Challenging the Stigma of Mental Health

The stigma that surrounds Mental Health Illnesses hangs in the air like a bad smell.

Fear of being ostracised by peers, colleagues and society in general is what drives so many sufferers underground, to keep their illnesses hidden away like it is a dirty little secret. The shame and embarrassment attached to having a mental health illness brings with it further complications for those who suffer in silence.

It is hard for people dealing with having an illness without the problems that comes from having to pretend everything is OK on a daily basis, but is there a realistic alternative out there?

The time has hardly come for me to walk down the street with “I have depression” plastered across my T-shirt and yet I live in hope that having depression will not mean the end of how I live my life. There is no fear of becoming an outcast because I am bigger than depression, I suffer with depression but it does not define me as a person.

When I started this blog I had to decide if I wanted to write anonymously or as myself, forget the moose alter ego because it is not something I hide behind to cover my identity.  I made the decision to reveal as much about me as possible because I wanted to be known as a “normal” person who suffers and for others to see that there was someone in the same situation as them. In particular I wanted to be known as a man who has depression, to be an example to other men that it is OK to speak about depression and how it makes me feel.

I am secure in myself enough to happily let people know that I was so low I wanted to kill myself, that it is not a sign of weakness that I have sat around in tears sobbing uncontrollably at my situation. I have opened myself up to ridicule, negativity and anything else hidden in Pandora’s Box in the name of breaking down some walls to help challenge the stigma of mental health.

It was important to me that I was open and honest from the start, and it is still important now. I want people to see my posts on the good days and the days when I feel low because it shows how up and down the life of a depression sufferer really is. To only post when I am in a good mood would never do justice to the real me and my feelings and I ensure that there is a balance of good days and bad when I post. Naturally it doesn’t always turn out that way but that is the intention.

Sharing my feelings and, more importantly, generating discussion on depression is my way of fighting back against the stigma. Receiving messages from strangers who reach out to me shows that there is a need for people like me who are able to express what others are feeling but are unable to say.

Don’t get me wrong I am not appointing myself as the commander of the stigma fighting army,  I am after all just one person in a community of many other bloggers who feel strongly enough to write about their illnesses, who share their own battles and all for the same cause.

The problem is that there are so many obstacles in the way, in my journey and in changing peoples view of mental health.

There are lots of celebrities out there who are using their fame to speak about mental health illnesses, Stephen Fry and Ruby Wax are particularly vocal, but I am always dubious of celebrities and their real intentions. Self promotion is a wonderful trait that exists in the celebrity world and there always seems to be a book release, a new show or something else that will earn money just around the corner when the stories of mental health are released. Or maybe that’s just the cynic in me talking.

I guess anyone famous who generates headlines talking about mental health is better than no one talking about it!

And yet there are still many hurdles that having depression will need to be overcome.

I have been out of work now for 2 years. Put yourself in the shoes of someone interview me for a job, looking down at my CV and seeing a gap of 2 years since my last job.

The first question you’re going to ask me is likely to be “why have you been out of work for so long?”

My response would be “I have been battling depression and it made me unable to work”

What is going to happen? Short of the words “NEXT!!!!” being screamed out it is likely that there will be no job offer and that is down to the stigma we face.

People are reluctant to tell their bosses or HR departments about having a mental health illness because they worry about the reaction, that they will end up being forced out of their jobs because of having told the truth and this is something that makes me feel unemployable. I would have to be honest about my depression because otherwise I would be given tasks that I would be unable to handle, that the stress of them would make me ill but by being honest I would not get the job in the first place.

I know of lots of people who have not yet “come out the closet”, a phrase borrowed from HelloSailor, and revealed their illnesses to people at work and I completely understand why they haven’t done so. But what a shame in this day and age that we are still in this situation.

So how can we tackle the stigma?

By talking about it and getting the world to stand up and take notice that the number of people with mental health illnesses is increasing all the time and that only by putting this issue more and more into the public domain are we going to be able to improve the knowledge of others.

As is usually the case until people are educated on subjects their perception of them are driven by a fear of the unknown.  Together we can show that just because someone has a mental health illness it does not mean that we are going to go on a rampage fueled by medication and drugs, that actually we are more alike than you would think.

The difference between those who judge me and I is that I had the strength to acknowledge my problems and tackle them head on, you are still hiding them in the belief that they are not there!

It will take a lot of time and lot of effort, from better people than myself, before the stigma of mental health illnesses is addressed and consigned to the past, but the sooner it happens the better for me and many other people.

All I can do in my tiny corner of the internet is to continue to do my part and spread the word. A reminder to you all that I have published a book while battling depression so if I can accomplish this then anything is possible if we allow ourselves to at least try!

 

 

 

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An Interview With The Moose

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The Moose Busy “writing” his blog

I was lucky enough today to catch the Moose hard at work on his blog, as you can see from the photo above. I had been invited to his “office” by his PA as he was willing to grant me an interview about his depression, the causes, the road to recovery and his hopes for the blog he is writing and what can be achieved as a result of it.

