An exciting new project

I’ve been waiting for the right time to start a new project. It’s a project that I hope will really help achieve what I primarily set out to do with this blog, which is to combat stigma against mental illness.

2020 has yielded one disaster after another in quick succession and I have continued to ask myself whether it’s the right time to be raising awareness about mental illness when there is so much else going on.

Then, someone shared this picture with me and I realised that now is probably a better time than ever to try and make mental illness visible, and to drum up as much awareness as possible. To have the courage to share our stories. Because more people than ever are struggling and COVID-19 depressingly doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

So – I am hoping to make good use of this little space I occupy online to share our mental health stories. My hope is that we can show not only how many of us have experienced mental illness in some way (ourselves or as carers), but also how our individual stories and experiences can differ as well. Ideally this project can contribute to normalising mental illness and help fight the stigma that still remains.

We have much to gain from standing together and I can’t wait to share this project with you.

If you are willing take part in this project and share your story, I would love to have you. Please contact me here.

How do we come to believe such different things?

I haven’t written for a long time, partly because I haven’t wanted to take up space and partly because I haven’t given myself the time. I recently left my job to focus full-time on the last year of my master’s in psychology and neuroscience of mental health. It’s a subject I love but haven’t been able to fully devote myself to until now. It’s been a great move for my own mental health, but has come during a time of great uncertainty thanks to coronavirus. This piece is not strictly mental health-related but it’s about how we think and relate to each other, and has been on my mind for months.

It’s not just coronavirus causing trauma for people right now. There are myriad issues burning for many people across the world beyond the virus – the continuing fight for black lives following the murder George Floyd, antisemitism and the exclusion of Jews from the anti-racism agenda, rampant transphobia, Trump still being President of the United States, Hong Kong struggling to retain its democracy, the systematic abuse against Uighurs in China, the climate emergency, and (depressingly) so much more.

Whilst I can’t and won’t compare or rank these issues, common to all of them is the divide they create. Unless (rarely, I find) actively abstaining from having an opinion, people tend to have strong views one way or the other. Issues like these are inherently complex, and not necessarily binary topics. Some people believe in the existence of systematic racism (myself included for the avoidance of doubt), others do not. Among those who do, there is disagreement about what should be done to address it. The same kind of disagreement goes for all of the other issues I mention. Generally, support for a cause is met with resistance against it. Protesters are met with counter-protesters. Violence is erupting all over the place and in some cases people are dying for what they believe in. I keep asking myself why this happens, especially on matters of fact. Take the slightly less inflammatory flat earth issue, for example. How can it be that despite a huge amount of evidence that the earth is a sphere, some people still firmly believe it to be flat?

One of the most challenging but interesting topics I have done in my masters so far was learning about this polarisation of opinion and how we come to believe the things that we do, particularly on contentious topics. We weren’t born with the beliefs we hold, at some point all of us start from a point of not having a particular belief or opinion on something. Can you remember a time you didn’t have an opinion on feminism? Racism? Climate change? The oppression of the Uighurs? For many people, it’s a privilege to not have thought about huge topics like these before. Some are forced to learn about these issues very early in life by virtue of the hand life dealt to them. Nevertheless, we do all start from the same place, even if not at the same time.

Aronson and Tavris (2007)1 introduced a model called the Pyramid Model, which can be applied to any divisive topic but I’ll use systemic racism in the US as an example. The Pyramid Model explains how two people can start from a place of no opinion or belief and end up being polarised from each other through a process of repeated self-justifying. For example, two white, American adults with similar backgrounds start at the same point, where they have never thought about systemic racism or whether it exists. Both witness the same news over time: the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2013 by a neighbourhood watch co-ordinator, and the murder of Michael Brown by police in 2014. After Michael’s death, both become challenged for the first time (let’s assume) to decide what they believe: does systematic racism exist in the United States? One decides it does and moves down one side of the pyramid, the other decides that it doesn’t and moves down the other side. According to the pyramid model, both of them start to process new information in a way that justifies and reinforces their initial choice, making them further convinced of it. One sees George Floyd’s death as further evidence of systemic racism and the global reaction as confirmation of the need for change, whilst the other somehow sees his death and the ensuing chaos as proof that people of colour are to be feared and need to be controlled by police. These moments continue to repeat through a person’s life, further perpetuating the divide. It’s an over-simplified example and the reality is far more complex, but it does explain how people starting in the same place end up so far away from each other.

