Mental illness: hilarious, eh?

I searched Twitter yesterday for ‘mental health week’ and learned to my dismay that ‘taking a mental health day/week’ is a phrase some people now use when they fancy ‘throwing a sickie’ or – in other words – skiving off work.

More about that in a moment…

I’m in my third week off work with depression and have been fighting it for two years. It would seem the old adage of ‘keeping a stiff upper lip’ is, in fact, stupid and pointless. You can’t sort your brain out if you keep bombarding it with more and more stress, while pretending that you’re fine.

Sometimes your only sensible option is to accept that you need time off so you can get better. I’ve had some excellent counselling, which I am now revisiting to help me tackle the dark forces at work in my mind, and I’ve been taking Citalopram, an antidepressant, since April 2010. I almost managed to break free from it this summer, but now I’m back up to my earlier dose. I no longer see this as failure, though – if you’re ill, you take medicine, and it’s no different with depression. If the pills help, I will take them until I’m better.

So when I say I’ve got depression, what am I talking about? Well, let’s go back to our friends on Twitter and their ‘mental health days’, because they won’t want to miss this. They’re only joking, of course. They don’t mean it, do they? So let’s see what they’re joking about, because all of these things are pretty funny:

  • Crippling lack of self-esteem and confidence – you’ve taught yourself (or been taught) that you’re no good and you believe it. You say ‘sorry’ for things that aren’t your fault and can only see weaknesses and failings in yourself.
  • No energy or enthusiasm for anything – you don’t look forward to anything. You feel empty and weary. You want the world to stop turning so you can get off.
  • Anger – you’ve pent up all your stress and anger, then you turn it in on yourself or bring it out on people who don’t deserve it.
  • Sleep deprivation – you’re lethargic by day, but at night the demons come out to play and you’re wide awake, reliving bad memories, having imaginary arguments or worrying about the future.
  • Negative thinking – the destructive thoughts that constantly whirl around in your head, beating you senseless from the inside.

OK, I’ll stop there. Your sides will no doubt be on the verge of splitting and your ribs are most probably tired of the tickling. And that’s just depression – imagine the mirth that would ensue if I were to talk about other mental health issues, such as schizophrenia, bi-polar, anxiety, stress… oh, the hilarity.

One of the great problems in raising awareness of mental illness is that people don’t want to talk about it. I was one of those people until recently, and completely respect that each person must handle their illness in the ways that suit them best. But if one good thing has come out of my own experience, it’s that I DO want to talk about it. I’ve kept it, unhelpfully, to myself all this time for fear that people wouldn’t understand, and that I would be stigmatised. I have come to realise, though, that the only ways to lift the stigma, to enlighten the ignorant, to improve understanding and to raise awareness, is to bring mental illness out into the open, where it can’t prey on people so easily.

I’m lucky to have a loving family, great friends and a supportive employer, but not everyone has these blessings. Many employers see mental illness as a weakness and place enormous pressure on their staff, not recognising that their own practices and demands are the cause of the illness in the first place. There is still support out there, though – GPs see a lot of people with mental health concerns and can help you in a number of ways. And there are excellent charities offering extra support and information, such as Mind and Rethink Mental Illness: http://www.mind.org.uk/ and http://www.rethink.org/

Autumn sun shines a light into the gloom

On a lighter note, Mind is encouraging people to get out and about in the fresh air to improve their mental wellbeing, and that’s what I did for an hour yesterday afternoon, armed with my camera. The sun shone through the autumn leaves, and the golden light lifted my spirits. Here are some of my pictures, taken down Chantry Lane and Ferry Lane by the River Ouse in Bishopthorpe, York :

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57 Comments on “Mental illness: hilarious, eh?”

  1. Great links, Paul.
    I enjoyed your post and the photos are also really good. I especially like the one with the lamp post.

