Tag: Eleanor Segall

Talking About Mental Health: The Brave Thing To Do

Though I initially wondered if the campaign team for Children’s Mental Health Week meant ‘Find your courage’  instead of ‘Find your brave’ for this year’s theme (my brain was stuck on nouns instead of thinking outside of the box), I am truly struck by the depth of the words.

The phrase really does create an opportunity to not only step up to the plate in a big situation,  but to do so in what might seem the smallest of matters, too, like, for example, acknowledging that something isn’t right mentally and emotionally and then talking to a trusted person about it.

For instance, as a teenager when I might have somehow been left out of a circle,  whether it was intentional or not, I felt quite upset about it but kept it all inside and in hindsight, I can now see how keeping quiet might have impacted my self-worth, my emotional health, putting a blight on my teen experiences. 

Still, to express my feelings about what seemed a small matter was a tall order. Quite frankly, it’s a tall order even for an adult sometimes, let alone for a child. Situations can be misunderstood and misconstrued, making matters worse. No wonder so many people keep quiet. No one wants to be chastised or isolated.

For me, this low keyed approached lasted well until a few years ago. Only after I was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), that I opened up about my own mental health. Sure, I was quick to see the problems of others, but I found it extremely difficult to see my own issues and talk about them, no matter how small or large.

For instance, while caring for my mother, who had a long-term illness, I often felt beyond depressed and so emotionally tired that I could feel it deep within my bones. I just made it a norm and kept it all in. Reflecting, I wonder if unmanaged grief, along with other stresses, led to GAD.

But with the diagnosis I began to see mental health for what it really is—equally as important and urgent as physical health.  In our latest podcast Series 3: Episode 6 – On Social Anxiety, Claire Eastham talks about the importance of understanding this and getting a diagnosis but as her own story shows,  getting help is not always straight forward.  It is often not only the individual suffering, who might be in denial, but also those around might dismiss the problem or misunderstand it, too.

For example, people with social anxiety are often confused as shy or eccentric, so no wonder they find it difficult to acknowledge or talk about the issue. Furthermore, being pigeonholed or ostracised can have a major impact on self-esteem, robbing the sufferer of the confidence to talk about the condition.

That was certainly my experience as a teenager and when caring for my mother. In the podcast, Claire has some brilliant tips on dealing with social anxiety specifically and one of them is to remember that it isn’t your fault. This tip lends itself to all mental health issues. Understanding this might lead to the willingness to rethink the issue and reach out for help.

Finding the nerves to say something that needs to be said is very much about finding your brave.  What a powerful theme for all of us–adults, teenagers and children alike.

For more resources on mental health, check out our other related podcasts as well: Series 1: Episode 6 – Your Mind Inside Out and Series 2: Episode 2 – On Undiagnosed Mental Illness. Listen to UIO wherever you listen to podcasts or subscribe to our rss feed.

Accessing Your Power Toolkit In the Eye Of A Storm

If I could magically make all hurricanes, cyclones, tropical storms, tsunamis disappear, I would do so instantly, and I am sure I’m not the only one. With an onslaught of activity pre-season and during season, I am feeling a bit frazzled to be honest.

Last night as Hurricane Michael battered the very city where my father and all of my sisters and most of my nieces and nephews reside as well as many relatives, I felt anxiety get its grip on me. Having been in touch with my father via FaceTime until the lights went out literally, I quickly gave into the dreaded anxiety.

But instead of remembering that it all starts with a menacing thought, I just kept on thinking and second guessing whether my family would be safe or not, whether Albany, Georgia, would even be a city by morning. Thankfully I only focused on one city, though you might say this was selfish thinking, when so many lives were and still are at risk. But let’s face it, I am only human, and it was this focus that kept me from a complete melt down. Imagine if I had thought the Florida panhandle, Southwest Georgia and so on would be totally ruined, how my night might have gone. It could have been worse.

Make no mistake about it, it was bad. After a bit of frustration with the delayed progress of CNN and The National Weather Channel, I happened upon the local television station—WALB. Viola! At last I received consistent communications and interestingly my thoughts begin to calm down. It was in this instance that I, from the outside, could see how bad the storm, if you will, actually was and could then send my family, who are held up in secure areas of their houses, text messages telling them that though the Hurricane was still dangerous, it had gone from category four to three and then to two.

And when I got a few pings back, I had a big sigh of relief but not quite big enough. But it was enough relief to access my power tools for abating anxiety, which was well on its way to panic. The first tool for me happens to be prayer and it works a jewel but to be able to pray peacefully and mindfully, I have to do a bit of practical preparation, which leads to the second tool—shutting down my devices. How very practical.

You might remember in Your Online Wellbeing Inside Out that guest Nicola Morgan suggests signing off at least one hour and thirty minutes before going to bed even in the best times. And here I was in the worst of time, glued to WALB on my iPad. It was nearly 2 a.m.

So, I sent the last text to Daddy and sibs and off the devices went but admittedly, I did stash them nearby instead of in another room as advised. Then I commenced to prepare my mind. In our latest podcast, Rising Above Odds, Hannilee Fish talks about the importance of mindfulness, staying in the moment. So tactfully and gently I reminded myself that I was in London, England, in my bed and not in Albany, Ga, and none of these horrible things that I feared had actually happened.

