Reflections Of A Troubled Mind
You may have seen the statistic that mental health illness will affect approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK at some point in our lives (1).
Mental health illness is a broad term. It covers an array of issues from very serious psychiatric disorders, to troubling psychological illnesses. Whatever the name attached to the condition, for the sufferer, and for those around them, the impact can be huge. Some instances are triggered by difficult life events, and may be managed during the time, with the sufferer ultimately making a full recovery. Other illnesses remain with the sufferer for life, and might need constant medication and management to enable the sufferer to live as balanced a life as possible.
Many mental health illnesses are very misunderstood. The lack of (obvious) physical manifestations means the illness often remains hidden to the casual observer. Terms linked to mental health are used as throwaway phrases; "you must be crazy to do that", "I'm a bit OCD when it comes to organising things", "she's mental when she's not had enough sleep", "he's a bit bipolar with his moods".
Some people (and organisations) pass judgement on those who suffer with mental health issues. They see them as in some way weak, unable to "snap out of it" or "pull their socks up". A broken bone or sprained joint will clear up in time. With a suitable treatment plan, the patient should return to (more or less) full health. Mental health illnesses harm our psychological wellbeing, and can create physical symptoms, but not usually ones which require bandages or plaster casts. The illness can strike the sufferer so low that they cannot get out of bed for days.
Mental health at home or in the workplace can be a real challenge to manage. Sometimes the smallest straw can break the camel's back, and this makes it even more difficult for observers to understand. How can somebody who had perhaps seemed a bit anxious or stressed suddenly plunge into a full mental health breakdown?
Mental health illness is another cause which is very close to my heart. I have experienced it both in myself and in others that I am close to. I had a nervous breakdown when I was nineteen. It was terrifying at the time, and as well as receiving regular medical care, I spent a short while in a specialist hospital being monitored and assessed. The mental and physical symptoms of the breakdown made living very difficult. I was subsequently diagnosed with depression and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I remained in and out of medical care for the next few years, while putting my energy into my career. I reached Director level in a sector which I had aspired to since I was at school. I pushed so hard I ignored the warning signs. My second nervous breakdown hit me in 2013. Not just my career, but my entire life seemed to fold in on itself. I was diagnosed with bipolar ii disorder. The breakdown was so severe that I had to leave my career in order to focus on staying alive. Thanks to the care of so many health care professionals, and incredible support from my husband, my family, and some very close friends, I am still here. I fight on.
My experiences led me to begin volunteering with Swindon and Gloucestershire Mind. I was subsequently voted onto the Board of Trustees, and am currently the Chair of Trustees. Through the charity, I have trained as a Mental Health First Aider. Businesses around the country are increasingly picking up on this valuable training, and placing it on an equal footing to physical first aid.
Reflections of a Trouble Mind is a set of photographs I have created over the last few years, which I use to try to explain some of the feelings and circumstances which might be encountered by those experiencing mental health difficulties. A selection of these pictures were chosen for display as part of the first Swindon Wellbeing and Arts Festival in February 2019.
(1) McManus, S., Meltzer, H., Brugha, T. S., Bebbington, P. E., & Jenkins, R. (2009). Adult psychiatric morbidity in England, 2007: results of a household survey. The NHS Information Centre for health and social care.