not so convinced but that’s another story.

But sometimes that’s how I like it.

People often say, when I talk about being on my own, that I have to get out more if I don’t want to be lonely.  However, I’d like to challenge that today, as I think there is a profound difference between being alone and being lonely.  Let’s see if you agree with me.

I’m Alone but Not Lonely

Sometimes a little bit of personal space is nice. Whenever I’ve been out and the depression or anxiety kicks in, there is nothing better than getting into the confines of my flat or my car, switching on my music or a video game and just blasting the thoughts and feelings away.  Listening to music, playing that video game, both can work but it seems they only work if I can actually be on my own.

I’m alone.

But I’m not lonely.

I’m making the most of my own personal space, with no one around.  I can drop my mask and leave it behind, allowing myself to be exactly as I am, without the front.  I don’t need it.  Even when I’m around friends and family, there is that guard up because I don’t want to drag them down as well.  Sometimes being alone can be the best thing ever.  It allows me to just be me.

The inspiration for this post actually came from a P!nk song that someone’s Twitter tweet made me think of.  Called Leave Me Alone, I’m Lonely, it speaks of how sometimes that personal space is good, because it allows us to have that break.  Too much of a good thing – or sometimes anything at all – can be too much, so it’s good to have a break.  Take a listen if you haven’t already heard it.

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I’m Not Alone, but I’m Lonely

Sightly harder to grasp, but it’s possible to feel lonely when you’re not alone.  When people have absolutely no idea what you’re going through, it can be quite isolating.  I distinctly remember walking into work on a really bad day, putting that front on and finding that only one person noticed.  I was surrounded by people and yet so alone that it was unbelievable. Granted, it wasn’t entirely their fault because I’d put that front up, but it was a contributing factor that no one looked.

Similarly, it is a growing problem that those of us who struggle with mental health issues find that we are put into a box in society, simply because people don’t understand mental health.  We might have plenty of friends – in person, on social media or on our phone – but we can be so alone.  As I write this, the thought of “I’m in a room full of people yet I’m so alone” is going through my head.

Even when there are all these people around, it’s easy for me to feel like a bother and not want to open up to people for fear of disturbing them or burdening them.  A difficult mindset to get out of, it isolates me.  Thus, I am with people and not alone, but I’m lonely, because I feel like I have no one to talk to.  Unfortunately, this is the category that a lot of people I talk to fall into.  They want to talk to someone yet they feel they can’t.

Learn About Lonely

My challenge for you is to learn the signs for when someone wants to be lonely.  It’s not that they don’t want your help – they probably value you a lot more than they feel able to let on – but they need a little bit of time away from everything else.  It isn’t against you, far from it, but it’s something they need at the time.  As P!nk says, “tonight, leave me alone, I’m lonely.  I’m tired, leave me alone I’m lonely”.  We will want you to come back, we just need a bit of space.  It isn’t personal.

It never is.

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A Very Mental Christmas – Day 6 Podcast

Christmas Day

Do you struggle with managing your mental health at Christmas?  Do depression and anxiety keep you from enjoying the festive period?  Join Alex and Cheryl as they bring you their top tips for making it through a very mental Christmas!

Today is the day, the big day is here! Join Alex and Cheryl as they talk about how to cope with Christmas day, what you can do to ensure you get through the day without any mental breakdowns.

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A Very Mental Christmas – Day 6

Christmas Day

Click to Access the Podcast!Access the Pushing Back the Shadows Podcast here for the latest episode!

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Episode 9 – A Look Back

Join Alex as he takes a look back at how Pushing Back the Shadows came about.  From his original blog to public speaking to podcasts, he looks a little at his journey.  Dive in!

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Depression Striking Early

What Do You Think?

With this post I’m interested in hearing your views on the topic.  When you’ve finished reading, please leave us a comment below and share this post with others so we can build up a good idea of what people think.

Early-Years Depression

So this post comes from reading a news article the other day.  On Psychology Today, Robert T Muller Ph.D. talks about depression striking as early as preschool age.  He states that depression affects approximately 4% of preschoolers in the US, a number that increases by 23% ever year.  Apparently it is an increasingly common thing that people can identify.  Robert Muller says that doctors and therapists are better equipped nowadays to ensure that it can be treated better.

In a news report from WNDU, Maureen McFadden has said one of the early warning signs is if your child seems sad all the time or doesn’t enjoy playtime the way he or she used to.  That’s when there should be some concern.  Parents should also watch for things like irritability, eating disturbances and sleep problems such as difficulty going to sleep or waking up during the night.  Increased negative self-perception is also an indicator.

