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Mental Health and our loved ones

Mental Health Awareness Month

Written by Stefanie Smith

One in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem at some point in their life.

Around one in ten children experience mental health problems.

We’re taught from as early as primary school age ways in which we can support our own mental health so what happens when it’s the mental health of your loved ones that’s suffering?

What is mental health?

“Mental health is defined not just in terms of the absence of mental disorder, but is a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”. (World Health Organisation)

Some of the main mental health problems include:

● Anxiety

● Depression

● OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)

● Bipolar disorder

● Psychosis

● Phobias

● Eating problems/disorders

When a person experiences mental health illness, particularly for the first time, I hope it’s reassuring to know that it’s not caused by personal weakness. What’s also important to know is that it is not cured by personal strength or willpower alone.

I have experienced my own issues with mental health many times in my life and through counselling and the support of my family I have learned how to manage the dips. What often works for me is time by myself to think and reflect. What I always allow myself is the time to recover and heal. I’ve never been afraid to talk about my mental health and for me that’s a huge help. We all have mental health, for some it’s good for others it’s not so good.

My husband and I have been together for twenty years and we have two children, the youngest is 17 and currently studying for her A-Levels. In February this year we welcomed a beautiful puppy into our family. He joined our three cats and we were super excited to welcome him. Just a few short months later what was meant to be a wonderfully joyous time turned into one of the most difficult periods we’ve experienced as a family.

My daughter has always been neat and tidy. She has always loved a list and I have always been able to rely on her to get things done. She has been a great support for me during the last 4.5 years whilst studying to become a Lawyer. She has cooked and cleaned, shopped and organised and stepped in my shoes when I haven’t been available. This is one of the reasons why we decided she deserved to have a dog which was a lifelong dream of hers.

My husband has continued to work incredibly hard throughout the pandemic. He has worked from home every day and not once has he complained or waivered. He has worked with our daughter to help and support me throughout my studies. He sat with me and helped with flashcards, he comforted me when I needed it most and he has forgiven me when I’ve ignored him because I just needed to get one more practise question completed. For him getting a dog was going to give him a companion for his work day and a reason to take a lunchbreak.

What actually happened in the months following our puppy’s arrival is the realisation that my daughter has OCD and the obsessions and compulsions had gone off the radar when she suddenly had an animal in the house who couldn’t leave his toy box neat and tidy. When she couldn’t get the cleaning done because he would eat the sponges and want to play she would be distraught. For anyone who has OCD or lives with someone with OCD you will understand how it feels when you can’t carry out a compulsion.

In 2021 for the first time in his life, my husband started suffering with anxiety. The lack of sleep due to the night time routine with the pup was enough to bring the anxiety back at a level completely off the scale. He also realised that whilst having a companion at home is a wonderful thing, what he actually needed is the company of people. He has always been a people person. He is tactile and friendly and everyone who meets him is warmed to him.

However, it’s not all bleak. Our puppy is now over the most time consuming, sleep depriving puppy stage. He is sleeping through the night and he is now working around our day and night routines. He has become an absolute pleasure and just what we always dreamed owning a dog would be like.

But still, as a family it’s time to get them both the help they need and to address these issues. My daughter has been referred to an OCD specialist and we are working to understand the illness and how we can help her and how she can help herself. My husband is seeking professional help via support services offered by his employer. I know this is just the beginning of two journeys that we will all navigate together.

“With the right kind of help, the majority of people will recover from a mental health issue and lead productive and satisfying lives.”

Speaking up about mental health should not be stigmatised. When we speak up we help ourselves and we help others to realise that we all have mental health and sometimes we need a bit of extra support.


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