These are turbulent times we are living in. With systemic racism finally a part of the international conversation, growing political divides here and abroad and the added stresses brought on by the pandemic have resulted in an influx of mental health problems for people from all walks of life. Like anything, the human mind and our emotional wellbeing has its limits and sometimes, particularly in times like these, it is very hard to prioritise your own emotional wellbeing without feeling selfish or melodramatic. I decided to write this piece because I too have felt those things, and it has only been very recently that I was able to bring myself to seek professional help. I can honestly say it has been one of the best decisions of my life.
A question I hear tossed around a lot is “well, when should I seek help?” this is a hard question to answer as everybody’s circumstances are unique as the decision is often deeply personal. One parameter I have found that helped identify my own struggle was, to what degree does what you are going through affect your everyday life? Are your relationships, your job or your studies suffering as a result of changes to your mental health? Are you suddenly disinterested in things you used to love? Is there no obvious reason for the way you are feeling or reacting? And if there is, for example a bout of depression brought on by bereavement, are you finding it hard to bounce back? My honest advice is, however concerned you are, talk to somebody. I waited until my depression and anxiety were debilitating before I sought the help of my GP and whilst there is nothing wrong with the way I or you approach your mental health, my honest advice is to try and be self-aware and contact your GP, a helpline (many of which I’ll list at the end of this article) or a mental health professional if you are at all concerned. Especially of you are an immediate threat to yourself or others around you.
Another aspect of mental health treatment I really struggled with, was what treatment I felt I wanted to explore in the first place. There are several pathways to explore whether that be counselling, CBT, therapy, medication or a combination of these treatments. Each is designed to treat different things, have differing levels of access (for example, NHS therapy waiting lists are enough to put many people off) and not every treatment works for every person or condition. This again is a personal decision, but before knowing which avenue you’d like to explore it is so important to speak to a healthcare professional to get a diagnosis. They may even suggest which pathway you should explore first, but please do not be disheartened if this is not effective, it truly is a basis of trial and error. For example, I have anxiety and depression, and, in the past, I attended multiple rounds of CBT and counselling which for me personally were not effective.
I am now on an antidepressant which has stabilised my mood and allowed me to get on with my life in a way that is manageable – an important thing to note about medication, is for the most part, it is recommended that medication be taken as part of a combination treatment alongside some form of counselling or therapy but this is not always the case, so make sure you ask your GP or psychiatrist what they feel your treatment plan should be. Some people are on medication for months or even years, some never need it and others cannot live without it. All of these are okay scenarios and should be viewed as acts of strength; building up the courage to seek help is incredibly brave and often a difficult decision, so do what you need to do to feel better.
Changes to your mental health can manifest in several ways – one of which I have experienced personally, is substance abuse. Whilst this is incredibly personal, I feel it is important to talk about as there is a huge stigma associated with this. At the beginning of this year, a culmination of events resulted in my mental health severely deteriorating to the point where I saw no way out of the ditch. I was at rock bottom. I went out three sometimes four nights a week, drank far too much and made several decisions I would regret the morning after. This went on for two or three months until I felt I was slipping into a dangerous place and with the support of my friends, I sought help. I was not an alcoholic, but I was using alcohol to cope with my demons, that is when I knew I needed to talk to somebody. I spoke to a counsellor at my university and was directed to a substance abuse helpline just to talk things out. It was incredibly helpful and really helped me to shake off the shame of what I had been doing, but to also see how dangerous it was if I continued.
I hope your takeaway from all of this is that, seeking professional help is okay and completely normal.Sometimes your first line of treatment is not effective, but do not give up! And if you are worried about things you are using to cope with whatever it is you are going through e.g. drugs, food, alcohol, unsafe sex etc. please seek help. These are often symptoms of a deeper issue that you must address if you want to lead a happy and healthy life. I have listed below some helplines that I have used in the past, some are designed for specific issues such as substance abuse or mental health and others are if you just need somebody to talk to. You have a voice, use it! It might just change your life.
*These helplines are UK only, please look into your own region to avoid being overcharged*
Samaritans - 116 123
Drinkline - 0300 123 1110
Shout - Text Shout to 85258
Mind - 0300 123 3393
By Ewan Oxborrow