Posted by: Postordinandy | October 9, 2014

#WorldMentalHealthDay

I have worked with children and young people for all of my career, I have children, I have depression, I have lost friends to suicide and I know people whose lives are crippled by various mental health issues….

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October 10th is “World Mental Health Day” and Young Minds has some sobering statistics about mental health and children and young people. Some of these will be familiar, others less so – but all of them should provoke a desire in us to do what we can to help.

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A few of the stats that leap out at me…

  • 1 in 10 children and young people aged 5 – 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder – that is around three children in most classes at your school, or the school your children attend.
    • I work for an Academy with around 1100 students – these statistics suggest that over 100 of them are likely to suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder…
  • As many as 1 in every 12 children and young people deliberately self-harm.
  • More than half of all adults with mental health problems were diagnosed in childhood.
    • Less than half of these were treated appropriately at the time.
  • 95% of imprisoned young offenders have a mental health disorder.
    • Many of them are struggling with more than one disorder.
  • The number of young people aged 15-16 with depression nearly doubled between the 1980s and the 2000s.
  • 6%or nearly 850,000 children and young people aged between 5-16 years have a mental disorder.
  • 3%or about 290,000 children and young people have an anxiety disorder.
  • 9% or nearly 80,000 children and young people are seriously depressed.

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I am grateful that mental health issues are slowly becoming less of a stigma, and that increasingly diagnosis and treatment is available – but I am very aware that we still have a long way to go.

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Of course, one of the biggest issues here is that mental health often fails to present itself in nice, easy to observe ways – (it is sometimes called an ‘invisible illness’). You can’t put your brain in a cast, you don’t (usually) have physical scars or ailments. People with depression can experience ‘normal’* levels of happiness quite often – my own depression is principally manifests as physical exhaustion for much of the time. External factors, pressures and/or stimuli do not always trigger or control responses, although often they have some impact.

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If someone has a car crash resulting in the need to wear a neck-brace and has a leg in plaster, people instinctively understand the need to help with doors; to allow time for healing to take place; that the individual will need to take time off to visit doctors, etc. But with mental illness, not only are the signs harder to discern, but it is all too easy for those not suffering to expect that everything is sorted once their friend or colleague seems to be better. And much, much harder for sufferers to admit that everything is not yet fine and sorted.

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Likewise, these things are hard to diagnose – for both the individual and those around them. I almost certainly had depression for a significant number of years before I admitted to myself that I was struggling. Many of the emotions I struggled with seemed to be usual teen-angst or appropriate responses to work-related or other stresses. It was only when I began to experience frequent and frankly petrifying anxiety attacks that I recognised that something ‘bigger’ was going on, and that I needed some help.

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What we need to do is keep the conversation open. I know families where mental health issues are often spoken about over the dinner table, where children and young people are encouraged to offer appropriate help to adults who struggle, and to admit where they themselves do. I have been encouraged by how many staff at my workplace, and friends elsewhere, have found the courage to admit of their own struggles when I have admitted my own. Any shame I may feel at being ‘broken’ is offset by the knowledge that I am still valued, and can bring value to others.

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The more we can say “hey, I struggle with… but I am much more than a diagnosis” or “at the moment, I struggle with… but here are some ways you can help me manage it” the better. Even healthier, the more we can ask “how are you doing?” and “you know, you can always talk to me – no judgements made”, the more chance we have of chasing the Black Dog and his friends away.

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I am not my mental health, but my mental health is a part of me. You are not your mental health – how ever strong or weak it may appear to be at the present time.

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Here is a great cartoon about invisible illnesses:

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And, as always, here is the best way of understanding and explaining depression I have ever found:

 

And, from the same author, the best advice I have ever found for those who have loved ones who live with depression:

 

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[* Yes, I know, what is normal anyway?!?]

 

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