Sophie is a fellow Strong Young Minds volunteer who has recently joined the project; she wants to share her story of mental health with me, and give some positive advice to others through doing so.
”My name is Sophie, I am 22 years old and have suffered from depression/anxiety, an eating disorder and I have recently been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). I am still on the road to recovery and am very aware that it will take a long time to get better and that I must want to get better. I have recently volunteered with a local mental health charity called Strong Young Minds, which is funded by the Big Lottery and run by the CLD trust; the overall aim of the project is to improve mental health and well-being of young people in Herefordshire, which will run until 2020.”
At what age did you first experience changes to your mental health and what did the changes consist of?
I have struggled with my mental health since I was 13. From a young age, I’ve never felt like I fit in with other people. I moved primary schools due to my family moving to a different area, and changes occurred with school performance, poor grades, changes in sleeping/eating, excessive worry or anxiety i.e. refusing to go bed or school. (This carried on throughout high school & college.) I had frequent temper tantrums and as I got older there were more changes – feelings of extreme lows, continuous excessive fears and worries, social withdrawal, dramatic changes with eating/sleeping, self-harming, suicidal thoughts, alcohol and substance abuse.
How would you describe the experience of suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder and how long did it take you to receive a diagnosis?
If you have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), you probably feel like you’re on a roller coaster – and not just with your emotions or relationships, but your sense of who you are. Your self-image, goals and even your likes and dislikes may change frequently in ways that feel confusing and unclear. To able to feel every emotion to the fullest can be rewarding. However, we feel the bad to the fullest too. The smallest problem could feel like the end of the world. Personally, I have lost a lot of people because I’m too much to handle.
Our moods change constantly. Basically, it’s very hard for those with BPD to have successful and healthy relationships and stable confidence levels. Our version of “logical thinking” is most often overthinking. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety at 14, at 21 I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital twice in one year and was then diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, which was the first time I had ever heard of the illness, and it took 7 years for consultants to diagnose me.
What have been your main coping strategies during this difficult time?
Distractions – This is my favourite and has not only been a way to escape emotional situations, but has been productive/constructive for me as well as enjoyable, like reading a book or replying to emails etc. Simple things like writing down 3 things you need to do today, for example ‘drink at least 2 glasses of water today’, ‘make or change bed sheets’ or ‘shower’ (SELF CARE IS SO IMPORTANT!) You could even try and name one thing you like about yourself – it could be once a day once a week. Look after yourself, treat yourself like you would to a close friend/family member. Wash your body, condition your hair, wear a face mask, moisturise your skin.
Finding the right support – I’ve had a supportive team at a local mental health team.
Talking to my family – my best friend is living in New Zealand, so it’s been hard to not be able to see her every day but when we message/talk on the phone it always makes my day and even though she’s miles away, I am so grateful to have her as my best friend.
Writing things down – thoughts/feelings, lists of what you need to do that day, work out what will make you happy what do you enjoy doing. There’s been times I have been so anxious, I haven’t been able to leave my house for weeks – I would love to be able to help anyone that is going through a difficult time i.e. getting them out the house.
Walking, listening to music, reading and surrounding myself with positive influences.
Have you ever had counselling or professional help from local health services for your mental health disorders? How did you find it if so?
I have had several different psychologists but unfortunately, because the treatment wasn’t consistent, I didn’t find it beneficial, i.e. I would have a few weekly sessions and then it would stop. When I felt suicidal, I was put in touch with the crisis team; the team obviously meant well, but it wasn’t the answer for me. In times of crisis I feel some short term residential care would be useful, but I know other people who have had counselling and I have had two really great psychologists – one when I was 16 and the other I met at 20. They have both been very helpful and supportive, I recommend anyone to try it before slating the service.
What advice could you offer to any young people suffering with the same disorders?
Acceptance is key to moving on from environmental issues and also to helping yourself. Accept that when something happens to you, be it from another person or your own illness, that it is what it is. If you can do something about a negative action/event, then do so. If you can do nothing about it, why fight it? What will you achieve by fighting a losing battle? Nothing. So, trying to accept that something has happened is the first step to dealing with that adversity, letting it go and feeling better.
Love yourself and please be patient with yourself. Try not to live in the past and think too much into the future try to be in the moment.
Talk to others. Often, because the anxious feelings and thoughts are so bad, we don’t want to tell anyone how we feel as we believe that they might not understand or they might laugh at us. However, this is the best way to get help to change how you feel. By looking at this page, you are already aware that you are not happy with how things are. Talking to someone about how you feel can help. Choose someone that you trust for example, a parent/family member/teacher etc. Tell them how you have been feeling and try to give them an example so that they understand clearly. If you are finding it hard to talk about this, try writing them a letter or showing them this page.
Try to be productive and give to others, help a friend/family member with something, volunteer work.
Remember: It is OK to be upset and it is OK to ask for help. Once you have spoken to someone, they will be able to get help for you.
Confidential hotlines for people suffering with mental health issues –
Anxiety UK 08444 775 774 Mon-Fri 9.30am – 5.30pm firstname.lastname@example.org
Depression Alliance 0845 123 23 20
Samaritans 24 hours a day. 116 123
B-eat Eating Disorder Association 08456 341 414 Mon-Fri 12 noon-5 or 8.30 email@example.com
What work have you done with the SYM project, and why do you think it’s important to combat the stigma attached to mental health?
I have just started working with Strong Young Minds and my first step is to attend 6 training courses – in the next few weeks we will be doing a workshop in Ross-on-Wye and we will also be holding an Eating disorder, Mental Health and Self-Harm Awareness days on different days. We are always looking for young members to join our Strong Young Minds project so if you are interested please visit the website.
An effective stigma reduction has the potential to bring about real change in the attitudes towards mental health problems, which is important because stigma can damage people’s lives and has very real human, social and financial costs. The discrimination experienced by people because of their mental health problem can also act as a wall to seeking help, speaking out and recovery. It’s unfair that there’s still such stigma surrounding mental health – people assume we are weak minded and unreliable, when actually we have different strengths due to heightened sensitivity. Often people suffering from mental health feel emotion more acutely which makes them extremely caring and loyal to those they care about.
Increasing public understanding about mental health problems requires action at every level of society. The first step in doing so is to reduce the stigma surrounding the experience of a mental health problem, using targeted public education activities that are designed to provide people with information about mental illnesses, and to suggest plans for enhancing and enriching our mental health. LET’S TAKE A STAND AND WORK TOGETHER!
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this, even if one person reads this and it helps them in some way I would be so happy that I can make a slight difference.
Many thanks to Sophie for getting involved with Strong Young Minds and my blog. If you’d like to become a volunteer, you can sign up through http://www.thesymproject.org/ – if you’d like an interview to share your mental health story, contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org