As today marks World Mental Health Day reporter Gemma Sherlock opens up about her own experiences with mental health in a bid to help others and highlight it’s okay not to be okay.
Why is everybody staring at me?
It’s probably because you’re sweating profusely and your hands won’t stop shaking, it’s probably because you look scared, it’s probably because you are not strong enough to beat this.
It’s because you need help.
If it didn’t happen again this morning you wouldn’t be here, staring at the faded blue walls, scanning leaflets on whether you have booked in for your flu jab.
But you are here and this is happening.
The soft sounds of BBC Radio 4 from reception does nothing to soothe the bumbling burn in your chest – only a faint similarity to what happened earlier.
Today was the second time it happened this week but you don’t want it to be ‘third time’s the charm.’
I thought I was having a heart attack.
I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t breathe, the choking wouldn’t stop, the room was spinning as I tumbled to the phone.
The screen glowed 999 ready to ring when my breath caught, the tears ended and my thudding heart slowed to a steadier pace.
My first experience of a panic attack.
Panic attacks usually start suddenly and some sufferers have experienced them lasting beyond 30 minutes.
The sudden burst of adrenaline, the increased oxygen and heart rate, gives our bodies the flight or fight response.
If we need to flee a masked murderer or save our family we will need this adrenaline, this heightened panic.
Do you need it waking up every day before you begin a busy day at work? No.
I certainly didn’t need it during work as I steadied myself at my desk, suppressing the sudden urge to scream, cry or both.
Back in the waiting room the other patients have stopped staring but they know, they see the girl in the corner faking it, faking the smile.
It’s only when the doctor gives me my freedom and opens the door that I can break, I can collapse and succumb to the feeling of worthlessness.
The leather seat feels cold, hard, a reminder that those before me have not been here too long, not quite yet perfected the chair’s groove.
‘How can I help?’
How can you help doc?
How can you stop this eternal worry, the constant ‘what if’ scenarios and the unconscious but equally overpowering thought that the pain killers are continuing to build up in the cupboard.
Her smile is inviting and one I don’t want to let down.
I think of my parents, feeling like a failure and admitting I’ve been defeated, I take the first steps in opening up and the tears soon reappear.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, one in four people will experience one diagnosable mental health problem in their lives.
The foundation also reports that every year in the UK 70 million workdays are lost due to mental illness, including anxiety, depression and stress related conditions.
In 1990, 416 million people suffered from depression or anxiety worldwide – these numbers rose to 615 million in 2013.
But what is anxiety and what is depression?
Mind, the mental health charity, say “depression is a low mood that lasts for a long time, and affects your everyday life.
“In its mildest form, depression can mean just being in low spirits.
“It doesn’t stop you leading your normal life but makes everything harder to do and seem less worthwhile.
“At its most severe, depression can be life-threatening because it can make you feel suicidal or simply give up the will to live.”
Anxiety is what we feel when we are worried, tense or afraid, particularly about things that are about to happen, or which we think could happen in the future.
Anxiety is a natural human response when we perceive that we are under threat. It can be experienced through our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations.
“Anxiety can become a mental health problem if it impacts on your ability to live your life as fully as you want to,” say Mind.
In 2013, there were 8.2 million cases of anxiety in the UK.
In England women are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders as men.
And I was one of those statistics.
To be told I had chronic anxiety, an informal term to describe any type of anxiety that doesn’t seem to go away, and isn’t prompted by events around you, was a strange, welcoming relief.
It answered questions I had held onto for years, it gave some comfort to my personality, “the worrier.”
But the relief did not decrease the sense of failure.
The ultimate blow came when the doctor also prescribed antidepressants.
But why should it be a blow?
Why should it be failure?
A diabetic goes to get help when they need medication, a person who has asthma goes to get help when they need an inhaler so it is only right that a person with a mental health problem goes to get help when they are not at their best.
It is only right that we detract the stigma, we admit it’s okay not to be okay.
The hard leather chair now has a groove as I sit with tissues and help lines.
The fresh air hits my wet face as I stroll back to the car.
Before I set off to work I make a list, clear the cupboard out, speak to my parents, seek support.
The line opens on the phone:
“I’d like to make an appointment please.”
*Mind - mental health charity: www.mind.org.uk or call 020 8519 2122 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Samaritans. Samaritans are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to listen to anything that is upsetting you, including intrusive thoughts and difficult thoughts of suicide and self-harm.
Their national freephone number is 116 123, or you can email email@example.com. Samaritans also offer a Welsh Language Line on 0300 123 3011 (from 7pm–11pm only, seven days a week).
*SANEline. SANEline offers emotional support and information from 6pm–11pm, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0300 304 7000.
*The Silver Line. If you’re an older person (over the age of 55), the Silver Line is there 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to provide information, support and friendship. You can call them from anywhere in the UK on 0800 4 70 80 90 (freephone).
*CALM. If you’re a man experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58, and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone.
*Nightline. If you are a student, you can look at the Nightline website to see if your university or college offers a night-time listening service. Nightline phone operators are all students too.
*Men’s Health Forum
24/7 stress support for men by text, chat and email.
*Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust: The Helpline is open 365 days a year, Monday - Friday 7pm until 11pm and Saturday - Sunday 12pm until Midnight. 0800 915 4640.
*Minds Matters: Lancaster and Morecambe 01524 55055.
Charity providing support if you’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety condition.
Phone: 08444 775 774 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5.30pm)