Mental health issues - managing not 'curing'
As I mention in 1976 - Growing Up Bipolar, when I received my bipolar diagnosis (aged 25 in the late 80s), I was informed that, like the majority of mental health issues, my condition would be managed rather than cured. This isn't to say anyone with any sort of mental health diagnosis should ever feel disheartened about living with this, alongside friends, family, work colleagues or fellow students apparently living 'normally.' Everyone has mental health. Everyone has the potential to develop issues of varying degrees. But appreciating these can be managed as successfully as any physical symptoms can encourage people to reach out, rather than be dissuaded from doing so due to ongoing stigmatisation.
My own condition led to stints as in inpatient at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, followed by some three decades as an outpatient, prescribed with anti-psychotic medication (Lithium). A combination of medical intervention, not least those spells in psychiatric wards and medication, along with natural remedies such occupational therapy, meditation, healthy diets, exercise (including long walks immersed in Scotland's wild/beautiful natural landscapes and, far less frequently, inept displays on a 5-a-side pitch), love of family and support from friends (particularly those with relatable mental health experiences of their own), and, especially, musical therapy, have helped maintain my wellbeing, avoiding the periods of severe depression and manic delusions I suffered as a younger man.
Combatting dips in mental outlook
But, taking on board those comments about managing not curing, I'm also aware that although their levels might not soar into the 'red zones' typified by the bipolar scale I've highlighted in a previous blog about hypomania and depression, my bipolar moodswings can recur. At anytime. The difference between now and then is that in 2023, I'm aware of the dips. I can talk about feeling down with family and friends, especially the guys I've met at The Changing Room, the mental health awareness group aimed at (but in no way exclusively) football fans with issues. I was introduced to an intake of The Changing Room in October 2022, 12-week sessions run by coaches from Scottish Action for Mental Health (SAMH), providing a safe place for sharing lived experiences. I know full well how detrimental it can be not to broach the subject. Bottling everything up, either through wearing a mask of denial or hoping negative thoughts will somehow dissipate, has the potential to make things so much worse.
At The Changing Room, participants can feel empowered to share their experiences, as doing so, getting negative feelings off your chest, is an important step in managing unique but related mental health issues. Shared stories collated by SAMH at The Changing Room run at Hibs, Hearts, Rangers, and Falkirk can all be read in a blog I published in May (during Mental Health Awareness Week 2023).
Many factors can crop up that will sap your enthusiasm and optimism. In the wider world, war erupted in Ukraine last year, and in the Gaza Strip last month. Closer to home, the ongoing cost of living crisis was exacerbated by Liz Truss's catastrophic 49-day premiership in September 2022 when, abetted by Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, a mini-budget aimed at slashing taxes merely derailed the UK economy. Although most of their measures were hastily reversed, the damage was done. Mental health charity MIND have estimated spiralling interest rates have effected one-in-three of the population, with one-in-10 further admitting this has also impacted their mental health (undoubtedly the tip of an iceberg).
Where tackling financial difficulties is concerned, denial is never an option. It's recommended to approach any organisation sending worrying statements or red bills to underscore your situation and discuss the possibility of repayment plans. By law, they are required to attempt to accommodate your circumstances rather than make impractical demands. There are trained volunteers you can approach for confidential advice, such as Money Advice or your local Citizens Advice office. SAMH offer constructive pointers about financial security for anyone who feels economic uncertainty is causing stress.
One of the best nuggets of advice I received at The Changing Room? Remember everything is temporary. Sometimes it might be hard to see it, but there is always light at the end of the tunnel.