Seeking support is one of the biggest steps towards recovery
Finding an outlet to express your worries, symptoms and fears can be a life-saver. Working out the right option for you can be daunting, at a time when you may have little energy and patience, so in this blog I explore the support options out there, both professional and self-help, and some pointers to help you navigate them. But essentials first:
For emergency medical attention…
Please go to your local A&E, get a GP emergency appointment, or call 999
Suicide prevention and support:
A journey of discovery
There are no right or wrong answers, you’re on a journey of discovery, with plenty of ups and downs, that only you can take. You’ll need to dig deep, especially when you come up against unhelpful processes and, yes, sometimes unhelpful people. But we’re all more courageous than we think we are and it’s not a journey you should have to make alone.
If you’re not quite ready to dive in, why not take a look at my blog Taking that first step to finding support, or have a read about….
Calling the Samaritans – Hattie Gladwell’s experience
You may have thought that the Samaritans isn’t for someone like you, well ANYONE can call, you don’t have to be at crisis point, though lots of people are, they’re there to listen and that small act, absolutely saves lives.
I learned that they are made up of volunteers who really care about mental health, and that they’re there for you 24/7 with no time limits on calls. I also found that they are not there to offer information or advice. They cannot tell you what to do. What they are there for is to listen. Simply listen. I knew that’s what I needed. What happened when I called the Samaritans – Hattie Gladwell
Are you supporting someone else?
Your practical support to enable them to access a service could play a vital part role – if enrolling on an anxiety support workshop required a telephone consultation, but if someone’s anxiety involves using the phone, it’s not going to be an easy start! As a supporter, you can offer to be with them, or make the call for them, or even drive them there so they can explain in person that there needs to be flexibility to these processes. I’m pleased to report in this real case the individual was enrolled after a face-to-face meeting because of the support of a partner.
The official first port of call – visiting your GP
Understanding your symptoms
All the expert advice says to visit your GP in the first instance, and I’ll share some reasons why that can be a good idea, whilst being realistic about the challenges and that this is likely to only be one part of the recovery jigsaw.
The gold standard is a thoughtful GP who not only listens but explores possible reasons for your symptoms, rather than one who just starts writing a prescription for anti-depressants before hearing your story. In the google age, we’re quick to self-diagnose, but a good GP might dig a little deeper, or you could ask them to consider:
- Could your symptoms be side effects from other medication you’re taking?
- Might there be a medical condition at the root of the symptoms that needs ruling out?
- Sometimes it could even be something as basic as a vitamin or mineral deficiency such as B12 or Vitamin D – ask for tests
- And one for the women – are you going through the menopause? I’m hearing all sorts of stories about prescribing of anti-depressants and symptoms turn out to be connected with the hormone changes. I met Nicki Williams at the Wellbeing@Work conference and this is exactly what happened to her. Check out her book It’s not you it’s your hormones
A gateway to free therapy and complex referrals
Your GP can give you access to talking therapies, this is the premise of the IAPT (Adult Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) programme, though there might be a wait. While you can find details of services available locally by typing in your postcode on the NHS choices website, the information isn’t always comprehensive so you might be better checking directly at your local surgery. Online therapy is an option too, here’s an example of IESO online talking therapy if you live in Surrey
Your GP is always the gateway for referral to NHS psychiatrists and the Community Mental Health Team for more complex mental health issues, that’s a whole other area I won’t get into. I’ll leave it to the experts MIND to help you with…
Overcoming some barriers accessing your GP
MIND has invaluable information in their user friendly guide Seeking Help for a mental health problem it also has advice for carers and more complicated areas such as what if your rights are restricted and when you might need an advocate.
Preparing for your GP appointment
Even if you have the luxury of a double appointment, time is short and it may be difficult for you to express on the spot the full story of why you’ve come. It’s well worth preparing if you can, here’s a handy guide and video from MIND Find the Words
We want everyone with a mental health problem who visits their GP practice to get the support that best suits their needs…around one third of all GP appointments are related to mental health. However, it’s not always easy having that first conversation about your deepest feelings with your GP, someone you may hardly know – Find the Words campaign
Overall it seems the service is under incredible strain and individual GPs seem more or less confident in this area and aren’t necessarily keeping up-to-date with all the services and options available, for a range of reasons. After hearing that my local surgery weren’t mentioning support groups and a local safe haven offered by my local mental health charity, I physically dropped off a box of leaflets and talked to the reception desk.
So don’t rely on one visit with one GP if you don’t find it helpful, visit another one and keep researching what’s out there.
Employer Assistance programmes – tap into this under-used resource
Maybe you were vaguely aware you have access to an EAP, but had forgotten, or are worried about confidentiality or you didn’t realise the range of issues that they can help with: from financial planning to gambling, stress, grief, relationship issues, suicidal thoughts….the list goes on. Whatever the reason, EAPs are not as well used as they could be, so why not give it a go. As well as phone lines, there is plenty of online information and signposting as well as face-to-face counselling that can be arranged. It can be an excellent starting point and companies only ever receive statistical, anonymous information so it remains entirely private.
My advice to any employers out there, promote it as part of your onboarding process (from recruitment to probation) and then keep on promoting by linking it, where appropriate, your general communications and make sure it’s easy to find on your intranet.