A great diagram of the Pyramid Model done by someone else, initially created by Aronson & Tavris (2007)
Source: https://aphilosopherstake.com/2017/04/05/cognitive-dissonance-and-philosophy/

This pyramid model makes the initial early decision one way or another immensely important as subsequent information naturally serves to fit into the opinion instead of challenging or contextualising it. When does it happen? Multiple U.S. studies have shown racial bias develops in childhood. Children aged six were found to associate white people with more positive traits and self-segregate accordingly2, and 92% of black children under ten in a survey reported suffering racial discrimination at school3. This is what I meant by some people being forced to learn about these issues early in life. An individual’s journey down the pyramid can start very early, usually by learning behaviour and beliefs from the adults around them. It’s here, at the start, where the greatest impact can be had.

How does the process of self-justifying actually work? When someone believes something, there is an element of feeling certainty and completeness without margin for error. When anything happens that doesn’t fit with a belief we hold, we get cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance feels very confusing and uncomfortable, everyone will have experienced it at some point, often without consciously noticing. Our brains like to neatly categorise things, and when something doesn’t fit with our categorisation, it’s a shock to the system. The instinct is to immediately find a way to negate that feeling, often at the expense of rational thought. When two parties are polarised on an issue, they both think the other irrational, ignorant, feckless and malevolent. The deeper a belief becomes, the stronger these feelings grow and the more noxious the divide becomes.

A study by Dulin-Keita and colleagues in 20124 found that racism is so institutionally embedded in the US that it has become invisible or less obvious to most white people, despite statistics consistently indicating that ethnic minority groups in the US are more likely to live in poverty, and have poorer health outcomes and inferior access to public resources like good education or healthcare. If a person who doesn’t believe systemic racism exists hears this, it probably won’t change their mind. They might argue that the statistics must be invalid, that the concept of racism is fake news (we see Trump play this card all the time), or more abhorrently that the statistics somehow prove black people are lazy and inferior and should be treated as such. The natural, easy reaction is to sustain and reinforce existing beliefs. Thinking that our beliefs might be wrong is not natural for most people. A precious few will feel cognitive dissonance and think they need to reassess their beliefs and then make adjustments accordingly. Without making an effort to look critically at the evidence presented to us, or consider the thought that our initial thinking might have been flawed, we never get away from the first conclusion we jumped to.

Once you add in the fact that a lot of these issues also include a degree of subjectivity (like lived experience) as opposed to purely stone cold facts, and you can see how chaos ensues. If sane and well people can believe the earth is flat, it’s not beyond reason that people can be racist, antisemitic, islamophobic, transphobic and deny climate change too. Facts and rationality get lost in a sea of subjectivity and confusion, and empathy is nowhere to be seen.

It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom, though. I’ve talked about how we come to be so divided, but we aren’t powerless to change it. There’s a lot that we can do. Proactively educating ourselves and reading critically about such issues helps. Being able to sense that we have gone further than we’d like down a particular rabbit hole and steering ourselves in a different direction is possible. Learning how to be a good ally and helping marginalised groups with some of the legwork is helpful too. We can’t expect these groups to do all of the heavy lifting alone. And basic psychology tells us that people are more trusting of those who they identify with or see themselves in; allies to any of these causes can have a huge impact by amplifying marginalised voices among non-marginalised communities.

I’m all too conscious that by writing about the interesting phenomenon of how beliefs come to exist, I risk opening up a can of worms in which intolerant ideologies are excused or anti-racist movements (for example) are given less legitimacy for being ‘silly radical beliefs that got out of hand’. People are still accountable for the beliefs that they hold and the way they choose to act on them. And I guess the point is that we should all recognise the processes at play in our minds whenever we find ourselves believing something, whatever that may be. More connects us in discord than at first glance; when we believe in something strongly, the same parts of our brain are activated as someone who believes the opposite. We are all human. The same forces are at play, and none of us are immune to them.

Finally, I couldn’t have written this without also including educational resources on some of the issues mentioned. They have all helped me better understand that I am not powerless to make a positive difference.

Useful resources

———

1 – Aronson, E. & Tavris, C. (2007). Mistakes were made (but not by me): why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions and hurtful acts. New York: Harcourt.

2 – Connolly, P. (2002). Racism, gender identities and young children: Social relations in a multi-ethnic, inner city primary school. Routledge.

