In a bid to reassure young people that they’re not alone in their mental health, YoungMinds have created the #HelloYellow campaign which you can support by wearing something yellow on October 8thand donating to their cause here: https://bit.ly/3EsL71H
DON’T JOKE ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH, ABUSE, SELF-HARM, OR SUICIDE
After the abuse began when I was fifteen, the first mental health difficulty I can remember experiencing was suicidal thoughts and feelings. To be fair, I say ‘suicidal’ but I think it was about more than wanting to be dead; it was about wanting to escape. Wanting to be safe and free. That realisation that actually killing myself wasn’t what I really wanted - and a few other things - led me to start self-harming.
Scratching at my arms hard enough to cause red marks very quickly became more and more severe and it got to the point where a friend noticed a scabbed scratch on the top of my forearm. I still remember the comment she made in front of a few other friends “were you trying to kill yourself?!” And someone else laughed and piped up “if she was killing herself she’d have done the other side!” “Maybe she missed” said someone else.
I don’t think I could’ve felt any more embarrassed and awkward! I mean, I really knew nothing about mental health and self-harm – back then (2006) there was very little media around the topic and so I definitely didn’t realise I wasn’t the only person feeling the way I did, and doing the things I was doing. And those feelings of loneliness were only magnified by that response from those ‘friends.’ I mean, it made me wonder whether I would’ve gotten help sooner had I received a more supportive, empathetic response.
Another hugely debilitating aspect of jokes in those early days of my mental ill health, was around the actual abuse… For legal reason I can’t name my abuser and apparently even if I give small details which will indicate his identity, I could be in trouble. So, let’s just say that my abuser was a professional who are arguably so well known for being abusive, that it’s joked about. People actually laugh at the possibility of someone in a particular role using their position to abuse a certain group of people they interact with! A group of people who are meant to feel safe and happy with that person!
Hearing those careless jokes and comments left me even more convinced that I couldn’t report the abuse I was being subjected to. I mean, how could I possibly turn around and face all those people making those jokes and say “actually, you’re right – it does happen; but it isn’t funny”? Where would I find the confidence to do that when my abuser was already so actively and constantly robbing me of it? And if they thought that kind of abuse was hilarious, why would anyone take me seriously when I tried to explain the impact it was having on me and my safety?
UTILISE SOCIAL MEDIA FOR GOOD
Something I’m very passionate about is illustrating the positives of social media and things like blogging… There are so many – sadly, very accurate – stories in the media about trolling and people experiencing online bullying so intensely that they have committed suicide.
The point I always tend to make with this, is that social media and actually, the media in general, is something which your experience of depends upon what you do with it. Like, if you google methods of self-harm, you’ll find ‘tips.’ If you google recovery stories, you’ll find an abundance of those too. It’s all about how you utilise technology.
When I was going through the abuse, I was bullied a lot through Live Messenger (anyone remember that?) from people using my ‘friends’ accounts, but who claimed not to be those actual people – apparently one was my ‘worst enemy!’ I was called a liar, an attention seeker, a ‘bag of bones’… I think that the hardest part of online bullying is the notion that there’s no escape. I mean, before technology, bullying was primarily at school and the escape came when you got home (or the other way around – or both) but with it moving online it was like I wasn’t safe even in my own bedroom.
In all honesty, since the abuse was happening at the same time… well it’s like if you break a bone and then get a paper cut – the break probably hurts so much that you don’t even feel or notice the paper cut. So I guess that the upset the abuse was causing me, outweighed any tears over the bullying. And when my abuser was the person to actually put a stop to the bullying, I was so overwhelmed by the notion that I now ‘owed’ my abuser – like, I was indebted to him now – that I didn’t really experience any sort of relief or comfort in it ending.
So, having experienced online bullying and knowing of the life-threatening impact it can have on a person – particularly a young person – has really motivated me in my blogging. It’s given me the inclination to ensure that my own use of the media doesn’t harm or cause upset to others. And in doing that, I’ve been honoured to experience countless emails and messages voicing the positive impact my content has had on others. To hear that my very negative experiences can have some sort of positive influence, is actually kind of comforting and reassuring.
DON’T FEEL PRESSURED TO TALK TO ONE PARTICULAR PERSON
One of my greatest difficulties in getting help for the abuse and a huge reason why I didn’t report it for two years; was that from the very little education and awareness I had of it, I knew who I was meant to confide in. I knew you were meant to feel comfortable and secure talking to someone of a particular profession, but it just so happened that professional was actually the person abusing me. So who should I have gone to?