  2. paulbrook76 says:

    Thanks Jill. Anyone who’s been reading my blogs on depression might also enjoy Jill’s excellent blogs at http://livingwithablackdog.wordpress.com

  3. Hi Paul.

    I myself have been signed off from work since mid July with anxiety triggered depression. I have battled with depression for very nearly 25 years now. I have been getting CBT lately, which whilst very limited in terms of length of therapy, is proving quite useful in giving me new coping strategies.

    Depression is often thought of as a self imposed state of mind that you can and should “just snap out of”, rather than the mental illness that it actually is. There are times when I have been dismissed out of hand and even head one consultant state that I wasn’t depressed, but had Borderline Personality Disorder. There may be some truth it that, I’m not an expert, but it resulted in my depression treatment stopping, which set me back a long time and destroyed any faith I had in the NHS and their ability to help me.

    This isn’t a cheap plug, feel free to edit it out if you feel it is, but I have managed to undo the effects on my self-esteem and confidence that my condition has caused, by throwing myself into developing the website I manage, which has the purpose of aiding the management of self directed social environments. I’m lucky enough to have worked as a support worker for people with LDs and my partner also does. So have some understanding of people’s needs.

    I currently work in I.T for a charity based care provider, the working environment and the stress and anxiety it brings were the major trigger of this spell of depression. They are beginning to recognise that and are looking to make changes. I’m due to start a phased return next week.

    I’ll be following your blog closely, from a personal perspective. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Rebecca says:

    Excellent post, thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. It is so important to be open with this info, as with all else that was hidden and ridiculed for ages. Coincidentally, exactly two years ago today, I was overnighted “voluntarily” by police familiar with my dangerous ex and his scary family after I left for good and they worried for my safety. Next, my “husband” paid a very expensive and well-regarded psychiatrist in Manhattan to tell me I was very healthy and self-actualized and needed to get out of that house and “marriage” right away. Sweet irony and poetic justice. That I did but am grateful to better understand “the system” and will forever advocate in any way I can for people with challenges; be they chemical in nature or otherwise.

  5. Stephen Hunt says:

    I know it can be hard to ignore such insensitive folk – but really, people can be cruel about anything. I have some friends who are very active in disability rights over in Australia, and recently they’ve been promoting a campaign to “Ban the R Word”, the R word in question being retard, which has been cropping up again in a bunch of US comedies with increasing regularity. They’re very pragmatic about it, though, and accept that the problem is that some people, by their very nature, are cruel, and even if the R word stops being used, the cruel individuals will take whatever other term is around as a description for someone’s condition, and use that word as an insulting plaything. Seriously, you could invent a word today to describe someone with a limiting condition – let’s say we call it flondergibble – and before long, the playground bully mind of some of those folks would be spitting it out at folk in a venomous way.

    The tough part is that, while your brain says it is easy to dismiss these folk and their brutish opinions, every time they do say something, it does just grind you down a little bit more. I’d reached the point before I moved to my new home where I’d just about given up on going to pubs because I was so fed up from the fact that every single night out would see some drunken idiot making what they thought was a funny comment about me just because I have red hair. Seriously. It’s been remarkably liberating to be in a place where not a single person has made any such comment. On the bright side for you, I’m pretty sure that you won’t be following those folks on Twitter, so won’t be exposed to their less than valuable opinions any more!

  6. ramukardnejaR says:

    Those photos are brilliant!

  7. […] • Did you know that “mental health day/week” is the latest euphemism for throwing a sickie from work? A Twitter search for the term prompted this excellent post from blogger Paul Brook: […]

  8. Lara says:

    Having spent my entire life fighting bouts of depression it’s refreshing to find someone speaking out. Enjoying your blog and hope others learn from it.

