I’ve struggled with my mental health for seven years. I’ve got anorexia, and depression and anxiety. It started at school when I was 11. I don’t remember the root causes. I just started being really anxious and restricting what I ate, and hiding food. I felt so worthless and horrible. I hated the way I looked. I started self-harming, my mood was really low and it all spiralled out of control.
I didn’t understand what was going on. After a while, I thought it was normal to feel like that. It’s only recently that I’ve started realising that a lot of people suffer.
When I was 14 a friend noticed I wasn’t eating and was really withdrawn and told a teacher. I was really angry and annoyed but, looking back, I’m glad she did that because I wouldn’t have said anything. They then told my parents and I was referred to child and adolescent mental health services. I still didn’t think anything was wrong with me.
My parents were heartbroken. I can’t imagine how hard it is for them. I’ve put them through so much. I was in hospital for just under a year and they had to visit me and see me in such a distressed state. I think they found it really tough and still do.
I felt I couldn’t go out for ages. Even now, when I go on public transport I get really anxious. At its worst I used to panic, my heart beat faster and I started shaking. My thoughts would race and I would think that everyone was staring at me and that something bad was going to happen. Everything was exaggerated. Most times, I felt like I deserved self-harming. It was like a punishment for eating or going out.
There are days when I feel more optimistic about my future. Things are still hard but I’m doing a lot better than I was. Quite a few people have told me that they struggle with anxiety. It’s not fair. I know some amazing and lovely people; they don’t deserve to be going through that.
Harvey Sparrow, 16, Badsey, Worcestershire
When I started my GCSEs, my school was really pushing everyone, saying we all had to do well and work hard. I’ve always been the sort of person who is very motivated but the stress started building slowly and I couldn’t handle it. The thought of going to school made me nervous and I felt like I wasn’t good enough. It carried on and I felt a lot of sadness and hopelessness. It was awful.
I started feeling really detached from myself. I didn’t feel in control of my body. It turned out that was a type of anxiety. My stomach felt like it was churning. I’d feel sick when I knew I didn’t have a stomach virus. I lost concentration and if there was even a small doubt about me doing well, I’d lose focus. I couldn’t deal with it. It got really dark at times. I felt there was no point in me being here because I wasn’t bringing anything to the world. I wasn’t making my life any better. I had a lot of suicidal thoughts. I told my dad and we went to see the doctor. It took a few appointments for them to take me seriously.
A lot of my friends have anxiety around school. I thought everyone else was OK because people didn’t show it. Some of them lose out on sleep, some sleep way too much and some are very depressed. They don’t see a point in living. I know what it’s like. But to hear them say things like that is shocking when in my eyes they’re amazing. I guess they would have said the same thing about me. It’s a weird situation.
When I talk to my dad he says he never wants anything bad to happen to me. Now I’m in a good place, I’m like: “Why would I ever think of ever hurting myself?” I don’t want to throw my life away just because I’m in a bad place.
• In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email@example.com. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.
She wants GPs to be unable to prescribe anti-depressants to under-18s without the knowledge of their parents.
MSPs have ordered more information on whether children are prescribed anti-depressants as “the first port of call or the last port of call”.
Annette sees this as a turning point in her fight.
She said: “For me this is about the minister for mental health agreeing we have a real problem with teens and treatment and the way we treat children.
“No child should go on a first visit to a GP with depression and leave with any medication without being referred first to someone who deals with mental health.”
She wants the change for her other daughter and for her son and everyone else’s sons and daughters.
Young people contact her with similar problems: “The number of young people who have reached out to me, who I’ve spoken with and helped to get in contact with someone who can help them has helped me too.
“I’ve even had messages from people who said they were going to end their life but once reading my Facebook wall – the stuff I keep public – and watching my videos they say they can’t leave their parents in the pain I’m in.
“It’s bitter sweet – Britney’s story is saving not only her friends who knew her but also people she never knew and for me that’s a positive thing.”
Annette takes comfort in watching Britney’s friends living their lives to the full and never taking for granted what they have.
She wants to talk to as many young people as possible and get them to help each other when they have mental health issues or concerns for each other.
And at the end of the petition she named Britney’s Plea, Annette wants at the very least to see better guidelines for GPs when prescribing medication for young people.
She said: “Hopefully they will agree to bring in place new training for GP’s and I also hope they make it that no child or person is given pills on a first-ever visit to a GP.
“I want them to have to be referred and seen by a mental health professional before any treatment is given.
“If that had been in place with Britney she wouldn’t have been given those pills.”
She wants more discussion of the issues.
“I don’t want this to be the end.
“I want to be out there helping people, taking to them about mental health – about Britney.”
If you are feeling emotionally distressed and would like details of organisations which offer advice and support, click here or you can call for free, at any time, to hear recorded information on 0800 066 066
The programme, which supports parents and children where one of them is experiencing mental health problems, has helped 79 people in the past year alone.
The sessions focus on coping with mental health, parenting and “building resilience”.
Two days after her son was discharged from hospital in May, Sonja sought one-on-one support from Newport Mind.
“You’re hurting for your child and you don’t want them to go through that, you would rather take the pain away from them and go through it yourself,” she said.
“It was so distressing because that night in question I had to physically restrain him from trying to kill himself and I just didn’t know what to do other than pile him into the car and take him straight to A&E.”
Sonja, who has suffered from depression and self-harm, said she could not show how she was feeling because “I didn’t want my son to pick up on my own mental health issues”.
“The sessions with Mind started very quickly for myself, it was two days after we left hospital. The continuing support has been amazing,” she added.