I was met at the station and surprised to be blindfolded and bundled into a waiting car all in the name of protecting his location so once I arrived I was delighted to meet such a charming, engaging “person” willing to expose himself (no not in that sense!) and give up his time in the interests of, in his own words, “helping to end the stigmas surround depression and other Mental Health Illnesses”.

After taking a few photographs, at his insistence – using his own camera no less!, we sat down for what started out as a little chat but soon turned into a wonderful insight into the man behind the moose!

Please sit back and enjoy the ride….

Garry: What made you realise you had depression?

Moose: I had known for some time that something was not right with me. I have had certain symptoms for a number of years without recognising what they amounted to and always managed to keep my head above water, somehow, without feeling the need to seek help from my Doctor.

These symptoms included, with a high combination of them at any one time

  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. A bleak outlook—nothing will ever get better and there’s nothing you can do to improve your situation.
  • Loss of interest in daily activities. No interest in former hobbies, pastimes, social activities, or sex. You’ve lost your ability to feel joy and pleasure.
  • Appetite or weight changes. Significant weight loss or weight gain—a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month.
  • Sleep changes. Either insomnia, especially waking in the early hours of the morning, or oversleeping (also known as hypersomnia).
  • Anger or irritability. Feeling agitated, restless, or even violent. Your tolerance level is low, your temper short, and everything and everyone gets on your nerves.
  • Loss of energy. Feeling fatigued, sluggish, and physically drained. Your whole body may feel heavy, and even small tasks are exhausting or take longer to complete.
  • Self-loathing. Strong feelings of worthlessness or guilt. You harshly criticize yourself for perceived faults and mistakes.
  • Reckless behavior. You engage in escapist behavior such as substance abuse, compulsive gambling, reckless driving, or dangerous sports.
  • Concentration problems. Trouble focusing, making decisions, or remembering things.
  • Unexplained aches and pains. An increase in physical complaints such as headaches, back pain, aching muscles, and stomach pain.

When things started getting too much for after a trigger moment I knew I had to see someone and get help.

G: “Trigger moment”? what do you mean by that?

M: I guess the easiest way to explain that is by saying it was like my “Eureka!” moment when all the pieces fell into place and made me realise that I couldn’t go on the way I was living my life.

The build up to my “trigger moment” all started after the death of my Uncle who I had cared for almost full time for the last 12 months of his life. While I was caring for him I didn’t have the time to concentrate on my own issues as he needed me to be strong for him and by the same token I enjoyed the time we spent together albeit with the unhappy ending. I say unhappy loosely because I firmly believe he is in a better place now and no longer suffering from his ailments, one of which was depression!

After he passed away I soon fell into a deep depression while battling my feelings of grief, anger and frustration and felt like I had let him down by not doing more for him. (For the record if I knew then what I know now about what sort of treatment was available to him I would still be kicking his Doctors arse 14 months later!)

Fast forward 7 months from the death of my uncle and I was at my lowest ebb and ready for a long drop from my window  to end it all! This for me was my “trigger moment”

G: So what happened next?

M: I made the important step of making an appointment to see my GP and ask him for help. I remember my first words to him like it was yesterday “I need your help, I can’t take it anymore and I’m desperate!” The words fell freely from my mouth and once the dam was breached I couldn’t stop talking (and crying!) about the years of pent-up depression and I left his office that day feeling like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
I was diagnosed as suffering from “high intensity depression” those words well a relief to me, it meant I could now start recovering!

Moose relaxing with some cake

G: So what changed after seeing your GP?

M: The biggest change for me was being able to communicate properly with someone about how I felt without worrying about being perceived as “weak” for having depression. Suddenly my wife could hear from me about my feelings, thoughts and worries and since then our marriage has gone from strength to strength.

There is a lot to be said for simply talking to someone about having depression or talking to someone who has depression! If more people spoke openly about this they would be amazed at how much it would help them. Since I no longer have to hide the fact I have depression I can focus on helping myself then , as I become stronger, helping others.

G: Is the blog part of the healing process?

M: Yes and no. The blog is like my diary where I can express myself freely and share my emotions and thoughts. It helps me to write these things down and look back over them when I am in a better frame of mind so I can learn more about myself and what causes my depression and what makes me feel better. I find it easier to write than I do to talk to others about my depression, apart from my wife of course!

G: What are you hoping to achieve from your blog?

M: Well the main objective of it is to make myself better! From there I am hoping to help other people, especially men, learn about depression, its symptoms and how it is ok to ask for help, that it is not a sign of weakness. I also hope that through reading my blog people can help their loved ones by learning more about how depression can affect people and what they could do to help them.

Moose with his friend Jess

G: So what happens now?

M: There is no set plan, as long as people are reading my blog and feel inspired by my words and experiences I will continue to write it. I intend to gain lots more followers and readers in the hope that I can help even one person then I will feel like I have accomplished something. I intend to bore my friends on Facebook into submission so that my Facebook Page gets shared around in the hope that I get more likes and therefore more readers coming to my blog.

For the first time in years I feel inspired and the creative juices are flowing helping me to recover or at least understand more about the depression that I have and what causes me to have the ups and downs! I am making myself heard in a positive light and gained a new-found respect for myself in the process. It can also be said that people have a new-found respect for me too and see me in a different light than before.

