Mind Charity Event – The charity Feast!

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This time last year, I was preparing to cycle through Cambridge on a fairly ancient pushbike dressed as Princess Leia, with a papier mache R2D2 strapped to the back of my bike. This is not just because I am a far-too-geeky exhibitionist (although it’s a contributing factor…) but my cycling escapade in the Great British Summer (read: pouring rain) raised £800 for a charity that is very important to me, Mind.

Just over a year ago a good friend of mine killed himself. This was a long time coming, in as far as he had some very serious mental health problems that were not being properly addressed with constructive healthcare. As a friend, it was maddening to hear him get a little worse every time I spoke to him. We suffered from two crucial problems – he felt as though his depression was embarrassing and shameful, and had to be hidden away from as many people as possible. Because he was not alone in that mindset, I had very little experience of dealing with someone with (frequently suicidal) depression, and had no idea what to say or do.

When he reached the point that he seemed dangerously suicidal, I googled ‘mental health helpline’ and started calling any charity that looked like it could offer me some kind of advice on what to do for my friend. Many, like the Samaritans, offer an outstanding listening service (that I know for a fact saved my friend from himself more than once) but they are not in a position to offer advice.

I eventually struck on Mind’s mental health helpline. When I said I was ‘calling about a friend’ they did not immediately assume that this was a lie, and listened carefully to what I had to say. When I explained that I wanted help knowing how to talk to my friend about his depression, what things are dangerous to say to a suicidal person, what things are known to be constructive, they were well-prepared to help. They sent me all sorts of information tailored towards helping someone who is supporting a suicidal friend/relative, and provided me a list of their services in my friend’s area that he may find helpful. Most of these were free or heavily subsidised. After my friend died, again, their website and helpline provided me with outstanding support and comfort.

I found no other mental health charity to offer such impressive services, but more to the point, Mind is one of the key voices in helping to break down the stigma of mental illness, and have it treated as just that: an illness.

This year, I am once again raising money for this charity. I am combining my love of food with a fundraising event, by inviting eight unsuspecting victims guests to my house for a meal. After the meal, they will then donate to charity what they feel that the meal was worth. The guest list is now pretty much confirmed, but as with last year, the Justgiving page I’m using to collect donations is open access. If you would like to make a donation to this charity, you can do so either through the Mind website, or on my Justgiving page (links below).

Make a one-off donation (Mind website): www.mind.org.uk/donate

Make a regular donation (Mind website): www.mind.org.uk/get_involved/donate/make_a_regular_donation

Donate via my Justgiving page: http://www.justgiving.com/Amanda-Brunton1

If you are also in a situation where you either want to seek help for mental illness, or are supporting someone else, you may find the following links helpful.

Mind website: www.mind.org.uk

– Full of useful information (I’ve picked out some links below) and also has a very useful helpline.

Mental health A-Z (Mind website): http://www.mind.org.uk/mental_health_a-z

Coping with suicidal feelings (Mind website): http://www.mind.org.uk/mental_health_a-z/8053_suicidal_feelings

Supporting someone with suicidal feelings (Mind website): http://www.mind.org.uk/mental_health_a-z/8065_suicide-supporting_someone_else

The Samaritans: http://www.samaritans.org/

– The Samaritans offer a listening service, although not advice. They are open 24/7.

You can also go to one of their branches, to talk to someone face-to-face, or contact them over email. Details below:

http://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help-you/contact-us

If you’re outside the UK, Befrienders worldwide partner with the Samaritans and offer a worldwide service: http://www.befrienders.org/

If you live in the UK, your first port of call should really be your GP. Some areas are limited in funding for mental healthcare, so it is important to know what other avenues you have for support. Nonetheless, none of the services above can replace a trained mental health practitioner.

 

Thanks for reading – I’ll be sure to post some pictures of the delicious meal I come up with after the event 🙂

 

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On depression, suicide, and Star Wars fancy dress

For those of you who know me, then I am sure this post is only going to describe an event I am sure you are all aware of. However, the blog is increasingly getting views from outside of  my immediate friends and family, and so I shall start at the beginning.

8 weeks ago one of my closest friends took the decision to end his own life.