3 – Brody, G. H., Chen, Y. F., Murry, V. M., Ge, X., Simons, R. L., Gibbons, F. X., Gerrard, M., & Cutrona, C. E. (2006). Perceived discrimination and the adjustment of African American youths: a five-year longitudinal analysis with contextual moderation effects. Child development77(5), 1170–1189. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2006.00927.x

4 – Dulin-Keita, A., Hannon, L., Fernandez, J. R., & Cockerham, W. C. (2011). The Defining Moment: Children’s Conceptualization of Race and Experiences with Racial Discrimination. Ethnic and racial studies34(4), 662–682. https://doi.org/10.1080/01419870.2011.535906

Happy World Mental Health Day

It’s technically not World Mental Health Day anymore but I’m still awake so I’m counting it.

My boyfriend and a couple of close friends wished me happy World Mental Health Day today. At the time I thought it was sweet but as I reflect on the day I realise it was not just sweet but incredibly meaningful.

My mental health – historically fragile and the cause of much distress to myself and others – currently finds me healthy -ish and well -ish. Not always happy but doing my best. Not the most optimistic or immune from panic but functioning.

I feel like a large blob of inadequacy most of the time but the reality is that everything is ok. More than ok… good. Great? Commemorative days like “today” are a reminder that I’m still alive to feel every bit the large blob of inadequacy. And joy, and love, and wonder, and overwhelm. All of it. I’ve come close to losing everything to mental illness more times than I care to count, and today I’m glad to just be.

The restorative powers of creativity

What was I doing in Argos on Easter Sunday buying £25 worth of art kits for children aged 3+ I hear nobody ask?

An old school friend of mine called Cat (we have known each other since we were eleven, and were at one point each other’s only friends) suggested we do something creative together. I don’t think either of us are sure how we came up with the end result, but if you knew us aged eleven you wouldn’t be surprised. We were the kind of kids who made scrap books and played hide and seek together long after it was socially acceptable to do so.

I have spent the last two months so deeply inundated with a demanding new job, masters deadlines and a bunch of other stuff like volunteering and singing that I have barely had time to think. The stress has been high, the sleep minimal, the social contact almost non-existent and the anxiety brewing. It was actually pretty exhilarating until I got ill last week with some kind of chest infection. I was both annoyed and pleased that my physical health gave out before my mental health did.

Since then, I resolved to have the most relaxing Easter weekend ever, and swanned out of the office on Thursday evening feeling almost as jubilant as the day I finished my university finals. Cat was clearly frazzled as well; the number of one-word replies saying “mood” she sent to the ridiculous memes (see sample below) I sent her was higher and more emphatic than usual. When she suggested an afternoon of creative distraction, it was an immediate yes.

One of many ridiculous memes Cat and I exchanged, source unknown

Zero thought went into how we would spend our £30 budget (we impulse-spent £5 of it on Korean snacks) and I think this was key to success. No plan for what kind of creative activity you’re going to do? No disappointments. We ended up buying the following nonsense items:

  • Crayola’s Mosaic Madness Art Set (we made sure we stayed true to the madness – @Crayola your toys are not named sensitively)
  • Crayola Washimals – some kind of small white animal figurine that you draw on
  • Be U Colour Your Own Bags

There was something so liberating about doing creative stuff with a friend where there was no pressure whatsoever to be good. These kits started off hideous and one thing was for certain: we would not be making them look any better. We relished in seeing who could make the ugliest Washimal and after a close competition, I won. The cat had so many acid green and pink spirals on it when I was done that you can’t look at it without squinting a little bit in disgust. That cat now sits on Cat’s shelf in her living room and she can’t ever get rid of it because it holds too much sentimental value.

It was a huge and much needed “f- you” to the part of me that wants everything I do to be perfect, for 100%, for everything I lay my hands on to turn out exactly as imagined or planned. I don’t think any of us do it enough. Aiming for 0% was hilarious and I can’t recommend it enough. 

If we don’t take time like this for ourselves, we wilt. Making something from nothing, especially with another person, uninterrupted by emails, texts, social media and news bulletins, is restorative in its own special way. Different things work for different people (for you, it might be cooking alone, or painting with your whole family, or baking with your partner) but whatever it is, it will make you feel alive. The benefits of art therapy in particular have been widely published (see this page by Mind if you don’t believe me) and aren’t exclusive to people who are ill. Literally everyone can do this and get something out of it.

My one regret is that we didn’t choose the most environmentally friendly choice. On a day when Extinction Rebellion was standing strong across London I felt a twinge of guilt unpacking brand new plastic-wrapped things I didn’t need and could barely justify purchasing. It doesn’t always have to be like this, though. Next time, I’ll be just as happy with some recycled paper and a couple of biros. And I am not joking when I say the stuff we made is never going in the bin.

