Original article from Kent Live
As we head in to Mental Health Awareness week the lingering question of how to cover sensitive topics like mental illness remains.
Mental health issues are something that one in three of us will face during our lifetimes, and almost everyone will know someone who has gone through periods of acute depression, anxiety, or trauma.
With lockdown increasing the number of people being frank about their difficulties with health and social anxiety, or depression, mental health has been on a lot of people's minds lately.
Although as a society we have embraced the idea of talking about mental health, we're not quite at the stage where talking openly about treatment is socially acceptable – and that's really not ideal.
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Mental Health Awareness Week from 10-15 May 2021 and encourages us to open up about our own struggles.
But merely talking about mental health problems and acknowledging they exist isn't the end goal – helping people is.
To do that we have to talk about medication and therapy, which are the two main treatments.
This is a sensitive topic, and I am not an expert, so I can only speak from my personal experience with antidepressants, and my experience won't be the same as everyone else's, but I feel like it's an important conversation to have.
I think talking about medication in a more personal context is vital, though, especially in terms of normalising people seeking help for their mental health, and the forms that help can take.
So let's get straight into this.
Medication and me
I take a specific kind of antidepressant called an Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor, or SSRI, specifically Sertraline.
Now this isn't for a specific diagnosis – I don't have a shiny badge that tells me I definitely have X mental health condition, but I have struggled with a cluster of symptoms for a good few years now.
However, talking to my GP about my anxiety, low mood and intrusive, compulsive thoughts, I was started on 50mg of Sertraline a day, and have slowly worked up to 150mg.
The way SSRIs work – as far as I understand it – is that they boost the amount of serotonin, the chemical responsible for maintaining a good mood, happiness and general well-being.
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However – you're not putting more serotonin in your brain via the pills themselves – and they definitely don't turn you into a zombie.
They work by stopping your brain from breaking down Serotonin, meaning that if your brain is struggling to produce enough – a common cause of depression and anxiety – the SSRI will slow down the rate that you break it down, meaning that in effect, your serotonin levels are boosted.
Though Sertraline, as one of the newer antidepressant drugs in the UK, is a little better on side effects than other options, I did have a real feeling of grogginess and exhaustion for the first few days.
Helplines and support groups
- Samaritans (116 123) operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write down how you're feeling, or if you're worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Childline (0800 1111) runs a helpline for children and young people in the UK. Calls are free and the number won't show up on your phone bill.
- PAPYRUS (0800 068 41 41) is an organisation supporting teenagers and young adults who are feeling suicidal.
- Mind (0300 123 3393) is a charity based in England providing advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. They campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding.
- Students Against Depression is a website for students who are depressed, have a low mood or are having suicidal thoughts.
- Bullying UK is a website for both children and adults affected by bullying.
- Young Persons Advisory Service – Providing mental health and emotional wellbeing services for children, young people and families. tel: 0151 707 1025 email: email@example.com
I also noticed a little bit of nausea before I went to sleep for the first two weeks, though honestly that hasn't bothered me since.
For the last year and a half now, I've been taking my meds every morning (as long as I remember to), and honestly things are quite a bit better than they were in Autumn 2019.
That leads me straight into the next point which is:
Why I sought treatment
Before I started antidepressants, I was in my third year of university, and quite frankly was struggling.
I was missing a good deal of my classes and driving myself into the ground to get the work I had to do done on time.
I was plagued by anxiety, unpleasant intrusive thoughts that made concentrating difficult, my mood was at a constant low and I was struggling with thoughts of self-harm.
I really felt quite hopeless in that moment, honestly.
The trouble is, treatment was almost as scary: medication terrified me because it was such a huge unknown.
It was something I had only seen through the lens of horror stories about numbness, nausea and psychiatric wards in hammy 90s TV shows – a nuclear option I was convinced I didn't need to take, not yet.
I didn't really believe I was struggling with my mental health up to that point because I wanted to avoid weakness; to just soldier on because I'd been fine before, and soon things would turn around – but I was left with the sinking feeling they wouldn't.
I wasn't in the worst position possible, true – but I did know I couldn't keep ignoring that something was wrong.
The need to break the stigma
It was a scary leap to take – to admit a sort of defeat, that I couldn't just keep fighting through it, and the social stigma that antidepressants are for 'crazy' people was an incredibly tough barrier to get past.
These ideas are harmful both to people who are struggling but don't seek treatment for fear of being thought of as unstable, and to those who have mental health conditions that are harder to manage and are stigmatised for taking medication to help manage them.
That idea of needing to be 'really ill' to have a reason to get help hurt me.
It kept me from getting the treatment that, on reflection, I probably needed earlier in my life.
And I spent two or three years struggling and beating myself up for not being stronger when actually, there was an easier route I'd been scared out of taking.
You don't have to be a caricature from a film to go to see a doctor about your mental health, and therapy or medication don't make you weak, or a failure.
There is strength in seeking help.