G: How can I help?

M: Giving me this platform has helped, my readers will learn more about me and hopefully they can help spread the word of my blog. The more people who read it the better chance we have of showing depression in a positive way and in turn the more people we can get talking about mental health illnesses the easier it will be to end the stigma of it. People with depression come from all walks of life it doesn’t care what riches you have or what career you have.
At least one person in every six becomes depressed in the course of their lives, that shows how many people you know could have this illness yet would you know what to do or how to help if a friend came to you and wanted to talk? This is where, hopefully, my blog can help.

A relaxed moose during our interview

And just like that the moose was gone! Back to his keyboard and desk and I was on my way back home.

I would like to point out that the moose received no money for this exclusive interview but did accept Pringle’s, Pepsi max and big red chewing gum!

I hope you liked this interview!

Garry

Related Posts:

Depression and Me

Depression 2

The Man behind the Moose

or for a complete list of all my posts so far please see Moose Tracks

Good Support Networks are Vital in Battle with Depression

Whilst trawling around the internet looking at articles on depression it occurred to me that a lot of sites all preach similar things but all of them talk about the need for a support network and talking about your problems. Something men in particular find hard to do, yes me as well until I saw the light and yes you over there reading this nodding in agreement, I can see you!

This was taken from http://www.helpguide.org/mental/depression_tips.htm which has lots of useful information but specifically regarding support.

Depression self-help tip 1: Cultivate supportive relationships

Getting the support you need plays a big role in lifting the fog of depression and keeping it away. On your own, it can be difficult to maintain perspective and sustain the effort required to beat depression. But the very nature of depression makes it difficult to reach out for help. However, isolation and loneliness make depression even worse, so maintaining your close relationships and social activities are important.

The thought of reaching out to even close family members and friends can seem overwhelming. You may feel ashamed, too exhausted to talk, or guilty for neglecting the relationship. Remind yourself that this is the depression talking. You loved ones care about you and want to help.

  • Turn to trusted friends and family members. Share what you’re going through with the people you love and trust. Ask for the help and support you need. You may have retreated from your most treasured relationships, but they can get you through this tough time.
  • Try to keep up with social activities even if you don’t feel like it. When you’re depressed, it feels more comfortable to retreat into your shell. But being around other people will make you feel less depressed.
  • Join a support group for depression. Being with others who are dealing with depression can go a long way in reducing your sense of isolation. You can also encourage each other, give and receive advice on how to cope, and share your experiences.

10 tips for reaching out and building relationships

  • Talk to one person about your feelings.
  • Help someone else by volunteering.
  • Have lunch or coffee with a friend.
  • Ask a loved one to check in with you regularly.
  • Accompany someone to the movies, a concert, or a small get-together.
  • Call or email an old friend.
  • Go for a walk with a workout buddy.
  • Schedule a weekly dinner date.
  • Meet new people by taking a class or joining a club.
  • Confide in a counselor, therapist, or clergy member.
How did reading them make you feel? would you do these if you was depressed?
I can’t turn to my immediate family to discuss my feelings and thoughts as currently I don’t speak to either of my parents, my twin brother lives miles away and my younger siblings couldn’t care less in all honesty. I can talk to my wife and I’m blessed she is so supportive BUT it wasn’t until I acknowledged I had depression and spoke to my Dr that I started confiding in her because I didn’t want to put my problems onto her which is, quite frankly, ridiculous but I can bet any men reading this who have depression but haven’t spoke to anyone about dont talk to anyone!
I even stopped doing my social activities as a result of my depression! For the past 5 years I have been coaching kids football teams but gave it up in May because I couldn’t handle it anymore!
And as for going to a support group well in all honesty I couldn’t think of anything more depressing! Funny isn’t it but I cannot see myself in a room full of depressed people talking about their problems helping me but obviously research suggests otherwise.
So out of the 3 main points in aiding your recovery from depression I managed a total of 1 at a push maybe I can give myself 0.5 for finally speaking to Sheryl.
This is where i value the virtual friends I spoke about in a previous blog https://thedepressedmoose.wordpress.com/2012/06/19/social-media/ I have spoken to some of them candidly on my feelings in the past to the extent that they know more about me than my own flesh and blood and I know what I tell them will never be used against me and be shared with others. They don’t judge me they help me and shows me how important their support is!
If you are in the same boat I was in you will know what it feels like to be isolated and think that no-one cares but you will be surprised at how much support you get and usually from the unlikeliest source and when you find the strength to acknowledge your problem your beginning to win the battle and can start on winning the war!
Its not a sign of weakness to suffer from depression nor is it a sign of weakness to ask for help!
Asking for help or even just talking to family or friends shows you have the strength to admit your only human and suffer like everyone else so please seek help if you need it! I am not ashamed to admit I cried my eyes out when I finally saw my doctor the overwhelming feeling of relief that I was not mad and could get help was too much for me and I sat in his room like a baby crying.
It was the start I needed on my journey and could be the best thing you have ever done!
Garry