How To Help A Friend With Depression

Depression is common, but it’s also common for people to freak out and not know how to support a friend. Below, I’ve listed a few ways in which you can help a friend with depression.

Listen

Listening, real, active listening, can be your superpower. Hearing what someone has told you means you can then validate their feelings, and make them feel less alone. Ask questions to get more information, rather than assuming you understand. Instead repeat back what they’ve told you in your own words, so they can see you’ve heard. Don’t make it about you and your own experiences, listen and show empathy; do this by showing your interest in what they’re telling you, through your words and body language.

Help them find support

This is easier said than done, but if you can help them get the ball rolling, by encouraging them to make that first phone call, taking them to appointments, or even advocating for them at appointments, it’s better than doing nothing. Depression can make people isolate themselves, and that includes accessing therapy and going to appointments. Check up on them and encourage them to continue with their treatment, by doing one of the above.

Offer to help practically

Practical help can be just as vital as listening. Knowing your place is a mess for instance, can make you feel guilty and worthless. They might need help shopping for groceries and essentials, or help tidying their home or room. It’s important to not take over and do absolutely everything for them. It can make them too reliant on you, or even make them feel guilty and like a burden. Try to share out the workload if you can, or offer to do something they absolutely feel they can’t face.

Don’t pressure them – but don’t exclude

When someone is depressed, they’ll be less sociable. It might feel frustrating when they’re invited out, but refuse to go. Don’t pressurise them or make them feel guilty for not going out. This doesn’t mean ignoring them completely though. You can still include them by extending an invitation. Try saying something along the lines of, ‘we’re going to the pub, you’re welcome to come if you’re feeling up to it.’ Acknowledging they’re having a difficult time, will make it easier on them if they feel they’re not ready..

Be patient

It can be a slow process for your friend to start feeling better and more like themselves. They’ll have good days when you think they’re ok, but then this could be followed by more bad days. Recovering from a bout of depression isn’t linear, and even when they’re in the middle of the storm, they might have days when they seem absolutely fine.

Stay in touch

Don’t let a friendship drift because they have depression! Staying in touch can make all the difference to them, especially during a time when other people might pull away, because they don’t know how to deal with it.

Learn about depression

One of the best gifts you can give a friend is simply learning more about depression. This doesn’t mean showering them with advice and ‘have you tried?!’ it’s reading up about what it’s really like, the signs and symptoms and what kind of support is out there. If you know the signs and symptoms, you will be more aware if they or someone else in your life becomes depressed. You can also share with them any information you’ve found on support groups etc.

Take care of yourself

Make sure to take time for you. Practise your own self care, and set boundaries around how much help you can provide, such as how much time you can spend on the phone talking to your friend.

And remember, this is still your friend. They haven’t suddenly changed into a stranger. You can still treat them and talk to them how you would at any other time.

How To Sensitively Talk To Someone Having Suicidal Thoughts

It can feel incredibly tough to talk to someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts, but it’s so important to have these conversations. We often worry about making the situation worse if we talk about it, but actually, we could just end up alienating that person by not talking about it. Language is a powerful tool, and the way we use it can have a huge impact on someone’s life. It’s important to use language sensitively when talking to someone about suicidal thoughts.

Suicide and having suicidal thoughts is often stigmatised. People are often afraid to talk about it, but that’s the best way to remove the stigma.

I have felt suicidal in the past, and the people around me have been scared and confused as to what they can do and how they should help. It doesn’t have to be complicated. I’ve spoken to close family and friends about how to talk to me when I might be suicidal, and I wanted to share here what helps me.

Active Listening

You don’t have to be an expert to talk to someone experiencing suicidal feelings. Active listening is a good place to start. It’s all about giving the person space to talk, without interruption. When it’s your turn to listen, don’t spend the time planning what to say next. You can’t rehearse and listen at the same time. Think only about what the other person is saying. Don’t jump in with advice, instead listen and really hear what they’re saying about their feelings and emotions. Be nonjudgemental – because only they know the thoughts and feelings and you can only find out what they are by listening. Wait for them to pause, before asking questions, and those questions should be just to clarify what’s been said. So really you could call it being a sensitive listener.

Choose Your Words Carefully

Using the correct terms around suicide shows you’re compassionate and understanding. If you use the word ‘commit’ you’re suggesting it’s a crime. Suicide in the UK hasn’t been illegal since 1961. If someone has heard you using this term, they might be less willing to open up about their thoughts when they’re struggling. Instead use terms such as ‘died by suicide’ or ‘took their own life.’ Showing you’ve changed your language shows you’re willing to be there and listen.

Don’t Avoid The Subject

You don’t have to give advice when someone opens up to you, so don’t be afraid of talking to someone about suicide. You can point them in the direction of help – whether that’s helpline numbers, their mental health team, or calling the emergency number. You can help them by taking them to an appointment, or to A&E, if it’s an emergency. We often worry talking will trigger someone into doing something drastic, but having a listening ear and someone to talk to maybe just what they need.

Show you care by showing empathy. Empathy is about even if you’ve never experienced what they’re going through, you can appreciate the way they feel. Try not to share your own experiences, instead, ask them questions that give them the opportunity to be honest. It’ll encourage them to think about their thoughts and feelings in a way they never have before.

Remember – not to speculate about suicide you may have read about in the news, especially if it’s about the method. This can be triggering for people that may be struggling with difficult, intrusive thoughts.

If you are in crisis and are concerned for your own, or someone else’s safety, call 999 or go to A&E

Samaritans – 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org. The Samaritans are available 24/7 and are completely anonymous.

Stop Romanticising Mental Illness

Mental illness should never be something to aspire to. Making it seem cute, romantic, or beautiful distorts what it actually is; scary, lonely and ugly.

When I see someone in the public eye talk about how an illness is beautiful, or whatever other positive word they want to use, it cultivates the idea that mental illness is romantic; that it’s a quirk, and something that makes you special and unique. At a time when many people are struggling, or having setbacks with the management of mental illness, it devalues the struggle of people living with mental illness. How are people who live with mental illness meant to be taken seriously when people keep romanticising it? There is so much awareness trying to be raised for mental illness, important campaigns, and all this does is undo all of that.

I’ve had to deal with this many times. I remember being at a party, where a group I didn’t know too well, were discussing a friend, who believed she had bipolar disorder. They were making fun of her, and throwing around comments like, “Everyone has something these days” and “Yeah, bipolar is is just the fashionable ‘in’ thing to have.” and another, “People just want to be different, and bipolar makes you look quirky.” There were nods of agreement. The very idea makes my blood boil. I decided it was time to speak up, and educate them. I said, 

I have Bipolar. It took 12 years for me to be diagnosed. It’s not fashionable, in fact it’s terrifying and debilitating.” 

I went onto to tell them about the blog I wrote about Bipolar, and recommend some websites and books that they should take a look at. There’s still a long way to go in educating people about Bipolar. People are quick to judge and repeat stigmatising myths they’ve heard. Not everyone is confident enough to call people out. It makes my heart race when I do. This compounds the problem, when people’s views go unchallenged. If you can point people in the right direction to mental health campaigns and charities, it can make a big difference to their point of view.

To me, Bipolar will never be fashionable. It’s a life long severe mental illness that takes determination to live with and even more work and drive to find stability. People seem to hold onto the idea that bipolar can make you more interesting; that others will see you as edgy and vibrant, or brooding and mysterious. It’s harmful to those who are suffering and trying to reach or maintain stability. 

If you can look at your journey and take some positivity from it, that’s great. it’s important to understand and learn from our experiences. There is a line though, and romanticising an illness will never be ok. It’s damaging to people that struggle everyday. Language is a powerful tool, and we need to think about how we describe mental illness; will it cause someone to relapse if I say this? Will my words make someone feel like they’re not trying hard enough? That’s the crux of it; saying mental illness is fashionable, beautiful, a quirky, cute trait to aspire to, tells people that have a negative, brutal, unrelentingly bad experience that if only they tried harder, then they could see it that way too. Mental illness just doesn’t work that way. How about praising people for getting through each day, for still being here? How about being there and listening to a friend who’s struggling? How about actively being part of the change in perceptions of mental illness? That’s something we should all aspire to.

Stop Romanticising Mental Illness

Mental illness should never be something to aspire to. Making it seem cute, romantic, or beautiful distorts what it actually is; scary, lonely and ugly.