She now wants to volunteer with the charity, to help other relatives facing a similar experience.
Simon Jones, head of policy and influencing at Mind Cymru, said people’s health and wellbeing can be impacted by looking after a relative with a mental health condition.
He said this can include stress, anxiety, isolation or depression.
“What we try and do is provide them with an environment where they can talk about some of the challenges they face, talk about how they’re feeling but also get advice and support from others maybe that are in the same situation as them or from our own practitioners,” Mr Jones added.
“It’s absolutely crucial that people in caring positions are seeking support and recognise when they are coming under pressure as well.”
If you are feeling emotionally distressed and would like details of organisations which offer advice and support, click here or you can call for free, at any time to hear recorded information on 0800 066 066.
At a time of year when most people are enjoying themselves there are many who cannot join in, but despite the challenges services face, help is available.
Christmas is a time for joy, celebration and bringing together family and friends to share this merriment. While taking nothing away from this much needed festivity, spare a thought for those who are less advantaged – particularly those with mental health problems.
Mental illness transcends all ages and backgrounds. Almost one in four adults have a mental illness at some point in their lives, such as stress, anxiety, depression or psychosis.
An individual’s emotional health can also have a great impact on physical health, and poor mental health can lead to problems such as alcohol and drug abuse.
And so, at a time when the rest of the nation is busy celebrating, there are many who just cannot, rather than will not, be able to do so because of their mental ill health. Indeed their inability to join in on the fun can exacerbate their isolation.
The environment we live in plays a crucial role in the genesis of mental illness. Austerity is certainly not good for mental health; it affects those in lower income brackets, and those at particular risk of mental disorders, the hardest. Public spending cuts have hit some of the most vulnerable sections of society – those in receipt of social care or on pension credits, and disabled and unemployed people.
So where might someone go, if their mental health is failing? NHS commissioning for mental health services has been nothing short of a disaster and an abject failure in many places.
But here’s the double whammy. In austere times, commissioners do not pump more money into the system; rather they tend to raid mental health budgets to plug the growing deficits in the acute hospital sector.
Despite the crucial importance of mental health services, they have always been the poor relation in any health system in general and the NHS in particular. These services, which are underfunded, demoralised and struggling with demand, are not to be seen and preferably not to be heard.
This may sound dramatic, but the reality is that there has been long-term neglect in addressing the many problems that most NHS mental services and their patients are faced with – access to timely appointments, access to local beds, services that are joined up and in one place like other NHS services are, and enough doctors and nurses in the system. The list goes on.
The scale of the mental health challenge has been underestimated. NHS England has set out its plan for achieving recommendations made in its Five Year Forward View for Mental Health (pdf) to improve mental healthcare by 2020-21. It has committed to transforming mental health services with an extra £1bn a year. Those at the coalface know this is yesterday’s money – demand is ever increasing, and the historic deficit in funding can only be addressed if politicians and senior managers can have frank conversations.
Back to Christmas then. Though this is a challenging time for those with mental illnesses, statutory and voluntary organisations are there to support these individuals and therefore it is vitally important to ask for help.
Despite the pressures on the system, services are there for those who need urgent help or are facing a crisis – the doors won’t close to them.
And for those with less serious issues, there are measures that can be taken without resorting to statutory and voluntary services. Family, friends and individuals can watch out for abnormal behaviour, such as panic attacks, and try to restore calmness by getting away from noisy, busy places and doing breathing exercises.Avoid having an argument, the tension will almost certainly ease.
Finding a place for shelter, a warm meal, and ensuring youngsters are protected are not impossible goals, though at times it might seem like that.
Depression and stress can make one unnecessarily pessimistic, although simple measures such as not indulging in alcohol and drugs or spending within means can reduce the plight of those who are not in a good place.
An uplifted spirit will bring back that joy and hope, and trigger off a feelgood factor that can be the springboard to happiness. Good mental health brings with it a whole lot of goodies in Santa’s stocking, because after all, physical fitness and wealth are meaningless without it. And let’s hope Santa has something for struggling mental health services.
A youth project which coordinates mental health services for young people in Douglas has been awarded a funding windfall.
The Rock Solid group work with teenagers and families in the east end of the city, with the aim of improving mental and physical wellbeing across the community.
They have just been granted £55,527 from the Big Lottery Fund’s Our Place initiative, which will be used to provide mental health, youth counselling and training for youngsters who benefit from the service.
Rock Solid use fashion, music and drama workshops and sports events to build self-esteem, improve physical fitness and develop new skills through accredited training.
Neil Campbell, director of Rock Solid youth project, said the secured funding would allow for specialist youth mental health counselling to be brought in to the unit when it is required.
He said: “Mental health is an increasingly vital issue for young people today.
“By providing young people in the Douglas community with local access to activities aimed at improving wellbeing and access to specialist youth counselling when required, we hope to see an improvement in mental health across the community.
“This project is an excellent example of local partners working together for the benefit of the community and I’m delighted the Big Lottery Fund have chosen to support this initiative.”
Big Lottery Fund Scotland chair Maureen McGinn said: “I am delighted that the people of Douglas will continue to benefit from Our Place funding.
“Our Place empowers local people to bring about a positive lasting difference to their neighbourhood by giving them a say on how National Lottery money is spent in their area.
“I would like to congratulate the Rock Solid Youth Project on their successful funding award, and look forward to hearing more as their project progresses.”
Rock Solid was established in 2013 and works with young people between the ages of 10 and 24.
The group recently celebrated becoming an accredited Living Wage employer.