Other activities that have been amazing for my general well being (and better for the planet) are pottery and planting house plants, although I won’t lie to you, killing some of them by mistake later is a little disheartening. For fun creative activity classes/workshops in the UK, see Obby (or try searching for specific activities in your local area).

Happy creating…

My battle with anorexia

Content warning: depression, eating disorders, self-harm

In the spirit of Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2019, I’m going to share my story with you. Only by sharing stories and talking about eating disorders and mental health in general can we break down the stigma and shame that surrounds them.

I’m not sure how I feel about awareness days and weeks; for sufferers (or those recovered), they can feel like an unwanted assault of triggering content and/or a sense of pressure they should be doing more. My doubts notwithstanding, I currently feel like sharing. I hope it helps people learn more about something they otherwise wouldn’t have, and anyone struggling behind closed doors can learn that they are not alone and that it can get better. It doesn’t always, but it can. And holding onto that hope, no matter how small or seemingly impossible, was one of the things that got me through.

About a year and a half ago, I was deep in the throes of an eating disorder. Over the course of 6 months, I lost about 20% of my body weight when I wasn’t particularly heavy to start with. At the time, I felt like this wasn’t enough and all I could think about was how I could lose the next kilo.

It started with what I recognised to be depression. I had felt this way many times before and it had crept up on me as it usually did. It was feelings of apathy, emptiness, loneliness and somehow numbness, misery and deep despair all at once. I was plagued with thoughts and images about taking my own life or harming myself, and I also started to self-harm again for the first time in a long time. I sought medical help pretty quickly, having recognised what I was feeling and the behaviour it had driven me to. Depression was an old beast that I had faced and conquered before, and despite feeling overwhelmed by it, I knew that with help it would pass. I started seeing a psychologist once a week and we started working on the depression together.

This time, however, was different. I had developed a new and aggressive desire to physically shrink and take up as little space in the world as possible. With this new form of self-hatred came a new form of self-punishment: food (or lack thereof). I couldn’t eat anything besides fruit and vegetables. Anything else I ate I would make myself vomit up shortly afterwards. I exercised constantly, at one point running 13 miles “because I felt like it” (when in reality I just couldn’t stay still because I wanted to burn as many calories as possible). I was constantly hungry but unable to keep anything substantial down. I knew what I was doing was not ‘normal’ behaviour, but I couldn’t stop. I was stuck in a cycle. The shame I felt not being able to eat, the most basic thing that humans do to survive, was like no shame I had ever felt before.

When I first saw the GP, I didn’t look outwardly ill and the shame meant I was hiding my behaviour in any way possible so it went unnoticed. Contrary to popular and some medical belief, people with eating disorders can still be a “healthy” weight on the BMI scale and look fine on the outside. An eating disorder is more to do with your relationship with food than it is with your appearance. When untreated, the effects sometimes (but not always) become visible and urgent treatment can be required to prevent further physical and emotional decline.

Concerned friends and family gently pointed out that I was losing weight and that I wasn’t eating much but I would always find an excuse and brush them off. At one point I genuinely did have food poisoning and the fact I was secretly happy about the weight falling off me makes my skin crawl when I think back to it today.

There is a certain irony that at my lightest and most skeletal when my body so closely resembled that of a runway model, I was stuck in a cycle of eating an entire 100g bar of white chocolate (or pretty much any other high-calorie food) and vomiting it all up again almost immediately. The cravings to do this were stronger than any impulse I have ever had before. There is nothing less elegant or glamorous than retching over the toilet whilst simultaneously crying about how tragic you are, how much your stomach hurts, and having your housemates overhear you and then stage a very awkward intervention. Nobody ever mentions either, that throwing up after every meal can burst the capillaries around your eyes and leave you with bruising that makes you look like you’ve been roughhoused in the face. Another fun thing that can happen is that your bladder and kidneys stop working properly, your electrolyte balance completely torpedos and you start needing to pee constantly, especially at night. Not only do you get woken up all the time, but sleep pretty much stops happening anyway as your body wants you to find nourishment more than it wants you to sleep. I was a scrawny zombie panda with all the pre-requisites for organ failure.