There was such little media around abuse that I thought I was the only one, and if I couldn’t talk to the person I was supposed to, then I truly was alone. I didn’t have anyone to tell me all the things I needed to hear. No one to tell me that I was right in thinking that what he was doing to me was ‘wrong.’ No one to promise to help me. No one who had the power to stop it.
Looking back, of course I can see that there were so many people in my life – my Mum being the main person – who I could have talked to. There were so many people who could have helped me. People who could have put a stop to it. And that’s hard – really hard – to recognise and to accept. I mean, if I was to focus on it, I would constantly wonder whether things would have gotten to the point they did; both in the abuse and in my mental health, if I had sought out help sooner. And that would leave me feeling so regretful – which is something I don’t believe a person should ever be!
So, instead, I focus on using that experience to encourage others not to do what I did. I’d like to think that the ways in which I’ve learnt about reporting abuse or getting help for mental health problems, is a good illustration that I kind of know what I’m talking about. And I think that the fact that I learnt it the hard way, is just further motivation for my determination not to let that happen to someone else. It makes me passionate and hopefully, that makes me more persuasive.
In this realisation of the number of people who were in a position of power which could prove helpful for me, it has left me eager to tell anyone going through something similar that you can really personalise who you tell and how you tell them. You know? Like, you don’t have to go to a teacher nor even straight to the Police. You could tell your GP, the School nurse, a helpline, a relative, a friend… And you don’t even have to put it into words – you could write it out. You could draw it… These are all things I wish I’d known or had realised at the time when I needed them. But again, the important thing is that I use that knowledge and experience to help others.
NEVER MAKE UNHEALTHY COMPARISONS
Making comparisons – particularly through social media – can be so incredibly harmful for someone’s confidence and their mental health on a whole. However, it’s incredibly ‘easy’ to be swayed by thoughts of comparisons that are largely born from assumptions and judgments around a person’s online content – whether that be on Instagram or YouTube or a blog!
In blogging, I’ve learnt a lot about balance and one specific balancing act is around being honest and open in my blog posts, whilst also staying guarded and allowing myself to still have a ‘private life.’ In mastering that balance, I’ve had to accept that readers don’t always realise the person producing content is doing this. Most followers assume that they’re seeing the person’s entire life and that they know exactly what’s going on for that person. What’s worse than that though, is when they end up holding the completely misguided belief that they deserve to know everything. As though if a person is going to talk about their life – their mental health – then they need to tell these complete strangers absolutely everything. Like, they shouldn’t be entitled to anything resembling control over the content. They aren’t entitled to secrets and privacy.
In keeping with this, is the awareness that if you agree to put out a portion of your life, then you must agree – or at least accept – that people are going to assume that’s everything. As though it’s somehow similar to expressing a controversial opinion on social media where when you do, you need to be prepared for some very difficult, equally controversial responses. It’s not right – I’m not saying it’s right in any way. You should be entitled to express your thoughts and opinions without fear of rebuttal; but realistically, you can’t always do that.
So in recognising the fact that some content producers in the internet world aren’t being 100% open, it’s important that this be stressed when discussions around comparisons come up… You know, some people will think that a blogger with a huge number of readers or followers is privileged. Or that someone on Instagram documenting the journey of their home renovations is doing so with plain sailing.
They are the lesser talked about comparisons though – those more often publicised are largely around weight or image and appearance. Making judgements and comparisons related to these aspects can really be life-threatening with so many people developing full blown eating disorders due to the pressures they put upon themselves after seeing someone with a particular image and of a particular weight. It can quickly become competitive and deeply unhealthy.
I remember when I used to scan through images on website which actively promoted eating disorders (I was almost diagnosed with Anorexia in my teens and twenties) and I would feel so terrible about my own appearance. It was kind of ironic because I was looking at that content out of disappointment with my own body image, but then in doing so, it was exacerbating those thoughts and feelings of inadequacy. It was a vicious circle that wasn’t really broken until I started Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) and became a blogger myself.
In creating I’m NOT Disordered, I very quickly became aware of the competitive nature to the industry – I saw how some bloggers wouldn’t give ‘shoutouts’ to blogs in a similar category as their own. Instead of falling into that pattern of behaviour and attitude though, I looked on other bloggers and their blogs as inspiring more than rating them any ‘better’ or any ‘worse’ than me and my blog. Rather than comparing my statistics in my reader numbers with other blogs in a way that left me feeling useless and disappointed, I turned it into motivation. Motivation to produce better content.