Potential Causes

On WedMB, Kathleen P. Hockey, a licensed social worker who has also suffered from depression, says there is no single thing that causes depression in children.  This is according to NMHA’s Children’s Mental Health Matters campaign, she says.  Potential causes include things like life stresses – losing a parent, perhaps due to divorce – discrimination, a family history of depression.  She also observes that things such as abuse, neglect and other traumas of chronic illnesses can be contributory factors as well.

David Fassler, MD, says that depression in children will often occur alongside or along with other mental health problems, notably anxiety and bipolar or disruptive behaviour disorders.

Over To You

What do you think?  Is depression amongst preschoolers something that’s possible or is it something that is more applicable only to older children and adults?  Someone can be born with diabetes or liver problems but can a 3-year-old have depression?

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Episode 8 – Signs and Symptoms

How can you tell if someone is trapped in a panic attack or a depressive spiral?  The signs and symptoms aren’t always there, are they?  Or are they?  In Episode 8, Alex talks about some of the signs and symptoms that his friends recognise and look out for to tell when he’s not on such a good day.  Have you experienced any of these?  Drop us a comment below!

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Khristina – the Interview

What conditions do you live with?
I live with Borderline Personality Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, {mild} Anxiety, {mild} Schizophrenia and insomnia.
How long have you been living with them?
Two years (roughly), another two undiagnosed which brings the grand total to four years.
How does it affect you, for example what does a good day look like?
A good day looks bleak at best and I’m not trying to sound ungrateful here but that’s when the voices start to whisper in my mind and I start to see things and I feel so depressed and worthless I want to push myself off a cliff.I survive because I tend to be very vocal and have friends who tend to recognise the warning signs of my bad times.
How about a bad day?
I’m not sure what a bad day looks like because it’s usually a blur of too many pills mixed with copious amounts of alcohol (my parents would kill me if they read this) though I’ve sworn never to try drugs because I will surely take my own life then. Aside from that, there’s also the problem of sharp things and me being together in the same room. Suffice to say I may as well have donated that blood and saved a life instead of being a waste of space.
How does it affect work, family, friends, etc?
I am already a socially inept creature without my mental illnesses, I don’t know what God was thinking but I shall not question Him on such matters. I often take sick days off from work and have to miss family gatherings because of my illnesses and peoples’ inability to understand them.
What sort of methods or treatments do you use to cope?
My coping methods include:
  a)pills {meds}
  b) alcohol {wine only}
  c)selfharm
  d)music
  e)running
   f)online socialising
Most effective: meds/selfharm (don’t judge me)
Least effective:alcohol (it’s a suppressant which explains it)
If you could say one thing to someone going through the same condition(s) as you, what would it be?
Please hang in there and do what I say not what I do. Someone out there will love you, one day.
What would your advice be to people trying to support people with these conditions?
Do as much research as you can and do not ever belittle anyone’s illness(es).
Have you got any final thoughts?
I hope this creates a lot of awareness about mental illnesses to all who read it.
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What Helps Me on the Bad Days

Having a Bad Day?

Are you having a bad day with your depression or anxiety? To quote one of my daughters favourite cartoons, “It happens. It happens a lot”. Depression and anxiety can make it seem like there is nothing but bad days sometimes. It can strike out of the blue, be there from the second you open your eyes or build up and progressively deteriorate over the course of time. But no matter what, bad days are going to happen. It’s part and parcel of living with mental health issues. And it can really suck.

For this week’s pick of the week, I wanted to share with you the things that help me, both from the blog and practical tips that I employ. Like anything else, these are things that help me, some might suit you, some might not. They’re suggestions from my own experience.

Coping with Anxiety

It’s only recently come to light that hand in hand with my depression, I have a nice side order of anxiety. It’s probably always been there, but because I didn’t see it as full blown panic attacks, I kind of ignored the signs which often led to me spiraling.  Now I know it’s there, I’m having to learn how to cope with it in a more productive way. Here are just a few of the things I know have helped myself and others.

  • The podcast episode 6 meditation. Just taking a little time to focus your breathing and learning to relax can be hugely helpful.
  • Fidget Spinners-Not something I’ve used myself, but I’ve seen how beneficial they are for friends and family who suffer when in environments that are difficult.
  • Yoga breathing-helps lower the heart rate, lower blood pressure and help you find a sense of calm.
  • Grounding technique– I’ve both used this to help someone in the middle of an anxiety attack, and had a friend walk me through it when I was taken badly. Building yourself a grounding kit is a really good idea.

These are just a few of the things helping me with the anxiety side of things. For more ideas and help check out our Patreon supported post, Anxiety-Managing the attacks. It’s something I’ve been using almost as my cheat sheet lately and I can’t stress enough how helpful it’s been.

Black Dog Days

As I’ve said, I’m also battling depression and there have been some incredibly difficult days. Now I’m not going to give you a list of therapies and treatments, I’m not touting magical cures. Think of this as more about self care when it’s a black dog day.