At some point, my psychologist called out my increasingly disordered attitudes towards food, my shrinking physique and malnourished complexion. I think her words were “if you don’t start eating, I’m going to have to send you somewhere for treatment because the depression won’t be your biggest problem anymore”. The threat of being referred to an eating disorder unit lit a fire under me to try and get better. I felt desperately trapped in a cycle of starving, bingeing, purging (making myself sick), repeat. I wanted out, but I couldn’t possibly imagine how that could ever happen.

I couldn’t escape the reality of my situation anymore and was soon diagnosed with anorexia (and later bulimia). I thought it was the first time in my life I’d ever struggled with food, but I later realised that my childhood and adolescent years had been marked by a disordered relationship with food, from only eating completely plain food as a child to binge eating constantly at university.

I was intrigued and disturbed in equal measure by the changes I saw in my physical and mental state. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a much larger version of myself staring back at me than anyone else did. I’d read about body dysmorphia in biology textbooks at school but had never understood what it felt like. (It really is a thing, and it feels dreadful). The part of me that finds mental health interesting was fascinated, but the rest of me was terrified. Would I ever be able to eat normally again? Would my obsessive thoughts about food ever stop? Would I ever look in the mirror and actually see my real body? Would I ever be able to go to a restaurant and not obsess over where the toilet is and how soon I can go and be sick in it? Recovery meant facing up to the demons causing my depression (they turned out to be BPD, more on that another time), and I was scared.

After accepting I had anorexia, I slowly stopped deteriorating and things started to improve. I was given a strict meal plan (3 meals and 3 snacks a day) and had to keep a food diary. These were a crutch intended to help me learn how to eat intuitively again, because all my disordered behaviours had destroyed my ability to identify hunger and eat a sensible amount in response. My body had to learn that it would be fed consistently, regularly and in a healthy amount. I had to learn that as my body got used to metabolising food properly I would put on weight and that it would go against the principles of my disorder. As I slowly started to put weight back on, I started to respond better to therapy and the hopelessness started to lift. Through recovery, I learned how to properly nourish my body after intense exercise and turned running from self-punishment to self-reward. It was a journey of fits and starts, small triumphs and disasters, and lots of moments where I wanted to give up and go back to the ‘safety’ of the certainty that the anorexia offered. I tried coming off the meal plan too quickly and slipped back into old habits so had to take a few steps back. But eventually the anorexia subsided and I found myself able to eat intuitively again, less preoccupied with the size of my body and able to let the thoughts drift past me rather than take up all the space in my head. It took 6 months on a meal plan every day to get there. My metabolism has finally recovered and I can actually enjoy meals with friends and family.

What my friends (my housemates in particular) put up with in that year was extraordinary. Their patience and kindness when I had none for myself kept me going when life felt too difficult. Their support when I routinely succumbed to my eating disorder and ability to stay resilient themselves when they had their own things to worry about was inspiring. If it weren’t for their support, understanding, compassion and stubborn insistence that I do right by myself to recover by eating properly, I am sure the story would have ended differently. To live with someone intent on starving themselves is no easy thing, and they are wonderful for sticking by me through all of it without a word of complaint.

I never imagined I’d be well enough now to write about it, but here I am. Despite being in the best headspace I have ever been in, my relationship with food is the first thing to be threatened if I am stressed or anxious. The experiences I have had will never leave me and I carry a burden with me wherever food is concerned. I know now, though, that I have people I can talk to openly about it, and things that help me feel better if I am struggling. I have developed a language with my loved ones that helps me communicate that I’m struggling without having to say it. For example, when I’m having a body dysmorphic day, it’s easier to tell my boyfriend that I feel like a blimp than it is to say my recently conquered eating disorder is rearing its ugly head. Here’s a blimp, note the size of it:

I haven’t really mentioned social media or the media’s representation of women at all; it didn’t play a huge part in my anorexia although I know it has done for others. For me, the abundance of incredibly thin models all over the internet validated my eating disorder but didn’t fuel it. It’s not the same for everyone, and it’s a good time to mention that my experience is just mine; every individual goes through something unique and I can’t speak for everyone with the same diagnosis.

To summarise, here are some things that I learned:

  • The body does some spooky things when it is malnourished, and it ruins your metabolism
  • The mind can’t make much progress when you’re not feeding the body
  • When you restrict your calorie intake and don’t get the energy you need, your body will try to keep you alive by inducing the strongest urges to binge and eat everything in sight.
  • Eating disorders are not a weight disorder, they are a mind disorder. People can have an eating disorder without being underweight. Some medical professionals also make this mistake.
  • There is a lot of stigma and misinformation out there
  • It can get better with the right support
  • Everyone has a slightly different experience even though they might share a diagnosis.
  • Recovery involves falling over a lot. It gets really rough at times. But you are strong enough to get up.
  • Love is powerful. The people who care will stick around.

