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Three men speak about their fight with mental illness on World Mental Health Day

October 10, 2017 2:37 PM
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Three men speak about their fight with mental illness on World Mental Health Day

An exclusive survey for WalesOnline has shown that two thirds of people describe mental health services as 'poor' or 'very poor'

One in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem in their lives - it could be an acquaintance, the person sitting next to you or it could be you.

As part of World Mental Health Day, we're publishing a series of articles about mental health.

Today, we start by interviewing three men who have suffered mental health problems.

And we have exclusive findings from a survey of WalesOnline readers who reveal how little faith they have in mental health services in Wales.

We found two thirds of people describe mental health services as 'poor' or 'very poor'.

Here, three men share their stories of depression and reveal why they felt inspired to speak out.

I’ve been put on various medication, suffered many (and strenuous) side-effects and spoken to many mental health professionals.

I’ve been doing this while trying to maintain a full-time career and keeping it from my family and friends.

Many people who know me personally would never think I suffer from depression. I come across as outgoing and confident.

What they don’t see is me when I’m on my own struggling to get up for work, they don’t see me close all my windows and curtains in my house and spend my weekends in complete darkness.

They don’t see me awake at night up all hours because my head is completely tangled.

I’ve lost so many relationships through this terrible condition, in some cases I’ve turned to alcohol and ended up ruining work and personal relationships.

There is still a stigma attached to depression, especially males (for some reason) – I’ve had a response from a family member before to 'just get on with it'.

This just goes to show that people still don’t know the severity of depression. I’ve finally had the courage to talk to people about mental health and depression and how it has affected me.

I’ve tried to hide it for so long but now I find it much easier to talk to people openly and finally be honest with myself. I feel so much better in myself and find it so much easier to build relationships with other people.

I’m trying to focus on being a good example and making a positive difference to people’s lives.”

“Having depression nearly cost me my life. I was a normal guy, pretty active and very sociable.

It all started about four years ago. I had to stop playing rugby, stop my rowing and stopped going out.

Eventually all I had was my work, the only piece of my life that I held onto.

I got to such a low point in my life that I felt I had to rid the world of my whole existence.

While I was stuck in this rut, I was so fixated on the idea that I wanted to kill myself that I very nearly went through with it.

But recently I’ve seen more men highlighting this stigma of struggling with mental illnesses.

They’re men like myself who have been through dark times – and since then I didn’t feel so alone in my dark mental state.

In fact after reading about other people’s stories I have started to feel empowered. I was inspired. These men made a difference in their lives so why can’t I?

Today I have counselling, I have been under medical care and finally started moving forward!

Of course I’ve still got a long way to go but things are getting easier.”

“On the surface I look like any other normal guy. I enjoy going out, watching sports, having tattoos and keeping myself healthy.

But during my bad days I would shut my family and friends out by not answering phone calls and texts.

I found myself wanting to stay away from people and becoming increasingly withdrawn.

I became highly secretive of my depression. The only way I could make myself feel better was to go out and drink all weekend, then feel even worse the following Monday until it was Saturday again and do it all over again. This became a continuous cycle.

If I had a bad throat I would Google my symptoms and convince myself that I had cancer.

I was always back and forth to the doctors, but no matter what they said I always believed in my own mind.

The day after Boxing Day I decided I’d had enough. I got in my car in floods of tears and drove to the cemetery to visit my grandfather’s grave.

As I pulled up my dad was putting down flowers and saw the state I was in.

I got out of my car and broke down in front of him. I told him how I was feeling and that I couldn’t go on any longer.

We went for food and I immediately felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

I wanted to get something out there which men and women could relate to, so I set up a website called Brotectors.

It’s a place for people to think ‘I’m not alone – I can get through this and I will get through this’. It’s changed my life.”

Hundreds of people were asked to complete an online survey which asked for their opinions on the state of mental health provision across the country.

In contrast, just 25 (5.09%) people said their experiences of mental health services were “very good”.

Nearly three quarters of respondents said they felt mental health services did not have “parity of esteem” with physical health.

Sara Moseley, director of Mind Cymru, said: “These survey results show that mental health problems are a part of life, either directly or indirectly, for the vast majority of people in Wales. We are talking about mental health more, which is very important.

“There are lots of good policy initiatives but people are telling us there needs to be a breakthrough in terms of accessing services when they need them.

“The big challenge for Wales is to make that link between good intentions and a change in people’s experiences, wherever they are in Wales.”

The majority of people who took the survey – 489 out of 493 – either had experienced mental health problems first-hand or had a family member with a related condition.

Positively, 73.91% of respondents with a mental health problem had accessed some form of support – and just 4.57% had kept their mental health condition to themselves.

The most common way of managing and improving their mental wellbeing was through sport.

But worryingly, more than half (55.51%) said they had experienced stigma or discrimination because of their illness.

Alun Thomas, chief executive of mental health charity Hafal, said: “Hafal is led by its members – people directly affected by a mental illness – so we are keenly aware of the state of services in Wales. Our experience is that mental health services vary considerably across Wales in availability and quality.

“Mental health is often called the ‘Cinderella service’ because of the small proportion of funding it receives in comparison to physical health. We need parity of funding.

“We are also witnessing the impact of austerity on local authorities and their budgets, with a huge increase in demand on local mental health services which are struggling to cope.

“We need local authorities to reinstate funding of specialist mental health services to relieve this pressure.”

The National Centre for Mental Health (NCMH) brings together world-leading researchers from Cardiff, Swansea and Bangor universities to learn more about the triggers and causes of mental health problems.

It recruits thousands of volunteers with mental health experiences who work with researchers in a bid to better understand certain conditions.

Professor Ian Jones, NCMH director, said: “Mental illness affects one in four of us each year, and while everyone’s experience is different, the impact on our lives can be devastating.

“I strongly support the call for treating mental and physical health equally, and part of that has to be about increased funding and better access to talking therapies.

“However, we must also recognise the importance of research – if we’re able to understand the underlying causes of mental health problems we will be in a better position to develop better treatments for the future.”

Since 2013, 147,000 people have been seen by local primary mental health support services, with around half receiving interventions.

According to the latest figures, 80% of therapeutic interventions are currently started within 28 days of assessment.

The Welsh Government said supporting people with mental health is one of its “top priorities”.

A spokesman said: “We continue to spend more on mental health services than on any other part of the Welsh NHS, with funding increasing by £20m to over £629m this financial year.

“Over the last two financial years, we have announced over £22m of new funding for mental health services. This includes a £3m investment in psychological therapies for adults.”

Parity of esteem (mental health seen as just as important as physical health) – 74.65% (368)

Answers: I have accessed mental health support through my job – 26.55% (103)

I enjoy my job and it helps me think clearly/keeps my mind clear – 40.21% (156)

For confidential support, the Samaritans can be contacted for free around the clock 365 days a year on 116 123.

Source: walesonline.co.uk

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