  • A little affirmation– basically take the time to remind yourself of your worth, your things to hold on to. I’d definitely check out what you’re worth, you have a purpose and something to hold on to if you’re struggling.
  • Treat yourself-give yourself a little indulgence. Be it some chocolate, a bubble bath, retail therapy (budget constraints pertaining of course).
  • Exercise-I’m no gym bunny, but the benefits of exercise in the alleviation of depression are well documented. Yes I know motivation is an issue, but even a little movement is better than none.
  • Let in support– basically this boils down to letting those who love and care for you be there for you. From personal experience I can say that when you are struggling all the medication in the world won’t be as effective as the love and support of your nearest and dearest. A hug won’t cure depression, but it can really be a wonderful balm.
A Few Little Thoughts

So, OK not a comprehensive list, but as someone who is going through this journey I know how easy it is to put aside or dismiss the tools and people that can support you. I also want to make one point, for those of you who have doubted Alex and the work he does here, apart from the wonderful responses we’ve received from Twitter from people he’s helped, I want to say that without his support and help, I may not be here. So thank you.

The blog is full of great information, support and guidance so I encourage you all to look through. You may stumble across something that will really help either yourself or someone you care about. It could save a life.

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I Bet You Won’t Find the Dog!

Can You Find the Dog?

Find the dog in the picture below:

Find the dog in the picture.

 

I found this picture on the Huffington Post after spotting it on Twitter. Looking at their article, I did my best to spot the dog and (I’ll be honest) it was extremely challenging!  I’m sure some of you will have found it instantly but others of you, like me, will have struggled.

Now find the depressed person.

Find the depressed person.

No?  How about here:

Find the depressed person.

Still no one?  OK, well what about here:

Find the depressed person.

It’s challenging, isn’t it.  Yes, these are stock images pulled from Google but the point remains the same:

Mental illness does not have a look.

“But you don’t look depressed…”

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen this on Twitter or Facebook or had it said to me over the past year.  It’s something that a lot of people seem to latch onto when you tell them that you have depression or when you are struggling.  “You don’t look depressed.”

Tell me…what does depression or any other mental illness actually look like?

You see, stigma has given rise to the belief that mental illnesses have a look.  To be depressed, you have to be the person who cannot get themselves out of the house, is covered in self-harm scars from head to toe and has not been able to shower or change their clothes in days.  (A generalisation, I know, but I’ve heard it said!)  Yet where do people like myself fit into that depiction?  I have depression, I am depressed, yet almost every morning I get up, shower, eat, go about my day as normal. Where is the stereotypical “depression look” in that?

The answer: there isn’t.

Just like the dog in the first picture, depression and other mental illnesses can be hard to spot.  There is no definable, typical look about each mental illness, despite what stigma and stereotypes might suggest.  People will put on masks, they will act the part, they will do what they can to ensure you never find out that they are ill.  It’s part of the illness.  It’s what we do.

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Find the Mentally Ill Person

So, you see there is no definitive way of finding the person suffering with a mental illness.  As I’ve mentioned numerous times on this site, mental illness is unique to each individual, manifesting itself in various ways with overlaps between cases but without two cases being completely 100% identical – a little like a Venn diagram.

Take a moment to look around you next time you’re in public.  1 in 4 of those people will have a mental illness.  I guarantee you will see several of them as you look.  My question, though, is do they look any different?  Do they have that “signature look” about them for depression?  Can you see it?

AlexLook at me now.  Do I look depressed?  Is there that signature look?  Somehow, I don’t think you’ll see it.  I hide it.  Perhaps I shouldn’t, but it’s my way of coping.

You will not see it unless you know me very well or I want you to see it.

As one of my former managers said when I had to tell him that I was depressed: “If you were lined up with ten other people and I was told that someone in that line-up had depression, you would have been the last person I would have picked.”

You see?  No “one size fits all” or “definitive” look for mental illness.

The Signs are Always There

Contrary to what I’ve just said, however, I would like to point out that the signs are always there.  In things I say, things I do, things I write on social media, there are clues in all of them that would tell you I’m depressed. There are signs that everyone gives off.  Signs that someone is anxious, signs that someone is depressed, even signs that someone is suicidal.  The trick is finding them.

Like that dog I started this post with, mental illness can be quite hard to spot but you can spot it.  Things out of character, things done out of the ordinary, other little things that you can pick up on.

But they are there.

Just like that dog.

So my challenge to you is this: look for the signs.  Remember that 1 in 4 people suffer with a mental health condition, so look for the signs.  Yes, the signs will be different to each person so there is no definitive guide to spotting them, but they are there.  Look for them.

Don’t let them suffer alone.

But don’t tell them that they “don’t look depressed”.

Because there is no definitive “depressed look”.

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