If you are struggling with or supporting someone who is struggling with an eating disorder, here are some places you can go to for help:

Why I’m starting a mental health blog

Who am I and on what grounds I can talk about mental health and well-being? (Content/trigger warning for suicide and self-harm)

Mental health is a topic I have been passionate about since I abruptly discovered what it was aged 19 (!!!) but looking back it is clear to me that I have struggled on and off with my mental health all my life.

Over the years I have been diagnosed with BPD (borderline personality disorder), depression, anxiety, anorexia and bulimia. I have survived three suicide attempts and used to struggle with self-harm. At worst I have had the symptoms of all of these at once, in better times I have had none and often I am somewhere in between. I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for the support of friends, family, multiple therapists, the Samaritans, and even a couple of wonderful strangers over the years.

That’s a lot of disorders and hard-hitting admissions for four sentences, and I don’t like listing diagnoses out like that because it feels pointless and silly, like I’m trying to show off all my Blue Peter badges. Look how many badges I have! Here’s the one I got for not being able to get out of bed for two months because life felt pointless, here’s another one I got for my head making me panic every time I tried to leave my room, here’s a big golden one I got for not being able to eat anything without being sick, I could go on.

However, labels and diagnoses are at least helpful for roughly identifying my experience to you, and to stand any chance of doing this well I need to be authentic and give a true account of my experiences. I can’t claim to be combating stigma if I write about my personal experiences behind a pseudonym or pretend I’m 100% mentally well all the time when I’m not. It makes me feel vulnerable but it’s the only way to do it properly. Fortunately I have supportive friends and family who have my back. Not everybody does, so I feel I should make the best of it. 

Why am I starting a mental health blog?

There are so many reasons why that I lost count, but I’ve boiled it down to three key reasons:

So I can help other people

On balance, for all its challenges, mental illness has not prevented me from achieving some big milestones in life so far even though it has made it pretty harrowing at various points for me and those close to me. At the time of writing, I am well enough to want to share my story and experiences. My hope in doing so is that it will help others, whether this is helping people experiencing their own mental health struggles know that they’re not alone and that it’s OK not to be OK, or those without experience wanting to understand what it might be like. 

2   Mental health still isn’t talked about enough, and nobody is immune

People should not only be finding out what mental illness is when they’re in such a bad state that they are forced to. Also, it literally does not discriminate. Mental illness is the number one supporter of diversity and inclusion… no matter who you are or where you come from, you’re a candidate for it. Many different factors can make mental illness more likely, but not a single person on this earth is immune. Yet stigma still very much exists and feeling deep shame around mental illness is still a thing. Until all of this is firmly a thing of the past, there is a lot of work to do. If it’s been said once, it’s been said a million times: one of the best ways of combating stigma and shame is through talking and the sharing of personal stories. 

3   So I can help myself

I have written before about my experiences of depression and anxiety (before I’d been diagnosed with anything else) and found it incredibly cathartic and liberating, so if I gain nothing else and help no one in writing this blog I will at least have got some free therapy out of it

Why the name?

“It’s all in your head” is something I’ve heard too many times from people who don’t understand mental illness, often in an attempt to be helpful or fill a silence that makes them feel awkward. It is… and it isn’t. Yes, it physically starts with the brain inside our head, but we all know that’s not what this remark intends. Mental health underpins our entire existence and without it we would literally not be living (which is why its absence is so crippling).

Mental illness is real. It isn’t something imagined or made up, even though we can’t see it in the same way as a physical injury or illness.  Except when you know what to look for. Sometimes you can see it; in the lines of worry on someone’s face, the marks of self-harm on someone’s skin, the inability to eat, speak or get out of bed, the partaking in dangerous, reckless, and/or impulsive behaviour, etc.

You can see it in the shocking statistics. Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK, mental health problems are one of the main causes of the overall disease burden worldwide, and Accenture recently found that mental health affects 90% of UK workers either directly or indirectly.

It’s all in our heads – the 1 in 4 of us who have suffered, and those of us who have not. We collectively have the power to change the way mental illness is viewed by society, and doing so will literally save lives. People who are supported in looking after their mental health at work have been tangibly found to be more productive, motivated, engaged, innovative and perform better

This blog is my contribution to the change I want to see, and we have a lot to do.