Wednesday, 26 September 2018

GUEST POST: AUTHOR, PETER McDONNELL | THE BENEFITS OF TALKING ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH



I am lucky – I have shown a very good recovery from my mental illnesses.  I was diagnosed in 2001 with “cannabis induced psychosis with delusions of a grandiose nature” and in 2004 I started having serious anxiety and panic attacks.  My psychosis made me think I was the messiah, the modern day Jesus Christ, but after many years struggling with it I began to recover.  Since 2005 it has been slow but steady progress towards wellness, healthier thinking and in present day I am pretty much over it.  Both the psychosis and the serious anxiety.  I still deal with the remnants and my problems are still with me at about 10% of the intensity that they were when I was seriously unwell.  So I am doing well and I have been left with a keen interest in all things mental health.  It’s my favourite conversation topic.  I talk about it all happily and at length when I get the chance.  Almost everybody else has something to say too, often the people I find myself chatting about mental health with have a friend or relative with mental health issues.   


I had a haircut last week and I spent 20 minutes chatting about the hairdressers 22 year old son who has serious anxiety.  I’d given her so much information/tips that she said she wished she’d taken notes as she took payment at the till.  I spent 20 minutes talking about my own journey and what helped me, giving her as much description of my experiences as I could in the short time window.  I hope she found something beneficial in my humble but much practiced spiel.  I’ve written a book about my experiences with mental health and recovery and I’m a people pleaser and always hoping to help.   

The week before that it was a friend at the local Conservative Club where I play snooker whose sister has bipolar disorder.  I’m not a bipolar expert so I generalised and told him about how ten years ago my brothers started the process of finding humour in mental illness and that if they hadn’t I would still be humourless about things today.  I found it helpful talking to my brothers, and we have a bond in present day that involves joking around in general too.  It was because of my brothers input many years ago that today I am not embarrassed to share.    

The week before that it was a lady having coffee at the sports centre where I work as a cleaner when I’m not writing who told me about her grandson, who has anxiety and hasn’t left the house for a while.  He smokes weed in his room and it seems his anxiety is quite mild, but she worries.  There are varying levels of seriousness to each case.  When it is serious I usually advise talking to local mental health services.  There are courses a person can take to learn how to deal with and help family members going through a mental health crisis, courses that my own parents never needed because they are both qualified psychiatric nurses.   
It is not the end of the world to need hospitalisation or medication either.  I advise when a family member is doing rather shit, to make it clear that you care about them.  Hug them more, do things that let the person know without a doubt that you love them.  Knowing that family care very much is very comforting and helpful when you are mentally unwell.


When the person is less acutely unwell, there are literally hundreds of ways to help.  As the patient improves, it becomes so much easier to go about helping.  Make them laugh.  It shows that you still see them as a person with a sense of humour even if they do have a mental illness.  If you want, encourage socialising.  If they are not quite ready to party, take them somewhere quieter.  Maybe they like golf?  You don’t need social skills for that.  My mum has taken me on so many walks over the years at weekends when I was still regaining my social confidence, that we began joking about writing and publishing a book about all the best places to walk in the area.  

Over time, the person will get stronger.  Then you can suggest socialising further afield.  In 2013, after ten years of hardly leaving town, I went to France for my brother’s wedding.  I was nervous at first, but I enjoyed it and now I like France and the French.  I want to go back and I’d like to live in rural France one day.  In 2016 I flew (a big step for me, I was afraid of flying for a number of reasons and hadn’t flown since 2003) to Ireland for my niece’s christening.  Then in 2017 it was another scary plane journey to Holland for my cousins wedding.  Then summer 2017 I flew to Italy for a three week holiday.  These trips all went exceedingly well.  If my family had not started the process of encouraging me, at times pushing me, to socialise more and more in about 2006, then I would be afraid of socialising in present day.  I have had a great time travelling around Europe recently and it makes me very happy to know that I am strong enough to try new things.   

In 2001 I was attempting suicide etc. and I was as low as anyone.  I guess what I am trying to say is that even the worst mental illness situations can and do get better, and that sharing/talking helps.       


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