Local support groups enable you to self-refer
The value of local support group is that it is so easy to self-refer and you can meet others and even start to feel part of a community. There are a huge range of options covering a variety of needs, from peer support groups for conditions such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, bi-polar to more general wellbeing workshops and activities, including walking groups. If you don’t think it’s for you, even just visiting once is doing something. Even if it turns out not to be your thing, you might find someone interesting to talk to or pick up a useful leaflet.
Hub of hope – to search what’s available in your area
Visit the Hub of Hope where over 800 mental health support organisations have registered and type in your postcode to find out what’s available near you. In some areas, such as Surrey and North-East Hampshire there are Safe Havens, (sorry it’s a postcode lottery at the moment!). These provide a friendly café style drop-in, evening and weekends, where there will always be a qualified mental health specialist on hand and a far more appropriate environment than A&E to receive support for an emotional crisis. Here’s what my local mental health charity CornerHouse offers.
These help people improve their health and wellbeing through educational workshops on a range of psychological, mental and physical health conditions including: Understanding Medication, Managing Stress, Anxiety Management, Introduction to Crisis planning. They are free, run by an experienced facilitator and someone with lived experience and you self-refer. I haven’t yet found a one-stop shop list of recovery colleges, it seems you have to search by particular area or region e.g. Nottingham Recovery college or for South West Yorkshire.
Talking therapies – find someone that’s right for you
You might be referred to a therapist via your GP or decide to explore options yourself since waiting lists can be long and you may only be entitled to a limited number of sessions. A qualified therapist will use a variety of tools, according to your needs and where you are on your recovery journey. Whatever their experience, qualifications and methods, you have to be the right fit for each other at a particular moment in your journey, so if you have that luxury, don’t be afraid to change therapists and/or the type of therapy if you don’t feel like you’re moving forward. Someone I know took three attempts and over a year before finding a therapist that enabled them to ‘ feel like a person not a problem’.
MIND Talking Treatments information is a ‘go to’ for both NHS and private options. If you’re looking for a local qualified counsellor or psychotherapist, I can recommend The counselling directory run by a passionate dedicated bunch based in Camberley that I’ve met. Their site also has a very useful I don’t know where to start section. Of course, there’s nothing like a recommendation from a trusted friend as a starting point.
From the comfort of your home
Specialist organisations and helplines
Their are a wealth of specialist websites which are so valuable as they are just that, specialist, run by people who have often set up the organisation to fill a gap, they include research, personal stories and online support.
Take BEAT for example, there’s a very enlightening section on what not to say to someone with an eating disorder and some very helpful alternatives.
Harmless is a user led organisation and provides a range of services about self harm and suicide prevention. Like all these organisations they want to overcome stigma, educate and provide a real sense of hope.
Elefriends is an online supportive community run by MIND “a safe place to listen, share and be heard”.
In response to the limitations of a purely medical approach to psychosis The Hearing Voices network provides a safe place for individuals to describe their voices, visions or other unusual perceptions, as a way to understand and learn to live with them, which can be incredibly empowering. It campaigns to put the individual and human language at the heart of their treatment and to ensure professionals start seeing the person rather than objectifying them as a ‘disorder’.
Given the role of trauma and adversity, we need to start asking ‘what has happened to you?’ rather than ‘what is wrong with you?’ – one Hearing Voices contributor.
The Helplines Partnership offers a search function for numerous organisations.
Our local library isn’t just for that holiday read, the Reading Well Shelf Help initiative signposts helpful and engaging books around our mental health and challenging topics such as anxiety, bullying and body image. The programme has two strands: Books on Prescription and Mood-boosting Books.
Many people find blogging on platforms such as Time to Change personal stories and I am 1 in 4 a game changer. it gives people a voice and can be a wealth of information if you want to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
My favourite mental health resources
This is a previous blog My favourite mental health resources with a range books, videos and resources I recommend.
Your biggest weapon – your brain: friend or foe?
Understanding that our own brain and thinking patterns are our most powerful weapon, plays a major part in recovery. Regardless of whether or not you follow a formal programme of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, challenging our thoughts and understanding they can be either helpful or unhelpful, is something we could all do more of. Here’s an extract from Guy Winch’s engaging Ted Talk ‘How to practice emotional first aid’, that might tempt you into watching it.
Our thoughts Our minds and our feelings — they’re not the trustworthy friends we thought they were. They’re more like a really moody friend, who can be totally supportive one minute, and really unpleasant the next. By taking action when you’re lonely, by changing your responses to failure, by protecting your self-esteem, by battling negative thinking, you won’t just heal your psychological wounds, you will build emotional resilience, you will thrive.
Compassion for ourselves and compassion for others is the theme of Ruby Wax’s new book – How to be Human. With help from a monk (who tells us how our mind works) and a neuroscientist (who tells us how our brain works) she gives us insights into evolution, how it influences our thoughts, emotions, the body, addictions, relationships…and how we can “upgrade our mind and not just our iPhone!” one of the tools she explains is mindfulness, so here’s a user-friendly introduction from a practical, well respected app Headspace.
There’s no one size fits all – what’s helped you?
Wearing a number of different hats – whether as a Mental Health First Aid Instructor, volunteer and trustee of my local mental health charity, a member of the Surrey Independent Mental Health Network, or from experience supporting someone, I’ve come across a wealth of resources. I love to share them and also what you think, as well as hear about any others you find useful.