  9. serena says:

    Dear dippyman,
    A Facebook friend linked to this and I had to comment. My family has a history of mental illness, mostly depression, and I myself have suffered from depression. I applaud your choice to be open about your condition – I did the same and although it was hard at first, it has helped me to cope because depression is no longer a dirty secret. People were a buy shocked to start with, but they get used to it! Good luck to you and well done.
    serena x

  10. Peter Newman says:

    I think it takes real guts to talk about yourself in such a frank way. I like your writing, it feels very alive to me.

    Hope you keep talking.

  11. Justme says:

    Hey Paul,

    I think it’s a good thing you’re writing this blog. Keep it up! I am 23 and have been depressed for about 8 years. It started when I was 14, but people told me it was just something that was part of being an adolescent. So I just went on and on, until I thought it was normal to feel that way and couldn’t remember anything else. At 21 I crashed and burned. I tried medication too, but it didn’t help at all and the side effects were gruesome. So I quit the pills (which meant I was physically ill for 2 week). I stopped regular therapy and started internet therapy, which fortunately worked better. I am very intelligent, which makes therapy difficult as I can’t help but see exactly what a therapist is trying to do.
    It’s been about 1,5 years since that time now, and I’m doing much better. It’s something that is always lurking in the shadows though, and I have to keep fighting it.

    A lot of people didn’t understand it when I crashed, including some of my closest family, so I wholeheartedly support your effort to raise awareness. Thank you!

  12. Bella says:

    I guess folk laugh because they see elements of what you say in themselves and are fearful. I am lucky enough not to suffer any great mental illness, but art does help a great deal with the stresses of life and has taken me through some bad times. You have caught some good images while out and about, I like the sun on the leaves.

  13. Kay says:

    A wonderful insight into how it feels to be depressed. Having been a sufferer in the past, I’m now learning to counsel others to help them. I’m sharing your link so that others can read for themselves that they are not alone.
    Well done you!!!

  14. Nick says:

    Wow! Thank you for that blog on mental health.

    Relate to so much that you share.

    How can I read your blog? On twitter?

  15. siobhan says:

    Thank you. I’ve been dealing with depression for more than a year and this post and description of what i/you are experiencing has exactly described ut. Don’t feel quite so alone any more. Thank you

  16. Perdita says:

    It’s sad that the phrase is being mis-used.

    I first came across it a while back when working in a very high-pressure environment with vulnurable kids. The work was emotionally demanding and back then it was used as a caring phrase, meaning that to protect employees (who were often suffering from stress-related anxiety due to being caring people seeing kids in strife all day) management understood that just as with physical strain someone might need a day off to prevent greater harm, the same would go for mental strain. It was much needed: without such understandings, I am sure my anxiety and OCD would have become critical at times, preventing me from doing my job and helping others long-term.

    However I guess there are cruel folk out there who saw this as skiving and thus the phrase has become a joke.

    • paulbrook76 says:

      That’s really interesting, thanks. When I looked it up it seemed some people still used the phrase as it was intended but it was clearly a throwaway joke for others.

  17. Brilliant.

    Sometimes it can look if you work through depression as if you’re doing terribly when really you’re actually doing what everyone seems to want you to do which is keep on working even when you’re unwell. I feel like sometimes what is the point of actually bothering, people will only judge you for not being perfect in your work.

  18. What a fantastic post. I’m glad to have discovered your blog and am now following : ) I too know that it’s difficult enough fighting depression and having people take it seriously without it being thrown around lightly by all and sundry.

  19. Great post and I wholeheartedly agree that we should feel no stigma about what is an illness as much as any other and can be just as debilitating physically as mentally. I mention my depression on my blog and did a post dedicated to it earlier in the year. The more we learn about what affects us, the more we can help others understand.

  20. This is a fantastic piece and I empathise with it entirely – it’s not laughing matter – unless you are on the outside and don’t know enough about what’s happening to those who are suffering. Thank you for blogging this. It Needed to be done. x

  21. Lois says:

    It’s always really encouraging when I read blogs like yours talking openly and frankly about depression as I suffer from depression, have done for about 10 years (I’m 26), and I feel as though I live two lives; that of my normal, socially compliant self and the other of my hidden, ‘nasty’ secret. Recently I was made redundant for the third time in 3 years and I had to give up my home for a second time in 2 years. Up until then I managed my depression very well but I’ve had somewhat of a breakdown recently, understandably. I took the decision to be open about my depression with people and recently went for an interview for a job I have done before and could easily do again. When I mentioned that I had suffered from depression but that it had made me a stronger, more insightful person, the interviewer suddenly changed. His manner become wary and suspicious and then his exact words were ‘I am worried that with the stresses of the job you would become emotional and wouldn’t be able to cope’. I was upset with this to say the least.

    I regret saying anything now. I shouldn’t though, and I feel irate to be made to feel ashamed or weak because of my illness. That interview was yesterday and for the last 36 hours I have been feeling so isolated since then. I feel so grateful to have been referred to your blog as I now feel a renewed sense of vigour. I will pick myself back off the floor, dust myself off and fight back again.

    Thank you,
    Lois

    • paulbrook76 says:

      Hi Lois. Firstly, well done for being open about your depression. It sounds like the interview was grossly unfair. You deserve more respect. I can understand how that would make you feel. I am genuinely thrilled if my blog has helped you to cope in some way. I have a dark side too. I call him Paul Brookes and giving him a name and identity of his own somehow makes it easier to take him on!
      All the best, Paul

  22. JoeyH says:

    I disagree that the phrase “mental health day” is intended to be insulting or mocking in any way.

    When you are sick, it is about treating the disease. When you are healthy, it is about avoiding/preventing disease. Stress is a *major* factor in depression and other mental illnesses, and work can be more stressful than anything else in someone’s life. Taking a “mental health day” is a perfectly descriptive way for healthy people to describe taking a needed break from the stress. That is how they maintain their mental health.

    I’ve used and heard this term, and never once was there anything close to mockery of the mentally ill. (In fact as a former counselor on a crisis line I’ve heard mentally ill people use it with no irony!) People with depression and other disabling illnesses don’t have a monopoly on the very, very open-ended term “mental health,” any more than I, as a disabled person, should get upset when someone talks about a car being disabled or whatever.

    I understand that it may personally bother you, but I find it unfair to call people who use this term “insensitive” and “cruel.” Objectively speaking, mental health is *everybody’s* issue, and healthy people struggle as well as those who are ill.

    • paulbrook76 says:

      Hi Joey.
      Thanks for your comments.
      ‘Mental health days’ are a great idea and I would support anyone, well or unwell, who needed to take one to help treat their illness or help them cope with stress or any other symptom. I am very familiar with stress.Please read my blog on ‘Stress, depression and Star Wars’ if you want to know more about my experience.
      I did find examples of people misusing the term and it is this misuse that prompted me to write my blog. I don’t want to monopolise the use of the term and I can’t imagine anyone else with depression would want to do that either.
      I write about depression because I have depression. I write about what I know about and would not claim to represent other people whose conditions or symptoms I am unfamiliar with, but of what I write helps someone to understand or cope with something then I know it has been worth writing.
      My blog was about the stigma of mental illness and how it is misunderstood. The misuse of the term ‘mental health days’ is part of that stigma, especially for those people who genuinely need to take them. I hope my reply has addressed your concerns. I think we are on the same side but do add something else if you still feel I am saying something unfair. I would hate to be unfair or to generalise.
      All the best
      Paul

    • paulbrook76 says:

      P.S. I do try to be accurate in what I say in my blog. Therefore I would like to make it clear, purely for the sake of accuracy, that the words ‘insensitive’ and ‘cruel’ do not actually appear in my blog.

      • JoeyH says:

        Yes, I was responding to the post itself as well as the comments, which did include those terms.

        And also yes, we are definitely on the same side, and by no means am I trying to say your own experience is invalid. The term “mental health day” seemed to be getting generally maligned so I put my own perspective out there. Perhaps next time you could link to some specific examples, because it certainly sounds like they deserve plenty of scorn, while the term itself is not the problem. (As opposed to a term like “retard,” as someone discussed above.)

        It’s good to be able to discuss these things cordially even when we disagree. :-)

  23. Sheila Herd says:

    That is a great post, I had no idea people were using “World mental health week” to throw a sickie, that’s appalling.
    Absolutely agree about bringing mental illness out into the open, I felt terribly ashamed years ago the first time I got post natal depression and didn’t tell a soul, not even myself.
    Second time I did tell a few people, fast forward to now, I’m a lot more open about it but still have reservations about telling some people, and in fact I blogged about “stigma” myself this week.

    • paulbrook76 says:

      Thanks Sheila. I will read your blog. People weren’t using the actual ‘World Mental Health Week’ to skive off work, they were planning to skive and were calling it a ‘mental health day/week’.
      It’s good there are more and more of us tackling the stigma of mental illness. I still don’t want to tell some people about my depression but just talking about it at all is a big step in the right direction.

      • Sheila Herd says:

        Yes I understand. I’m not actually depressed as such now, although I am very aware of it and protective of my mental health now because I know it’s always there in the background and I could tip into it again, but I do remember how I felt in the thick of it, how ashamed I felt, and as a society we need to break that down don’t we so people don’t feel ashamed and embarrassed?

      • paulbrook76 says:

        Definitely. The embarrassment is still there for me sometimes, but much less often.

  24. Izzy says:

    Loved reading your posts, it’s so nice to know there are other people in the same boat.
    Not sure if you still read these replies as your blog was a couple of years ago?
    Would love to know how you’re getting on now.
    Have been suffering from depression and anxiety for 3 years now, on Citalopram 20mg which was my lifesaver (but my dirty little secret from all my friends)
    Have recently felt down again and awful anxiety at night so about to try 30mg in the hope that makes a difference:
    I still have a real stigma about anyone knowing I am on anti-depressants or suffer from a mental disease and I wish I could just be honest sometimes.

    Thank you again for your brilliant writing
    Izzy

    • paulbrook76 says:

      Thanks very much for your kind words, Izzy.
      Sorry to hear you are having a difficult time.
      When I wrote that post, I was off work and had to put my dose up to 30mg. Two years and another round of counselling later, I am feeling really well and am gradually coming off Citalopram – down to 10mg a day now.
      Try counselling (CBT) if you haven’t already. Talking to someone helps a lot.
      It takes a while, with various ups and downs, but you can get better. I wasn’t sure I ever could, but I have, and I hope that gives you some hope.
      Take care and I hope you are soon feeling much better. Give yourself time and be kind to yourself.
      All the best
      Paul

      • Izzy says:

        Thanks for replying Paul. Few days on 30mg, still feel wobbly. Got my first CBT next week so I’m pleased you suggested that. I always tend to feel better when I speak to someone very close to me like my hubby, sister or mum.
        Really appreciate the reply and I’m glad you feel so much better. Maybe there is hope for me yet

        Best wishes

        Izzy x

      • paulbrook76 says:

        There’s always hope, Izzy. It’s just hard to see it through the fog sometimes!
        Good luck with the CBT. The first one or two might feel tough but stick with it and it will help.
        All the best
        Paul

  25. […] person who experiences it. Faith is the same. Just as people with mental health problems can be vilified and demonized, there is a special hatred and mistrust set aside in the public psyche for those who dare to […]

  26. Dippyman says:

    […] person who experiences it. Faith is the same. Just as people with mental health problems can be vilified and demonized, there is a special hatred and mistrust set aside in the public psyche for those who dare to […]

  27. […] makes it hard for people to understand. In turn, this can create ignorance, misunderstanding and stigma, which only makes matters worse for people living with the […]


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