BE REASSURED WITH THE FACT THAT YOU AREN’T ALONE
The recognition that you aren’t alone in your mental health difficulties or even the reasons for them, can go one of two ways: it can either leave you feeling completely hopeless and defeated at the thought that someone else is feeling as bad as you do, or it can leave you feeling comforted and reassured that there are other people going through these things too…
Initially, I had the first line of thinking in experiencing intensive concerns that I wasn’t my abusers only ‘victim.’ I actually felt convinced that I couldn’t be the only one… mostly because he had been so careful and manipulative in hurting me (the Police labelled it as grooming) that he can’t have just thought that up – he’d learnt that. He’d learnt how to bend a situation – how to turn an already vulnerable person into someone totally different. So that, coupled with the fact that he basically ‘got away’ with the abuse with me, meant I had every reason to understandably assume he was hurting – and had hurt – others too. And to cope with this notion, I realised that reporting the abuse to the Police was the one way I could help prevent him abusing anyone else. The thing that I could do to ensure that – in the best way – I was alone in this.
The next instance of loneliness came after I had began experiencing auditory hallucinations of voices and having no knowledge of mental illness, I panicked, thought that I was ‘crazy’ and became resigned to keeping it to myself out of fear that some Doctors would drag me to a padded room and I’d be given a ton of medication! I think that it’d be fair to say my response to this horrific worry was my first suicide attempt. I thought it would be my only escape and my only hope of escaping the comments the voices made throughout whatever I did with my life.
At the time, I had never known anyone to be suicidal – or at least I didn’t know anyone who had said they experienced those thoughts – so I was kind of sceptical that mental health services and professionals would be ale to help me. Like, I thought that after making a suicide attempt, it meant that things had gone beyond the point of recovery being a realistic goal or expectation.
Of course, I was wrong! And I really learnt that when I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for two and a half years after a suicide attempt had left me on life support. I met other girls who had made attempts or who experienced those thoughts and feelings, and whilst not a lot of them were well enough to be discharged, they were all on their way! But initially, it was actually really distressing to hear of anyone – even a complete stranger – experiencing anything even remotely resembling my own emotions and intentions around suicide. However, in being admitted and offered DBT, I saw that professionals must believe in my potential to recover. They must think that I have a chance of making it through this. And having someone believe that, gave me some hope; and from that I found the determination to engage in therapy.
FEEL PRIDE WHEN A FRIEND TALKS TO YOU ABOUT THEIR MENTAL HEALTH
A lot of reasons why talking about mental health is brave, is around the prevalence of stigma and discrimination. However, I think that even where that aspect is absent in a particular scenario e.g. if it’s two psychiatric service users talking, it’s still a courageous effort to talk about such difficulties.
A well known fact of human beings is the presence of a survival instinct. Which firstly, I think, highlights the argument that suicide isn’t ‘weak.’ But secondly, it is a reason why humans in general are reluctant to discuss anything which might be interpreted as them having some kind of vulnerability. So, to be open and honest about mental health is a huge sign of strength and determination. It’s a sign that a person is at a point in their life whether they have accepted that it’s the ‘best’ thing to do for them; whether that be to ask for help, to illustrate empathy for someone else, or to provide knowledge and education for others.
In acknowledging this strength and bravery, it is equally important to stress just how meaningful it is to be the person who is being spoken to. Personally, whilst I write a mental health blog and frequently talk about my experiences, I’m still kind of selective in person with who I talk to and what I disclose. I mean, there are things I would tell my Mum that I wouldn’t say to my Support Worker – and vice versa. The point should be that it is your story so you should get to control how it is shared and who it is shared with. So if a friend or relative has chosen to talk to you about their mental health, this should be seen as such an honour and a true testament to the importance and meaning of your relationship with that person.
MAKE YOURSELF AWARE OF HELPLINES & RESOURCES FOR MENTAL HEALTH
In line with the point around talking to others, it can not only be important that you familiarise yourself with helplines and supportive resources around mental health for yourself, but also for your friends and family.
You can use the 24/7 YoungMinds Textline by texting ‘YM’ to 85258. Texts are free and they’re answered by a trained volunteer and you can remain anonymous unless the volunteer believes you are at immediate risk.
For immediate help, please always call emergency services.
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