Did you know that May is Mental Health Awareness Month? So it seems a great time to kickstart my new meme.
This is a Mental Muse post and you’ll see one of these here every 18th of the month (so long as I have willing participants of course). I want to spread awareness of mental rather than physical afflictions because it’s ridiculously common yet still so stigmatised. The stigmatisation of mental health over physical means sufferers experience not only the illness, but also the isolation and stress of trying to keep it to themselves.
Isolation is a Big No-No!
Mental health is an essential component of general health. The World Health Organisation states:
“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
This means that mental health is more than just the absence of mental disorders or disabilities.
Mental health and well-being are fundamental to our collective and individual ability as humans to think, emote, interact with each other, earn a living and enjoy life. On this basis, the promotion, protection and restoration of mental health can be regarded as a vital concern of individuals, communities and societies throughout the world.
• Globally, 1 in 4 (25%), suffer from mental disorders in both developed and developing countries. Four of the six leading causes of years lived with disability are depression, alcohol use disorders, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. (World Health Organization (WHO), 2013)
• Mental illness in the U.S., Canada, and Western Europe ranks first among illnesses that result in disability. In 2010, depression ranked 2nd for global disease burden. By 2020, depression is projected to be the leading cause of years lived with disability worldwide. (National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), WHO, 2013)
• The global cost of mental illness is estimated at nearly $2.5 trillion (T) (2/3 in indirect costs) in 2010, with a projected increase to over $6T by 2030. To put that in perspective: The entire global health spending in 2009 was $5.1T. The annual GDP for low-income countries is less than $1T. The entire overseas development aid over the past 20 years is less than $2.3T. (NIMH, 2013)
• Worldwide, someone commits suicide every 40 seconds. About 1 million die by suicide every year. (WHO, 2012)
National (US) Facts & Statistics
• 81.6 million Americans (26.2% or 1 in 4) experience some form of mental disorder each year. 46.4% will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. (U.S. population of 311.5 million in 2011, National Household Survey of Drug Abuse, 2006)
• 8.76% of the U.S. population has a severe mental illness. (SAMSHA)
• More than 50% of adults and 70% of children and adolescents are not receiving any treatment for their mental illness. (SAMHSA 2012, University of Maryland, 2012).
• Most suicides occur among the elderly, those aged 60 and above. (NIMH, 2012)
• 54% of children with emotional and behavioral disturbances drop out of school. (U.S. Dep’t of Education, 2005)
• Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in youth aged 10 to 24. More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease combined. (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), 2010)
• In 90% of suicides for both children and adults, mental illness is the attributing cause. (NIMH, 2012)
• 60-80% of people who live with mental illness are unemployed and, for people living
Shocked? Surprised? Looking around you wondering who in your family/friends suffer from some form of mental illness? Wondering if you ever have? Ever will?
What would I do if one day I woke up to a new kind of existence?
One where, for no apparent reason, nothing lifts your heart, nothing gets you excited, nothing makes you smile. Not your partners silly jokes, the playful lick from your dog, the cheeky ramblings and careless concentrated play of your child. Where nothing moves you, there is no taste to food, no sunshine on a sunny day.
You even think about how much better your loved one’s lives would be if only you had the courage to end your life.
Imagine that dark and debilitating thought taking over everything you do. Imagine the feeling of living beneath a pervasive dark cloud of despair, of inertia, where everything is slower, heavier, and too much effort.
Imagine feeling this way, inescapably, for many months, until you cannot leave your room, cannot bear company, do not care to wash, to eat.
And when, out of sheer desperation, perhaps in a rare and treasured moment of clarity, you finally turn to friends for help, they look at you with pity …and a little fear. They tell you to snap out of it, because it scares them and makes them uncomfortable. They see your complete weakness and on a deeper level, it exasperates them.
It’s not like you have a bad life? Not like anyone died? There’s nothing wrong, stop being ungrateful?
What if you woke to feel as though you could quite literally fly, that you knew something insanely wonderful that no one else knew, that the world’s store of love all aimed at you at once, that your heart-felt so full, it might burst. Imagine thoughts racing around your head so quickly, but you can’t grab anything long enough to use it. Your body yearns for sleep, but your mind will never switch off. Imagine an overwhelming (meaning, you cannot deny it) desire to harm oneself with drugs or drink or dangerous behaviours, to steal or to scream or to run naked beneath the moonlight because you think it shines for you and you alone.
And in those rare lucid moments, you see the faces of loved one’s you’ve hurt and beg for forgiveness. But they say things like….
You cause trouble all the time. You’re so self-involved it’s sickening. You’re not ill, you’re sick.
People don’t say or think these things to those of us who suffer because they’re mean, but because they cannot possibly understand how you feel, and because humanity fears what it does not understand. Both media and society, even in this day of advancement and tolerance, STILL see people with mental fragility/disease/disorder as potentially dangerous at worst, selfish and uncaring in general, and as wretched wimps to be pitied at best.
So, what would you do if for no apparent reason, this became you existence?
Where would you turn?
Mental Muse: The Mental Health Advocacy Meme for Authors invites writers who experience mental health issues to share their answers to five simple questions. Find them (along with more information on this meme) HERE.
As an author who has bipolar disorder, and who has always been open about this fact, I wanted a place to swap lessons learned and tips and tricks with like ‘minded’ authors, and to offer a place of advocacy and support for those of us who are blessed/cursed with our diagnosis. I used to run a Monday Madness meme a while ago, which was a blog hop type meme. I wanted this to be more of an introduction to each other, a chance to share and be open about something that should NOT remain taboo.
Coz it’s stupid!
