This year, Time to Change (TTC) will be working in partnership, with I’m NOT Disordered on a exclusive series of projects for Time To Talk Day (TTD) on February 2nd.
Questions completed by Martin (Marty) Baker, Mental Health
Author and Blogger
Author and Blogger
Can you tell us about the worst (least helpful, most upsetting, anger-provoking etc) talk you’ve had with another person regarding mental health?
My scariest experience happened in 2013 while my American best friend Fran, who lives with bipolar disorder (also chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia) was traveling in Europe with her parents. We'd been friends just over two years and despite the distance I was (and am) her main support and carer. Fran found the trip incredibly stressful. It was the most difficult time she'd experienced in years, and the hardest for us as friends because although we kept in touch we didn't have the usual frequency of calls. At the time this happened, Fran was in a mixed state of depression and mania. She was anxious, self medicating with food, alcohol and cigarettes, and frequently suicidal.
One evening we were on the phone, the first call we'd managed in several days. I was in my garden at home. Fran was in a restaurant. Her parents were across town in the hotel. She sounded drunk and I pulled her up on how much she was drinking. Later in the call she said "If I don’t make it back to the hotel, I need Mom to know how much I love her.” She'd never spoken like that before but I didn't question her about it, I think because I'd already told her off about her drinking. After the call I got scared. What if Fran had intended - consciously or unconsciously - to take her life. I waited for her to let me know she'd got back to the hotel but she didn't. I messaged and texted her but there was no reply. I didn't actually think she intended suicide but I couldn't take it for granted. It was a horrible feeling.
Around five thirty in the morning, Fran got in touch. She'd been sick when she got to the hotel and the wifi was down and she had a poor phone signal so she couldn't let me know. She couldn't remember talking about her Mom but was sure she hadn't been suicidal. Nevertheless, it taught me to pay close attention, and never to dismiss or ignore anything that feels odd or dangerous. We both learned from it. We've been in similar situations since, and I always bring "red flag" behaviour or comments to Fran's attention so we can talk about them.
Can you tell us about the greatest (most positive, beneficial, encouraging, supportive etc) talk you’ve had with another person regarding mental health?
The most positive experience comes from that same trip. Things got to a point where Fran's mental and physical health were severely compromised and I was really concerned about her behaviour. I realised we needed professional advice. I reminded Fran about the Wellness Plan we had put in place before the trip. We'd never needed to use it before, but we did now. I messaged her:
"I was reading your wellness plan today, where it says: 'Let me know if you feel I am exhibiting any of these behaviours. I might not want to hear what you are saying so remind me of this document and that I asked you to help me take care of myself.' You trust me to help you. I trust you to let me. I believe we need to escalate this. I’ve not been in touch with anyone else. Yet. But there are names on the wellness plan. They are there for a reason."
The next day, Fran messaged me from a bar in a nearby town. We chatted a while, then she said she was going to have another beer. I said I didn't want her to do that because she would be driving back later. I wasn't sure how she'd react. After a couple of minutes she messaged back. "Hold my hand."
It brings tears to my eyes now, remembering it. It was a moment of extreme vulnerability, caring and trust. We talked about the wellness plan and she agreed we needed outside help. We each typed up our concerns and Fran emailed them to her psychiatrist and care coordinator back home. Things didn't suddenly get better but it was a turning point in the trip, and in our friendship. It taught us we can rely on each other when things get rough, and that we can recognise when we need professional help.
Finally, list three reasons why you think people should talk about mental health:
1. To combat stigma and discrimination by showing how common it is to either live with mental illness yourself or to know someone who does.
2. To share experiences about what approaches and strategies can be helpful.
3. To foster a culture where mental health is as acceptable to talk about as physical health.