Colour Switcher:

Font Resizer:

12 October 2017

Opinion by Stu Bramford: Nottingham Mental Health Awareness Weeks 2017

Stu Bramford works as an Assistant Manager at Palmwood Court, one of our Care and Support projects, which provides support for adults with complex mental health needs. In this article, Stu shares his thoughts on the Nottingham Mental Health Awareness Weeks 2017.

“I was asked, and agreed, to do a blog post for Nottingham Mental Health Awareness Weeks (NMHAW) 2017 to try and continue raising awareness of mental health and some of the associated issues around it. I was asked to write something about mental and physical health and how the two are related. I have spoke about this before in one of my previous blog posts and don't want to repeat myself too much, but I feel that the two are intrinsically linked and that we (including medical professionals) need to stop thinking about mental and physical health as separate entities. Your mental health impacts your physical health and your physical health impacts your mental health. There are numerous studies and medical papers evidencing this to be the case.

“So I was thinking about how I could discuss physical and mental health without repeating what I have already spoken about in my previous posts and gave some substantial thought to this and came up with nothing. I had been thinking about it for over a week and was still drawing a blank. I was then driving somewhere one weekend and passed a 5-a-side pitch and it triggered memories of days when I was much fitter and used to play in a local 6-a-side league with a few friends and initially, a few strangers on a Monday evening. We were a pretty decent team, to the point where a local pub agreed to sponsor us, supply us with a kit and even gave us free food after our matches on a Monday night. Nothing fancy but it was free, hot, tasty food with friends.

“I then suddenly realised that the whole time I had been playing in this team was either side and throughout the darkest days of my illness. I would spend days in bed. I wouldn't go out for days at a time. I would miss appointments with healthcare professionals and my care team. But come 18:00 on a Monday evening I would have my bag ready and be picked up to go play football for a few hours. I missed a few evenings now and then but no more than any of the other guys in the team.

“How did that happen?!! This was my blog subject!!

“I started to think more about this time and tried to recall some of the things that were going on at the time. Now I know a lot of things I have blocked and hidden away, assuming my brain has done this for my own protection and in some sort of attempt at self preservation. But this results in me, from time to time, suddenly remembering a particular time or incident that occurred that is triggered by something I am experiencing in that moment, a sight, smell or feeling. It can also just happen, almost like my brain is telling me I am okay to deal with that memory now and it releases it from its pen to roam free in my mind. This can often be quite humorous but it can also be quite worrying at times, as I think to myself what else do I have locked away which I am not aware of? What have I done or experienced which has affected me so profoundly that my brain felt the need to hide it in some consciously inaccessible part of my brain?

“It was while thinking about playing in this 6-a-side league that I suddenly remembered a time when I had been in bed the whole weekend and had only gone out to drink. I did a lot of self-medicating throughout my illness that I recalled going to play football like nothing had happened. Now I know looking back that I masked my illness and hid it from view from the whole world, there are close friends who have only found out in recent years that I have a mental health diagnosis and they had no idea. They've said it explains a lot but they always just thought it was me and my "weird ways" (I have a lot of weird ways apparently).

“But how was this possible? Why was it possible? I know it wasn't due to the fact that I was worried about letting people down, as I would often do that. Not through any malice or intent but simply because I didn't have the ability to get up and be a person at that time. Maybe it was partly because I played in this team with my best friend, who is still my best friend now. We have been through a lot of things together in both our lives during our friendship, but we've always had a kind of unwritten rule. We'd never really talk about anything, we'd know that the other one was going through something, but we wouldn't ask them about it. If they spoke about it we would talk about it and help each other out, but if nothing was said we somehow knew that it was going on and that being together was enough for each of us.

“Maybe it was also something engrained within me. I have been a football fan for as long as I can remember. I remember being about 8 when my dad took me to my first Nottingham Forest match; we played Aston Villa and won 2-1. Teddy Sheringham scored the winning goal and we were stood in the old terraced Trent end at the City ground. It was an amazing experience I will always remember and then from about that age I played regularly for my local football team and school football team, even having try-outs for the County team for a couple of years, up until about the age of 17. Surprisingly around the time I became ill!! Was it somehow that by playing football each week it was allowing me to feel 'normal' and more like the person I was before I fell into the pit of depression?

“All I know is that I enjoyed it and for a few hours each week I don't recall being ill, I know I was ill, but somehow I was able to play and exert myself physically for those few hours.

“I feel this is just one more example of the huge power and interconnectivity there is between our mental and physical health. We often here about top athletes and sportspeople talk about having the mental resilience to push on or pick themselves up and try again after a defeat or failure and we all experience that to a greater or lesser degree in our own lives, whether that is trying a new support approach with a service user that doesn't quite go to plan or implementing a new organisational wide approach which doesn't quite work as it was envisioned. We all recognise that we need that mental strength and resilience to carry on, try again and learn from our mistakes.

“But what we never hear is how our physical resilience or strength got us through a particularly difficult time in our mental health. Now maybe this happens less often or maybe we just aren't very good at recognising that we are doing it? I know many people who when they have had a bad day at work go and "take it out" on the gym or maybe they run an extra mile that night on their run or cycle a couple of extra miles home that evening. I myself will sometimes insist that I take the dog for a walk in the evening when I have had a bad or stressful day as this helps me to de-stress and relax. It is also scientifically proven that exercise makes the body produce dopamine (the 'happy' hormone) which can make you feel better and more positive.

“All this is why I think NMHAW is one of the most important public health awareness campaigns there currently is. Each year a little more progress appears to be made in chipping away at the stigma that is still there around mental health. Only this week I went to a medications review at my recently changed GP surgery and I thought the GP's eyes were going to pop out of his sockets when I told him the dosage of medication I am on. Even trained medical professionals display this unconscious bias still, whether knowingly or not.

“This is why we should use this period to start a conversation about mental health and take the opportunity to engage with service users. By attending one of the many NMHAW events which are taking place across the city, allowing service users the opportunity to see that they are not alone in their experiences and that there are people out there willing and able to help and support them. We as staff can take this opportunity to take a few more steps down the path of building a trusting relationship with service users, showing them the door but not pushing them through it, simply saying we are here if you want to look inside.

“Knowing someone else is there for you is really important when you are experiencing poor mental health and NMHAW gives us the opportunity to show the people we work with that there is hope out there for them and that we are willing to walk the often scary path to better health (mentally and physically) with them and that we will travel at their speed. There will be bumps along the way and wrong turns, but each person who starts down this path is a step closer to recovery.

“What that means to each individual is very different and completely personal but by holding and engaging with such great campaigns such as Nottingham Mental Health Awareness Weeks we can take a step closer to ending the stigma surrounding mental health.”