Mental Health Education (TW sh & sui)

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This morning on Twitter the fabulous TraceyPallett (who tweets as @ehohsaysyes) raised the topic of when, and how mental health or well-being should be taught. [Update: Tracey has since written a post collating the information from this morning, the importance of education and what it could mean to the future].

Having been doing quite a lot of regression work in therapy the thoughts of school days have been in my mind recently and I feel it is important to share a particularly triggering incident within a class. There of course were many but this one relates directly to mental health education.

The school had PSHE lessons each term in each year, however, mental health/well-being, to my recollection, was never covered. I went to an independent girls’ school so it was a highly pressurised environment. When I was in my first year of senior school a friend’s sister killed herself whilst my friend and her parents were at parents’ evening. Although this tragic event was mentioned in assembly there were no follow up classes or discussions about it.

The first and only time there was any mention of mental illness was during an optional general studies class in sixth form. I can’t remember how but the discussion turned to suicide and self harm.

By this point I had been self harming for about a year and had tried to kill myself once. The school had been made aware of this via my parents, my teachers were all informed.

The class was being led by one of the psychology teachers who was fairly new to the school. She spoke about “committing suicide” and used all the other incredibly negative terminology associated with it. The class as a whole spoke   of people who had ‘tried hanging themselves but when found looked as if they’d tried to stop themselves’, how they ‘couldn’t understand self harm’, ‘why anyone would do it’, how ‘they were selfish and stupid for not knowing things would be better tomorrow’. I was lost for words, disturbed that the whole class bar myself and my friend (who by this point was holding me to stop my shaking and scratching at my cuts) could be so ignorant especially after what had happened earlier in our school life. The fact that the teacher just agreed with the class made me feel more worthless and stupid than I already did.

I wasn’t brave enough back then to stand up and face those people (a lot of whom had bullied me through the years) and say what it really felt like to be in that situation where life is just empty and the only thing tomorrow brings is more despair.

The only other education offered about mental health or well being was what EDs did to your body, basically it was a biology lesson. This of course was not practical help either. I was just one of many in the school with an ED. This was mentioned in Year 11 so by that point the psychological factors behind our EDs were well formed. However, none of this was explained, nor was there any advice on recovery. The whole hour felt like a shaming exercise and to me just something else I failed at.

In general the teachers were ill equipped to handle mental health issues. The school had a psychologist and the teachers who didn’t understand kept trying to refer me to her, however, as my mother had taught her daughter and I knew things about the psychologist which did not sit right with me I felt I could not trust her. I explained this to the teachers who told me I was paranoid, she was impartial and to just forget the previous knowledge of her.

I was lucky to one teacher and the school nurse who both seemed to understand mental health who I could turn to and tell them how I felt.

My experience with school makes me believe that mental well being should be taught from infant school as this is where a lot of experiences can begin with bullying for example. I know that in a lot of PSHE (or equivalent) classes children are already taught that bullying is wrong, about family relationships (for example divorcing parents) and exam pressures. However, to link these to keeping mentally well would be far more beneficial. For example children learning that being bullied is not their fault rather than just being told not to do it.

As the children progress through school more in depth mental health education can be introduced to cover aspects such as low self esteem, abandonment, defectiveness, failure to achieve, abuse. The list is endless.

To have teachers trained in mental health and well being would also be helpful in giving them understanding of what their students are going through and in this way offer more support to them. I found my lecturers at Uni to be far more accommodating and understanding.

I feel like I may have let future generations at the school down by not voicing my opinion on that day and hope no one else suffered through that awkward lesson as I did.

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TW Sui/SH Mental Health Awareness Week pt 2 or “Hello darkness my old friend”

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Day 2 of Mental Health Awareness Week and with it came a greater intensity to the dark, empty feeling that I hadn’t felt in quite a while until yesterday aka The Darkness.

It turns out the anxiety of Atos had been filling my being and no matter how suicidal I felt it was an edgy, heart racing suicide that was calling me, one that was really driven and dispersed with periods where the only way to get the anxiety out of me was to make cuts in my skin.

The emptiness crept in sometime yesterday when I wasn’t paying attention. I was aware of it when I wrote my blog but at the time it was a nice change to feel something different to wanting to scratch at all the walls. I woke this morning at about 5am with the apathy that I remember first had hit me nearly 13 years ago.

I couldn’t move. I saw no point. I didn’t want to sleep. I didn’t want to get up. I really felt nothing at all. So there I lay for two hours until I felt the pain in my back gnawing away so I got up and then sat, again doing not much of anything at all apart from letting the thoughts in my head have their say.

I knew I had therapy today and despite all the fear and unworthy feelings (not to mention the migraine) that I thought would prevent me in the past 2 weeks I had been driven by this energy coursing through me. Having spent the previous 4 hours with an inner dialogue debating as to whether I should go (Rationale stating, “You’ll never get better if you don’t go” and “You’ll let people down”. The Darkness saying, “meh” and “erm…meh” respectively) I finally threw some clothes and trudged out the door.

To be honest therapy was beneficial as it really kicks in my need to take care of people and this is the only thing that generally keeps The Darkness from whispering sweet nothings to me. Instead for the briefest of times I was driven by: I want to protect these people. I want to erase all these bad things that have happened to them. I need them to know it’s not their fault.

Once the session was over though and I spent time reflecting on what had gone on in the 2 hours the feelings from the first session I had been to returned but this time they are goverend by The Darkness. They come from deep within me and are long and thoughtful rather than the short snappy jumpy thoughts I’d grown used to the past few weeks. Sure I have flitted between anxiety, buzzy feelings and The Darkness a lot, all part of the old bpd but this last period was so long it felt like it was here to stay. I can’t honestly decide which is worse, the grass always seems greener. The Darkness does seem to put an emphasis on suicide and how beneficial it will be to everyone who is unlucky enough to have had me barge my way into their lives. The self harm is more from a base of needing to feel. The contrast of the sharp scratch from the blade, the heat from the wound, the blood cooling as it reaches the skin surface, then the repeat as the scab is scratched off. All in all The Darkness does what it says on the tin and leaves a vacuum inside.

Hmm, I haven’t really talked much about my day but to be honest the day has passed by quite emptily. I have been wound up by the usual things on Twitter and felt solidarity with those being wound up on Twitter but not with the same passion.

I need to move from the chair. I need to get a shower. I can’t.

Eheu.

 

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