When I see someone in the public eye talk about how an illness is beautiful, or whatever other positive word they want to use, it cultivates the idea that mental illness is romantic; that it’s a quirk, and something that makes you special and unique. At a time when many people are struggling, or having setbacks with the management of mental illness, it devalues the struggle of people living with mental illness. How are people who live with mental illness meant to be taken seriously when people keep romanticising it? There is so much awareness trying to be raised for mental illness, important campaigns, and all this does is undo all of that.

I’ve had to deal with this many times. I remember being at a party, where a group I didn’t know too well, were discussing a friend, who believed she had bipolar disorder. They were making fun of her, and throwing around comments like, “Everyone has something these days” and “Yeah, bipolar is is just the fashionable ‘in’ thing to have.” and another, “People just want to be different, and bipolar makes you look quirky.” There were nods of agreement. The very idea makes my blood boil. I decided it was time to speak up, and educate them. I said, 

I have Bipolar. It took 12 years for me to be diagnosed. It’s not fashionable, in fact it’s terrifying and debilitating.” 

I went onto to tell them about the blog I wrote about Bipolar, and recommend some websites and books that they should take a look at. There’s still a long way to go in educating people about Bipolar. People are quick to judge and repeat stigmatising myths they’ve heard. Not everyone is confident enough to call people out. It makes my heart race when I do. This compounds the problem, when people’s views go unchallenged. If you can point people in the right direction to mental health campaigns and charities, it can make a big difference to their point of view.

To me, Bipolar will never be fashionable. It’s a life long severe mental illness that takes determination to live with and even more work and drive to find stability. People seem to hold onto the idea that bipolar can make you more interesting; that others will see you as edgy and vibrant, or brooding and mysterious. It’s harmful to those who are suffering and trying to reach or maintain stability. 

If you can look at your journey and take some positivity from it, that’s great. it’s important to understand and learn from our experiences. There is a line though, and romanticising an illness will never be ok. It’s damaging to people that struggle everyday. Language is a powerful tool, and we need to think about how we describe mental illness; will it cause someone to relapse if I say this? Will my words make someone feel like they’re not trying hard enough? That’s the crux of it; saying mental illness is fashionable, beautiful, a quirky, cute trait to aspire to, tells people that have a negative, brutal, unrelentingly bad experience that if only they tried harder, then they could see it that way too. Mental illness just doesn’t work that way. How about praising people for getting through each day, for still being here? How about being there and listening to a friend who’s struggling? How about actively being part of the change in perceptions of mental illness? That’s something we should all aspire to.

Managing Sleep

I know a ton of us, especially right now when we’re under lockdown, are struggling to get a good night’s kip. How can a lack of sleep affect us? I’ll also look at some tips and advice that have helped me along the way.

Why is sleep so important?

Sleep refreshes us, it keeps us going. But when you live with Bipolar disorder, or any mental health condition really, a lack of sleep can have a major impact. Sleep disturbance is very common if you live with bipolar disorder. Disrupted sleep is a symptom of mania, but it an also lead to manic and hypomanic episodes. Studies have shown that 25 – 65% of people with bipolar, who had a manic episode, had experienced sleep disruption before the episode.

Breaking down the different types of sleep disturbances

Insomnia – is having problems getting to sleep, and staying asleep, or not sleeping enough. It’s a common problem for many people with mental health problems. Hypomania and mania often lead to insomnia.

Hypersomnia – This is the total opposite of insomnia. Over sleeping affects one third of people with bipolar disorder. It often happens during periods depression, where all we want to do is sleep.

Irregular sleep-wake schedule – This is when your sleep routine goes out the window. The irregular cycle can interfere with treatment.

My own experience

I struggle with insomnia, a lot. It’s incredibly frustrating, and to top it off, for me it often leads to mania. If my sleep is disrupted for more then three days in a row (say, I get 2-3 hours a night) I can become very ill, very quickly. Not sleeping is a major trigger I’ve realised over the years and I have to keep an eye on it, and try my best to get a good night’s sleep. I’m also the type of person that when I’m depressed, I feel absolutely knackered all the time. All I want to do is sleep, and even when I get a good 8 hours, I still feel exhausted.

So what have I learnt to help me sleep?

Get some exercise – Honestly knackering yourself out can help knock you out for the night. Tiring out your body through exercise lifts your mood – and helps you sleep. It doesn’t always mean going for a run, or doing aerobics at home. Sometimes I just have a dance party in my lounge – why not! Just don’t exercise a few hours before bed, because it’s too energising and will keep you up. I realise not everyone can exercise all the time when you live with mental illness. Even a gentle walk is better than nothing.

