Physical Disability & Mental Health

Hi everyone,

So, here’s my next blog. I’m going to talk about a subject that I’m very passionate about. It’s an area I have worked in previously, an area I continue to work in occasionally, and an area I’d like to get more involved with in the future. It’s also a topic that, from my experience, most people have struggled to talk openly about. It’s Mental Health.

Our mental health is SO important. It’s as important – if not more important – than our physical health and is something we ALL have. How many of you have felt like you’ve had a REALLY bad day? What about a really good day? Ever felt anxious about things you have to do at work, or exams you’ve had to take at school? All of those things involve our mental health. Most of us will experience these things very regularly. So, why don’t we talk about it? Why is it so taboo to say “actually, I’m not feeling so good today”?

1 in 4 adults and 1 in 10 young people will experience some form of mental health issue at any one time in their lives. Yes, those are the statistics (see the Time to Change website for more details, links to follow at the end of this blog). So, why is there still, in 2015, so much stigma surrounding talking about mental health problems and saying if you’re feeling depressed or anxious? The more we talk about it, the more we can try and challenge that stigma. This is why I’ve decided to share my experience of mental health problems with you now.

*and breathe* (see, the stigma is still there, I’m nervous about writing this, and especially nervous for my family to read this, anyway…Here goes)

Right, well. I’d say I realised I have mental health issues aged 19, in my second year of university, following the break up of a relationship. It was awful: I was crying constantly, I didn’t want to eat, I couldn’t sleep, I certainly didn’t want to socialise. Now, as a psychology student, I could only bury my head in the sand for a short time. After reading the text books & writing the essays, I was pretty sure I was depressed. So I booked an appointment with the GP.

I was diagnosed with depression and the doctor prescribed anti-depressants. Initially, I felt worse and debated stopping taking them, but after about a month, they started to take the edge off. I started to feel human again. Following a number of difficult life events since then, I still take anti-depressants now (though I’m on my third different type), and I finally feel human again. In my opinion, they definitely keep me ‘stable’.

Anyway, I was 19 when I first admitted I had a problem, but if you ask my close friends and family (and probably myself, if I’m truly honest) my mental health issues began much earlier, when I started high school (aged 11), following a stay in hospital after a major hip operation.

Now, this is where my physical disability comes in. I wouldn’t have needed the aforementioned hip operation had I not had a physical disability (Cerebral Palsy, AKA. CP). As I grew, my left hip grew out of its socket and I needed an operation (and the insertion of a metal plate) to put it back into place.

The operation was a success. Years later (aged 16) I had the metal plate removed, and today my hip is totally fine (*touches wood*). So thankfully, as I type this, my mental health and physical health are stable (CP is not a degenerative condition, it won’t get majorly worse as I get older, as some physical disabilities do).

As you can imagine, it has taken me a long time (and a lot of soul searching) to get to this point. I owe so so much to my closest friends. I hope they read this and know who they are (they should do). Secondly, thank you SO much to my family, particularly my parents and my Nan, who have had to (and still have to) put up with so much c**p from me over the years, but continue to love and support me through the good, and not-so-good times. I honestly would not be in such a positive place now without you all.

It’s only now that I understand, or at least properly realise, how much of an impact on my mental health my physical disability has had and continues to have. As I grow up, there’s the usual worries about moving out, getting my own place, and whether I will start a family; with the added worry of will I be able to employ a suitable carer, will I be able to buy an accessible house/flat, and will I find a partner who will honestly, unconditionally put up with the challenges of living & being with someone who has a physical disability?

When I was younger I had a lot of support and meetings about how to look after myself physically: “do these exercises”, “wear these special shoes”, “you might want to consider this operation”. However, there was no support around ‘Oh, you have to use a wheelchair, you’re not ‘the same’ as the majority of your peers and that must be tough’. In fact, from what I remember, the difficulty surrounding this was not addressed at all. Don’t you think it should be? I certainly do! And I REALLY hope young wheelchair users these days are given the option of some kind of mental support for the struggles they might face, because as soon as puberty and hormones kick in, life gets a whole lot tougher.

I can’t speak for them, but I don’t think my parents received any support for how to care for a physically disabled child either. That also must have been really tough: it’s certainly not what they signed up for, I can assure you. I always hear pregnant ladies say “as long as it’s healthy, I don’t care what it is”. So many people don’t get that luxury. Where is the support and advice? I do, however, think these support groups are more common now, 25 years after I was born. I’m glad. But as far as I know, there’s still very minimal support from disabled children and how to deal with how much it can suck at times.

Shouldn’t we live in a world where we have some kind of provision for this now? Even if kids in wheelchairs just get a single letter or phone call from an older person with the same disability that they have (I know, their experiences won’t be the same, but hopefully they won’t feel so alone and they would be able to talk to somebody who has a slight idea what they’re going through). I’d certainly be up for doing this. Maybe I’ll put the idea forward to my local MP, maybe even the PM, who knows…

These days, I have completed my undergraduate degree, and as you may be aware from my first blog, I am currently studying a postgraduate course in Integrative Psychotherapy. It is definitely my own experience of mental health problems that have led me to pursue a career in one of the helping professions. If I can make even just the slightest difference to just one person, I will have done my job.

I still work occasionally for the Mental Health charities Time to Change and Rethink Mental Illness as a Co-Trainer. I have been into schools to deliver my personal testimony about my mental health issues and the stigma I have experienced, alongside one of the charity workers who’ll show fancy films and deliver all the stats. Our aim is to get more people talking about mental health (even if it’s just asking somebody how they are and actually listening to their answer) with a hope to reduce the stigma around it. I feel it’s so important to deliver this message in schools as it will be the next generation who could really make a difference, and make the subject of mental health a little less taboo.

I really hope so anyway.

If you take one thing from this blog, I want it to be that of course, having a physical disability will affect your mental health. However, if you tell someone, you can get help and support. People can help you. Therapy has certainly helped me. It’s tough, but it can be managed and you can live a ‘normal’ life (whatever that means).

If you read this far, thank you so much. I hope it has given you some food for thought; encouraged you to take some time out to look after your own mental health; and you may have even learned something…Maybe.

Take Care,

Louise

*And breathe Again*
P.S. as promised, here are some mental health links that I find helpful:

http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/

http://www.rethink.org/

http://www.mind.org.uk

http://www.samaritans.org

http://www.scope.org.uk

http://www.b-eat.co.uk

http://www.anxietyuk.org.uk

http://www.bipolaruk.org.uk

http://www.bpdworld.org

Healthy Minds

Depression Alliance

OCD Action

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