I kept the questions simple, allowing the author to be as open or not as they wished. You might thoroughly explore each question or simply declare ‘I write and I have [insert your diagnosis/complaint]’ proudly. Sometimes, dipping a toe in the water is all that’s required to show willing.
If participation at this time is little daunting, simply stop by on the 18th of every month, comment and share the words of the brave and the bold with your community, and learn from those who are paddling down the same stream as your good selves. 🙂
This months ‘brave and bold’ is [drum rolls please]….Me. Seemed fitting to go first. I have June’s and July’s posts scheduled. Who’s next? You?
Welcome me, Shah Wharton 🙂
1.What is your mental health issue?
There’s a saying: “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.” Lao Tzu.
According to this, I live in all three simultaneously. It’s gonna get confusing.
My diagnoses: Bipolar Disorder. Anxiety (general and social). Claustrophobia (fear of confined spaces). Autooperatorphobia (fear of driving).
When I Google Bipolar Disorder, my name pops up on the first page. I wrote a poem about BD a while back and plucked it out for a poetry meme October 2013, for my other blog, Shah’s Scribbles: #OctPoWriMo 2013: Bipolar Distress. It’s pretty basic, but folks like it because it illustrates the highs and lows of the moods swings. The ‘I’ in both states is intense and all-consuming. Neither ‘I’ is me, however. And that’s where the pain of this disorder, more than any of the other disorders I have, is so debilitating.
My brother committed suicide in 2004 having suffered from BD for years. We, as a family, still feel the devastation. In 2005 I received the same diagnosis after being wrongly treated for depression on and off since I was around 17-18 years old. Anti-depressants actually make me manic?
My sister and my brother’s daughter also received the same diagnosis in the following years.
2. How long have you been writing fiction? Tell us about your career so far.
I started writing poetry as a child, but only began experimenting with fiction after my diagnosis (and massive breakdown) because I couldn’t work, so I had a lot of free time. I need to be engaged in something at all times, or the devils come out.
I joined up to a writing forum called webook.com and found lots of great aspiring writers all willing to share their work and leave feedback on each other’s work. The feedback was positive and encouraging as one by one, I entered more and more flash fiction/short story challenges until my confidence grew. One of those short stories was about a dream I had – about zombies taking over Britain by vote! A political satire featuring the undead was born. Lots of peeps love it. First published by Sirens Call Publications, but it is now available at Amazon and Smashwords (The Dead Party) or for free to subscribers to this blog.
After this, I entered another horror story challenge and wrote another short story about a haunted house. Only this one didn’t seem to want to stop. It became the first book in the Supes Series: (This book is suspended)
I’m presently working on book two.
3. How has mental ill health helped your writing?
They do say madness and creativity are in some way linked, so it is easy to understand that the symptoms might help in creative pursuits. Right?
According to where my mood takes me, things like:
- Decreased need for sleep with little fatigue
- An increase in goal-directed activities
- Enhanced creative thinking and/or behaviors
- Flight of ideas
- Extreme empathy means I can ‘feel’ what my characters go through. So when it’s good, it’s awesome! And I form genuine attachments to them.
- Social anxiety and fear of driving mean I have no hankering or mobility to leave the house. More writing time!
- Having these issues means I’m practically unemployable in the normal sense: More time to write, right! Besides, when I was younger I dated, enjoyed excesses, struggled and thrived, travelled and worked abroad, made lots of bad decisions (and a few good choices), and attended University. I’ve worked in finance, retail, bars, clubs, children’s care homes, social work for drug abusers, and in counselling and education. I’ve not exactly been a hermit.
- Mania makes me braver. Many of the more daring choices in my life were made while in a state of mania. Some of them paid off, some didn’t. But if we always live passively without acting, if we always spend too much time weighing up the pros and cons, we soon find life has passed us by and the chance to act has gone.
4. And how has it not?
Lots of symptoms hinder me, but here are some:
- Incoherent muddled thought can lead to confusion and loss of concentration (and plotting runs contrary to this kind of mind state).
- I begin saying or writing something, but mid-scene or sentence I forget what I wanted to say.
- Thinking through things takes too much effort, time, and feels too difficult, making me irritable and useless.
- Disjointed thinking. I have problems reading or remembering things, or focussing on tasks.
- I lose interest in things, preferring to spend time alone. At the same time, I experience an intense fear of isolation.
- Racing thoughts also mean it’s difficult to focus on one tangible thought long enough for it to be useful.
- Extreme empathy means I can ‘feel’ what my characters go through, which when it’s bad, is really dire. I cry — a lot.
- Having social anxiety and fear of driving means I miss out on friendships, socialisation, employment. Experiences of which can really feed a writer’s imagination.
5. What advice do you have for other writers with mental health issues.
See your doctor.
Manage your symptoms by understanding your triggers, the precursors to mood changes, and with medication.
For example: I use a small management dosage (after spending a few years like a zombie) but I always have spares ready when I feel a mood change coming on. At this time I also step back from my work. I published Finding Esta before it was ready on a manic impulse and have been regretting it ever since. Of course, without the mania in me, I might never have had the confidence to publish anything.
Try to accept there are good and bad sides to mental health issues, but remember outside of the symptoms, there is You. You are not your illness. For me, this can be the most challenging but helpful truth to hold on to.
To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.E. E. Cummings
If you are an author who experiences mental health issues who would like to share how this impacts you professionally and/or personally, then please download The Mental Muse questions and instructions.
Because like Socrates said: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Get your answers back to me, edited and in good order.
*Supply the actual links, not embedded links.
** This will continue monthly so long as I get enough participants, so please help me to spread the word, and please support this meme by taking this button to your sidebar! Here’s the smaller version: