Monday, 12 May 2014

It's Mental Health Awareness Week!

Happy Mental Health Awareness Week!


From the 12th - 18th May 2014, it's Mental Health Awareness Week and the theme this year is Anxiety. As you're probably aware, this is something very close to my heart, and therefore, I will be talking lots and lots about it on Facebook, Twitter and my blog this week. 

Since the year 2000, the Mental Health Foundation has raised awareness about many issues and topics relating to mental health, including stigma, fear, anger and friendship (plus many more). The week has encouraged thousands of conversations over the years that are working towards breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health. 

As someone who has suffered with an anxiety disorder since the age of 10, I was delighted to hear that the theme this year was anxiety. The problem with this mental health diagnosis is that many people still don't understand just how debilitating it can be and how it can affect your quality of life. From experience, I know how it can stop you living your life and how emotionally (and sometimes even physically) painful it can be to deal with. Because of this, I have decided to do a myth-busting blog post about anxiety disorders to hopefully combat the stigma just a little bit more. 

MYTH: Anxiety disorders are uncommon. 

Fact: Anxiety disorders are a heck of a lot more common than you may realise. According to a recent survey carried out by the Mental Health Foundation (a link to the full report can be found at the end of this blog post), 4.7% of the UK population have anxiety problems, with 9.7% suffering from mixed anxiety and depression. Don't forget there's also the very well-known statistic that states that one in four of us will experience a mental health disorder in any given year. 

MYTH: Anxiety isn't really a disorder/illness/diagnosis

Fact: We all get anxious, and it would be unfair to suggest otherwise. We all know the feeling you get when you're about to go sit an exam, do a presentation, or face a fear. But anxiety disorders ARE real and ARE diagnosable. Anxiety disorders differ to 'normal' anxiety in the way that they are much more prevalent, consistent and in some cases, extremely debilitating. If left untreated, they can impact your quality of life and stop you from doing the things you'd normally do, whether that be work, school/uni, socialising, or even getting out of the house.

If you still don't believe me, have a look in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). It's now on it's fifth edition and is used as the classification and diagnostic tool for all mental illnesses. 

MYTH: Anxiety symptoms are just all psychological.

Fact: Anxiety disorders have a very physical element to them, just ask anyone who's experience a panic attack! These nasty things which go hand in hand with many anxiety disorders can consist of shortness of breath, numbness in the fingers/toes, upset stomach, headaches, nausea, dizziness/light-headedness, racing heart, palpitations, sweating, dry mouth, hot and cold flushes, shaking/trembling, amonst others. Sometimes these physical symptoms may be so severe it might feel as though you're having a heart attack or something similar, and if you're unaware of what you're experiencing, they can be petrifying. So whilst yes, the anxiety is psychological in its roots, it also has very difficult physical symptoms at times too. It can affect your memory, concentration, sleep patterns, and can cause irritability, anger and even depression.

MYTH: People with anxiety are unable to cope with stressful situaitions and should try avoid them. 

Fact: This one really grinds my gears. 

Whilst there may be times those with anxiety disorder may need to take a step back from a situaition in order to look after ourselves and stay well, it doesn't mean they are any less able to cope with a 'difficult' or anxiety-provoking situaition. In avoiding these situaitions, it not only can make the anxiety a lot worse (as it's just an unhelpful short-term coping strategy) but it's also demoralising, lowers self-esteem and also puts individuals at a higher risk of developing other illnesses such as depression. There are effective treatments and therapies out there that can teach you how to manage your anxiety and live a life (both the stressful and good bits)  just the same as everyone else. 

MYTH: The only treatment for anxiety is medication. 

Fact: Some people find that medication is extremely useful in terms of managing their anxiety, but for others it is not an option or they simply do not want to go down the route of medication (both choices should be respected). Many people find that a combination of talking therapies and medication is the best thing for them, whilst other people have found solace in complimentary treatments. It would be difficult to list all the treatments available to people with anxiety, however, treatments may include CBT, mindfulness, hypnotherapy, acupuncture, exercise/healthy eating, self-help or counselling, for example.

MYTH: All anxiety disorders are the same. 

Fact: Even I have only in the past year come to realise that there are several mental health disorders that are categorised as anxiety disorders. These include: 
  • Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Phobias
  • Panic disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Social anxiety disorder
Whilst there may be similarities between each anxiety disorder, each will have it's own set of 'criteria' for diagnosis and specific symptoms.

And there you have it. A few myths busted I hope!

Anxiety disorders are real, and whilst they can really affect an individual's life, there are success stories every day of people recovering and learning to live with and manage their symptoms. I've posted below where I've sourced all the above information from (although quite a lot of it is from my own experiences too) and I've also posted where you can access further help and support.

So are you Anxiety Aware? Get educated and don't be afraid to talk about mental health. Together we can end the stigma.

Further information, support and sources used

Mental Health Foundation - Mental Health Awareness Week - Get involved!
Mental Health Foundation - 'Living With Anxiety' Publication
Anxiety UK - Great for information, resources and accessing low-cost treatments
Anxiety United  - A social network for individuals living with anxiety disorders
Mind - Anxiety and panic attacks
Bupa - Anxiety disorders
NHS - Generalised Anxiety Disorder
Patient UK - Anxiety