Mental illness is complicated. Therefore, in this blog I am going to keep the focus on my own personal experience (after all my experience is not an opinion). The reality is that even though life has materially improved for millions of people in the United Kingdom since the 1950s, the rise of mental illness is at an all-time high. Depression, anxiety, burnout and addiction affect one in four people every year in the UK.
There is a lot more information available to the general public with respect to mental illness and mental health care, which has helped to lift some of the stigma historically attached to this but there can still be a lot of shame associated with being labelled "mentally ill". There remains a widespread fear in the workplace that by seeking help for any kind of mental or emotional illness, one is vulnerable to being labelled as "unstable", "unreliable" or "weak" (particularly in the financial sector) and therefore not fit for the job.
As a young teenager I remember only too well the sense of isolation I felt living with chronic undetected anxiety and depression, while at the same time trying to manage my drug and alcohol dependency and lacking the vocabulary to express how I was truly feeling. Some days were so bad that I could not get out of bed. I often used cocaine to jolt my system but the come-downs were awful. Other days I was riddled with anxiety and so, I used marijuana to "calm me down", which often backfired and created violent panic attacks. I used all sorts of mind and mood altering substances (MDMA, marijuana) for medicinal purposes. The most effective way for me to deal with my unmanageable emotions was to medicate with alcohol. I was afraid of going to see my doctor while attending high school and to confess my substance addiction for fear of him suggesting that I stay abstinent. Back then, I could not contemplate the thought of quitting drinking or using drugs, let alone process my frozen grief and childhood trauma.
Although I did not ever cut myself, my high school friends and I used to burn each others hands with flames and press hot metal rims on clipper lighters under the guise of "being able to take pain". However, in hindsight burning hot metal onto our hands was a way to alter our emotional suffering by creating a physical pain. This is another form of self-harm that often goes undetected amongst young boys.
Although I went to see a psychologist I did not get the emotional relief I was craving. I knew that something was not quite right in my mind. My cognitive ability was limited at the time, although the creative part of my brain was able to function quite well. The only thing that stopped me from taking my own life in high school was my previous passion and love for music. Had I not had music to fall back on, as a DJ, and knowing that I could barely sit still in a class room without causing conflict with a school teacher and other students, suicidal thoughts could have led me to take devastating action. Tragically, many young boys and men do take their own lives and again, the rate of suicide in this demographic is rising at an alarming rate. According to the Mental Health Foundation, "Suicide and self-harm are not mental health problems themselves, but they are linked with mental distress." The foundation points out that, "Between 2003 and 2013, 18,220 people with mental health problems took their own life in the UK." The foundation continues, "Suicide is the most common cause of death for men aged 20-49 years in England and Wales."
The only other time I felt suicidal after my teens was in my early twenties three years into my substance abuse recovery (three years clean and sober) when I left the music industry and did not know how to grieve this major loss. Also, much of the suppressed emotional pain stored in my body came up to the surface rapidly and all at once. It was like my inner world was having an earthquake. The combination of losing a career I previously loved and being exposed to raw suppressed trauma took me off guard. Luckily I was a member of several brilliant support groups and I had a handful of friends who were amazing therapists who supported me during a difficult time.
Today at thirty three years of age, my mental health is "good enough". Last year (2016) was an emotionally difficult time as a result of processing more frozen grief, but luckily I had no suicidal thoughts, which shows me that my mental and emotional health has improved. I still have to be mindful every day and I emotionally live one day a time (especially regarding my addictive personality). The crucial factor that saved my life was asking for help. If a person suffering in silence can reach out and ask for help, their life can change dramatically.
Christopher Dines' new book, "The Kindness Habit: Transforming our Relationship to Addictive Behaviours," co-authored with Dr Barbara Mariposa is out now.
Useful websites and helplines:
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Rethink Mental Illness advice and information service is open 9:30 - 4pm Monday - Friday - 0300 5000 927. They have over 100 factsheets with easy to understand information on a variety of issues related to mental health
- CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) is a registered charity, which exists to prevent male suicide in the UK. Call 0800 58 58 58 or visit thecalmzone.net
- The Mix is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- HopeLine runs a confidential advice helpline if you are a young person at risk of suicide or are worried about a young person at risk of suicide. Mon-Fri 10-5pm and 7pm-10pm. Weekends 2pm-5pm on 0800 068 41 41