And only then did I remember a hot tip from Eleanor Segall, our guest, from our second podcast, On Undiagnosed Mental Illness—talk to someone, don’t keep the stress bottled up. I looked over at Paul, who seemed asleep and decided against talking to him, so I talked to God. Good idea and found myself being grateful for the strength to support my family during a stormy time and the actual mental and physical capacity to take care of myself. Off to sleep I went if only for a couple of hours.

As I reflect upon the episodic night, I am so grateful to the women of UIO for sharing their experiences, the good and the bad. What a wonderful tool box to go to in the time of need. So glad I had it not only at my finger-tips but in my thoughts, too.

And the biggest lesson I learned had to do with managing me when I had no control of managing Hurricane Michael, precisely the tip from Cat Williams, guest of our next podcast coming up in late October, On Dating Inside Out. Author of Stay Calm and Content No Matter What Life Throws At You, Cat knows a thing or two about keeping cool in the eye of a storm, okay so I wasn’t in the eye, but it sure felt like it. Stay tuned!

Lifting the Cloud of Stigmas Over Mental Illness

As a teen I remember knowing of a woman in the community who had some type of mental illness, specifically what I don’t recall ever being told. However, her illness was evident in the way she walked around in a muddle, sometimes ambling along and talking to herself. Hardly ever did I see her engage with anyone or anyone try to engage with her. The spoken or unspoken word was that she was crazy and that was the sum total of it.

At the risk of judging, I don’t remember anyone openly talking about what that actually meant and trying to help, but I do remember that she was stigmatised. Admittedly, she was sometimes treated with compassion but to my mind it was an alienated concern, if you will.

And although so many people are coming out of the closet nowadays to discuss mental and emotional health, hurray, I think there is still quite a bit of work to do to lift the cloud of varied stigmas hovering over mental and emotional health problems in some particular groups and communities.

In my own experiences two of the communities that I belong to—the Christian and black American community—are making strides when it comes to managing mental and emotional health problems but there is still room for improvement.  People such as Derrick Hollie, President of Reaching America, are sharing their own experience in hopes of eliminating the stigmas and saving more lives. His father committed suicide at age 49.

Sadly, his story is not an isolated one. Over the last couple of years, the stories of young black men taking their own lives have seemingly escalated. In the area where I grew up, I have heard of three unrelated cases. And other cases of teen girls who have self-harmed or attempted suicide as well.

And while I know that emotional and mental health issues are human problems, not exclusive to the groups and communities mentioned here, there might be common denominators as to why certain people are slow to get help, though like all the other humans, they are inherently prone to mental and emotional health issues.

As mentioned above, stigmas are one barrier. People don’t want to be alienated or isolated or stereotyped, so they maintain that they are well and their emotional and mental problems become a part of their norms, not only impacting them but their family and friends, too.  And the downward spiral continues. In suggesting help a time or two for people who are really dealing with heavy problems, living in unreasonable situations, the response is often “I am not crazy” and as in the article mentioned above, their religious beliefs, which are meant to be helpful, can sadly hinder healing.

First, owning a mental or emotional health problem is not about internalising stigmas and as for prayer, I pray about nearly everything as I end UIO podcasts with a simple prayer. I firmly believe in its power to shift thinking, to open doors that feel firmly closed, including state of mind. But I don’t think prayer or religious beliefs should be used as a crutch or an excuse to lead a mentally unhealthy life.

Another impediment to seeking help might be denial. I function in my job and family, so I can’t be mentally or emotional unwell. Surprise, surprise, emotional and mental health issues come in varied forms—everyone doesn’t have manic depression or schizophrenia, diagnosed or undiagnosed, that puts them out of work.  Admittedly, however, one’s ability to function optimally is likely to be impacted, no matter what the problem. Though I have had health anxiety for years and at least once had to leave work without my supervisor’s permission., it was not taken seriously. Though my boss was compassionate, others coined me a prima donna.

Back then my health anxiety, as it was when I was a teenager, was called hypochondria, a term full of stigmas. In short, it suggests  ‘you’ve made the whole thing up.’  It wasn’t until I started to have full blown panic attacks a year or so ago, perhaps after my mother’s death, that I was diagnosed with health anxiety. Unbelievable how real the physical symptoms are and how the mind takes over. But knowing the real deal helps me to cope and manage the situation. And I don’t care if I ever hear the word hypochondriac again. It is misleading.

Finally, yet another hindrance might have to do with resources. Particularly in small towns or villages, you might find it hard enough wading through the stigmas and accepting that there might be a problem in the first place, but if there is no help on the horizon, you might say why bother. The short answer is: it is the difference between being healthy and unhealthy.

Nowadays there are trusted resources online to begin with, which might offer referrals. Note that I am not promoting self-diagnosis and self-treatment but here is what I am saying: when something is not right mentally and emotionally, get help as you would for a physical problem. A tall order perhaps for a teen girl but not impossible. Resources include parents and guardians, teachers and coaches and peers. And remember that treatment is individual, as it is  with a physical illness.  Anti-depressants, for example, are not necessarily right for everyone. I declined. But for others, they provide a reasonable solution under a physician’s care.

It is all about lifting the stigmas and finding the way to healthier thinking, healthier living. It’s all about you inside out. Stay Tuned for UIO: Coping with Undiagnosed Mental Illness with journalist and mental health campaigner Eleanor Segall, coming this autumn.