I have not been totally truthful here – this is not the beginning of the story. However, poor mental health is such a taboo subject that it is often only from this point that friends or family become aware that one of their loved ones is suffering from a potentially life-threatening illness. The days of ‘The Big C’ are long since over; cancer is no longer a taboo subject which simply cannot be mentioned in polite conversation, and has to be hidden away by the sufferer. Yes, it’s frightening. Yes, it can feel defeatist, or like weakness to admit to those around you that you suffer with an illness that you cannot hope to fight without extensive treatment, and that you are afraid of the outcome. However, sufferers of this (often long-term) illness are quite rightly treated now with the respect and sympathy they deserve, rather than fear and shame.

My hope is that one day, depression and mental illness can be given the same respect. It is an illness which is not, on the whole, the fault of the sufferer. Nonetheless, the stigma associated with it dictates that the sufferer is often treated as though they can just ‘cheer up’, as though there is some blame to be apportioned to them for their suffering, or that treatment is an unnecessary luxury. Attention seeking somehow. Consider for a moment how it must feel to be afraid to die of cancer – an illness that you as an individual are powerless to stop. Now consider what that fear of death represents when you are afraid you may simply do it to yourself, and feel equally powerless. You expect nobody to take your fears seriously, and moreover, in order to receive treatment you have to beg, explaining over and over what you fear you may do to yourself. For many, this is a terrifying reality from which suicide provides the ultimate relief.

So what really happened?

The more truthful account of my friend’s life and death is this: he was a wonderful, talented, intelligent young man. Despite mental and physical illness of a severity that would have rendered a less robust person incapacitated, he achieved an outstanding 2:1 in English literature from a top university. He was a dedicated friend, a maverick, a lover of gin and a thoroughly entertaining person to be around. He had terrible taste in music, clothes and wine. He was high maintenance. He needed continuous emotional support to continue to live life as normal. He didn’t like to ‘be a burden’ to those around him, and although he was often hard work, he was an equally generous friend in return.

The last eight months saw an accelerated worsening of the depression, anxiety, and physical illness from which he had suffered for many years. His ability to go about day-to-day life was eroded a little bit at a time. Occupational health forms require that you declare mental health problems – they also ensure that you are almost unemployable. Mental health’care’ on the NHS is a total lottery depending on funding. In my friend’s case, he was sent home from hospital with a self help book when his therapist said that his suicical feelings had become out of control. Two weeks later he was found dead.

The mother of a close friend of mine is a mental health nurse, who describes a mental healthcare system almost entirely propped up by charities. These charities are having their funding systematically cut back, yet no state-sponsored health service has taken their place. Hopefully no one reading this blog will ever have to experience what my friend suffered – the humiliation of begging for help, while suffering with one of the cruellest illnesses of them all. However, the sad fact is that one in four of us will suffer from poor mental health. Even if you don’t experience it yourself, odds on someone you know will.

Why am I telling you all this you may ask.

Because something needs to be done. The hardest part about all this is that my friend isn’t coming back. We couldn’t save him. All we can hope to believe is that he is now experiencing in death the peace that he desperately wanted in life. This doesn’t solve the fact that for many out there, they are still living out the reality of mental illness without adequate support, feeling unable to express to those around them the suffering they are experiencing.

In just over a week I will be cycling 20k on my 35 year old, beaten up Raleigh shopper. I’m doing it dressed as princess Leia (I decided to auction off the right to pick my fancy dress…) and I have made a home made R2D2 to put on the back of the bike for running repairs. Mental illness isn’t always depressing. My friend would be laughing himself silly if he knew I was doing this now! I’m doing it for the charity Mind, as it helped support my friend and I through the worst of times. The most important thing they do is make mental illness talked about, and make help accessible. If you want to donate, hop on over here:

http://www.justgiving.com/Amanda-Brunton

Your support will be very much appreciated, but more importantly it’s the attitude that’s got to change. People have got to start seeing this as a real and treatable illness. People have got to stop believing that it is the fault of the sufferer. And above all, we have to start prioritising mental healthcare rather than letting vulnerable individuals fall by the wayside.

Rant over – normal cheery, food-related service will return with the next post 🙂