Saturday, October 16, 2010

Are you Okay?

I am sure that most of you are aware of this, but it's Children's Week next week and this week it was Mental Health Week. Someone suggested to me that the order is wrong as it's having children that often dives you crazy and they are probably right.

The serious side to mental health awareness is one that often crosses my mind when I am talking to others and listening to what concerns them, what they are going through and what they are trying to do, alone. I have conversations with plenty of people who tell me that some days are really hard to get through, that they often have moments where they feel violently ill for no apparent reason. Where they are feeling extremely sad, or worthless. Some suffer from panic attacks in the grocery store at the checkout, having to leave a full trolley behind to get outside for some fresh air. They struggle to breath, feel a tightness in their chest and their vision wavers.

A panic attack is not as rare as you may think. Plenty of people have them, some only once or twice in their entire lives, some struggle for months, even years with them, before getting control back and moving on with their lives. The thing that strikes me about this particular disorder, particularly in my everyday life, is the amount of people who have it and don't even recognise what it is. Some GP's will actually tell patients to 'go out and get a life, forget about how you feel and embrace the good things you have'. Not very useful really. In order to 'get over' Panic Disorder you need to see a professional psychologist, or psychiatrist. Even then, it's a long process and one which has ups and downs, sometimes medication, sometimes it feels impossible and always, it's a struggle. Eventually though, you reach a point where life gets bearable, panic attacks still occur but you can control them better. Some days you forget to be afraid and just live in the moment. For many, those days become the norm and they are truly 'cured'.

Depression is not something that only middle aged men suffer from. It's affecting teenagers in much higher numbers and it's affecting more women than ever before too. It also has a 'cure'. Again there are many suffering from this mental health disorder alone and unaware that there is help available. And the help they require really works. The methods are tried and tested, they are affordable with the right person directing you and they are absolutely brilliant.

It bothers me that there appears to be so many doctors, particularly GP's, who are not encouraging these people to get the help they desperately need. Why are they only encouraging a positive attitude and not any real solutions? It's not a problem that will just go away on it's own. Yes, some anxiety is short-lived and may be centred around a particularly traumatic or overwhelming event, but if you are at the doctor, asking the questions, the answers given should be much better. They always say that they only help people who are willing to help themselves, well these people are trying to do just that.

More needs to be done in the Mental Health field during training for GP's. Someone recently mentioned that out of the 7 odd years of training, only a few months are dedicated to Mental Health. That's pretty poor. Perhaps it's not the doctors who are at fault but the system which allows them to treat patients with mental health issues but leaves them wholly unprepared to do so. There is no access to mental health treatments if you are not referred by your doctor.

The main message of Mental Health Week was to talk. Talk to your neighbour, talk to your co-worker, talk to your boss, talk to your best friend. Ask them how they are feeling. Tell them how you are feeling. Essentially, just make sure that everyone around you is okay. It's not too much to ask, it only takes a minute. It may be the one minute that encourages someone to reach out and get the help they need. So, while I know that Mental Health Week is officially near it's end, keep asking the question. It doesn't have to last for just one week every year, because God knows, none of the issues I mentioned work on a schedule.

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