An islander who found herself suddenly afflicted with severe depression in her 40s, and her sister, have opened up about their experience and the struggles faced by families in securing the support they need.
Today is ‘Time to Talk Day’, an initiative to encourage people to be more open about their mental health.
To help start the conversation, Michelle and her younger sister, Sue, shared their experience of mental illness, how it affects families and how they found the support they needed with Express...
“I had absolutely no experience of poor mental health until my early 40s,” Michelle explained. My first experience was just a feeling of low mood.
"I went to my GP initially and his first answer was, unfortunately, just to prescribe anti-depressants. I took them for a couple of months and it seemed to get better so I came off the meds slowly.
“Then another bout raised its head. I went to a different GP who prescribed anti-depressants but also recommended a cognitive behavioural therapy course, which I went on but at the moment, it did not make a lot of sense to me because I was in a low mood.
“The second one was really bad to the point that I had started off in the private sector and was then referred to A&E and then put in the mental health system.
“At the time, I did not have a very good experience of it. I was in a very bad place and they made me sit in a little room in the hospital waiting for someone to assess me. I was fortunate to have my family but if you are on your own, it must be hideous."
Pictured: Michelle and her family found support with local charities, including Mind Jersey.
While Michelle received support, there was nothing for her family and her children had no understanding of her condition.
“It was hard for them,” she says. “The person suffering gets the help, but the family are not included in that.”
Sue was also surprised to see that Michelle was released with no 'after plan' - something she and others have campaigned to change.
Thankfully she discovered a number of local charities, including Mind Jersey, who were able to support the family.
Sue first met Stephen McCrimmon, a former Manager at Mind Jersey, who is now the Chief Executive of ‘Focus on Mental Illness’, on the phone at 21:00 on a Saturday night.
“I was helping Michelle through her bouts of depression, it was quite isolating for her and us, because it becomes all consuming,” she explained.
“There wasn’t anywhere for me to go. Just knowing there is someone to go to is reassuring.”
Pictured: Stephen McCrimmon is the Chief Executive for 'Focus on Mental Illness'.
One of the key goals for ‘Focus on Mental Illness’ is to prevent families from being separated for mental health reasons, as Stephen explained.
“Make no mistake, mental illness will tear families apart,” he said. “It has the potential to split families apart and change their relationship.
“From the first presentation, we desperately want to be involved with that family, because we know what can happen if people do not have the same vision.
“It is important that people have their own place to go, like carer support for their own wellbeing and to improve resilience and the peer support for the service user. But you have to have the family work as well and sit with the family together, otherwise what you can do is drive them apart unintentionally and actually that is not going to be very good for the family relationship.”
“Our philosophy has always been we do not work 09:00 to 17:00 because a mental health problem does not stop at 17:00 and reinvents itself in the morning,” Stephen added.
“We have to make services as widely available as possible, you need to know there are places to call and to go to at any time. Ideally, you want as little barriers as possible for people to access the services."
Pictured: "You need to know there are places to call and to go to at any time," Stephen said.
With her experience of mental health services, Michelle is now offering to help to others who are going through the same thing.
She is also encouraging anyone to speak out about how they are feeling instead of “ruminating in your head”.
“If you think about it, it’s an organ in your body that is not working properly, just like with diabetes the pancreas is not working properly or your heart with a stroke, if you do not talk about how you are feeling, you can’t get the support you need.
“When I was feeling low, nobody realised I was in the state where I needed somebody with me probably most of the time. You need people around you but when you are feeling very low you withdraw. People are going to pull away thinking you do not want to be their friends anymore.
“It’s only since I have been speaking about what I was going through that other people have said they have been going through the same thing and I had no idea.
Pictured: Michelle is keen to give back and use her experience to help others.
“It’s still a bit of a taboo. People who are struggling with their mental health are having terrible feelings of shame and guilt, you actually feel people are going to judge you or hold it against you.
“It’s not a weakness, it makes you stronger and a better person,” she adds.
“Having been through it, it has made me more aware of how I behave and how I behave towards others because you do not know how what that person must be feeling. For all you know, they might be feeling suicidal.”
Today, the Focus on Mental Illness team will be hosting a virtual card game at 13:00 to help people talk more openly about mental health and reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.
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