Last year, for the first time, we dedicated an entire month to raising awareness about mental health and wellbeing.
The month became known as #mymentalhealthmatters month and fell between the key dates of 10 September (World Suicide Prevention Day) and 10 October (World Mental Health Day).
The purpose was to engage staff and students in conversations about their and others’ mental health, and this year we are doing the same.
Steven Fegan, Employability and Engagement Officer at the College, tells his story.
When I was asked to write a blog for #mymentalhealthmatters month I said “yeah, no problem”.
However, I soon realised that it was much more difficult than I had first anticipated. What did I want to say?
I think it’s important to focus on something that could help people have a better understanding of mental health, and offer a little hope.
First, everyone has a mental health. Like our physical health sometimes we have poor mental health; in fact 1 in 4 people every year will be diagnosed with a mental health condition.
I have been that 1 in 4, and not a million years ago. At one time, I had been an inpatient within the mental health wards of Crosshouse Hospital.
I was admitted there after being treated in the community with the help of a Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN), a GP and medication for about 4 months.
The problem was – the GP and CPN were doing all the work and I was adamant that I could be better than I was, and therefore I didn’t see the point in even speaking to them. I realise now that if I had, well, it might not have got to the point where I was admitted. The benefits of hindsight.
So how did it get to that point? Well apart from the fact I wouldn’t entertain the very people that were trying to help me, it was probably the lack of my general coping strategies.
Lots of things happen in life and have an impact; some have positive impacts but, life being the way it is, throws unexpected things at us like a death of someone close, a fall out with a family member or a period of sustained and high level stress at work.
Well that was what it was for me. With all of this going on, I realised that I had no coping strategies whatsoever. I turned to self-harm to deal with all of this emotional strain I had found myself in.
Self-harm is the umbrella term for a behaviour that intentionally harms yourself as a response to emotional strain and comes in a variety of methods, cutting, burning, and pulling hair out for example. I chose cutting, hitting walls and starving myself.
This made it difficult to keep things secret from my family and obviously caused them to become upset which broke my heart all the more. All I have ever done was try to make people, especially those closest to me, happy, and here I was making them cry. It then became a vicious circle; I felt bad so I would self-harm, I would self-harm and then feel bad.
Things all came to a head when I made an attempt on my life.
Everyone, maybe even myself, realised then that things were very serious. All I did more though was push people away. I wanted to end my life. My second suicide attempt led to me being admitted to hospital for my own safety.
After a while I thought that maybe the treatment plan would be worth a shot. I started to talk to the doctors and nurses then began to accept the treatments being offered. You will never guess what happened next – I started to feel better. Strange that.
I started to take part in the interest groups on the ward one of which was an arts and crafts workshop led by Gary McIntyre. Gary is a Creative Industries lecturer at the College. It was down to his help, support, empathy and understanding, that I made my transition from being in hospital to being a college student.
I now have a sense of belonging, a job I enjoy and a mass of tools in my coping tool box. I know that speaking to those I hold closest about the small niggles stops them from growing to annoyances. I now know being honest about my feelings and taking that ‘real man’ mask off isn’t a sign of weakness but instead a sign of a strength greater than any.
However, I would never have got well if it hadn’t been for the amazing support and love shown to me by my wife, her family, my sister and the excellent staff in the Community Mental Health team and in the hospital. There are also a number of people over and above that help keep me well. They are special people to me and hopefully they know that.
My story is not unique, I realised whilst being in hospital that many people with many stories from across Ayrshire are affected by poor mental health. What I also realised and what I want to emphasis to you, is: RECOVERY CAN AND OFTEN DOES HAPPEN!
What helps is having people around you that are willing to just be with you in the moment, not judge you and not fix you. Knowing that you can talk about it openly is a great anxiety relieved and that is why #mymentalhealthmatters is a great initiative.