Avoid screen time – Blue screen is baaaad for sleep. Try to stay away from the television, your phone, computer or laptop, at least an hour before you go to bed. Instead, start your bedtime routine. Read a book, even make a plan for the following day.

Routine – When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, my psychologist wouldn’t stop banging on about sleep hygiene. What this means is having a solid evening routine you stick to. It helps your mind relate certain tasks and sensory experiences to preparing for sleep. Wahing your face, brushing your teeth, moisturising your body are all a great start. Try incorporating calming hobbies and interests into your routine, such as reading a book in bed or in a quiet corner of the room you sleep in. Make sure you go to bed at a regular time at night, and wake up the same time every morning. I tend to have a ‘night off’ from my routine once a week on a Saturday night, but go straight back to it the next day.

Reflect and Plan – Keep a journal and write down what you’ve done that day. It can help you sort through your thoughts and focus on something that might be worrying you, instead of those worries popping up when you’re already in bed, trying to sleep. Writing is cathartic, and can help you understand your anxieties, and work through them. Listing on paper what you have to do tomorrow, can stop you fixating on those plans when you’re laying in bed.

Avoid naps – If you can, or keep them short if you need one. I love a good nap, but I know if I nap in the afternoon or evening, I won’t sleep at night!

Keep your bedroom for sleeping – Limit watching television, or working on your laptop. Try keeping a tidy bedroom that feels relaxing to be in.

Avoid alcohol and caffeine

Get up– It might seem counter intuitive, but if you can’t sleep (say after 30 minutes) get out of bed and try doing something relaxing. Otherwise it’s frustrating to stay in bed worrying why you can’t sleep. Even if you’ve been up during the night, try to get up at your regular time.

I hope some of these tips help you to get a better night’s sleep. If you’re really struggling to sleep, go and see your GP or psychiatrist, who might be able to give you additional support and further treatment.

Bipolar Myths Debunked

People with Bipolar disorder are just moody

There’s an idea that bipolar disorder is just mood swings – something everybody has, so isn’t a big deal. It is though, very different from everyday mood changes. The highs and lows are extreme and can feel like they come out of the blue, or there is no reason for you to be acting the way you are. These mood changes can last several days, weeks, or even months. The difference from bipolar mood changes to regular mood swings is huge. With bipolar, there are incredible, sometimes terrifying for the person living with it, changes in energy, activity, sleep and mood. I’ll give you an example of what bipolar isn’t; you wake up happy, in a good mood. Later on, you start to feel grumpy and irritable. It might be because of something that happened at work, you haven’t had enough coffee, or it may feel like just ‘one of those days.’ At the end of the day, you somehow find yourself happy again. These are normal mood changes – if you think about it, we rarely stay in the same mood all day!

Mania makes you productive, fun and generally in a good mood

Mania might start out as fun, and you’ll feel like the life of the party. It can make you articulate, quick thinking, and exude confidence. But it can quickly morph into an unrelenting monster. That good mood can quickly change into irritability and spontaneous bursts of anger. Spending can spiral out of control, and you could find yourself in serious debt. Impulses take over, and you may start taking more risks and become more reckless. It may result in a loss of control of your thoughts and actions and even losing touch with reality.

You will lose your creativity if you get treatment

I’m a creative person, I always have been. Instead of medication hindering my creativity, stability has enhanced it. I’m clearer of thought, more focused and less forgetful. I’ve even managed to secure a publishing deal during my longest period of stability. It’s a myth that can be damaging, and stop people from seeking treatment they desperately need.

You’re either manic or depressed if you have bipolar

This isn’t true. Bipolar is a complex condition. Many people with the disorder experience what’s called mixed episodes. This is when you feel highs and lows at the same time, or in very quick succession. Also, it’s possible for people to experience long periods when they feel stable, with balanced moods. It varies from person to person, but some can go years without having an episode of mania or depression.

There’s only one type of bipolar disorder

Bipolar I – Someone with this diagnosis will experience manic and depressive episodes.

Bipolar II – Is mostly categorised by mostly depressive episodes. Someone with bipolar II will have experienced at least one hypomanic episode..

Cyclothymia – This doesn’t meet the requirements for a diagnosis of Bipolar I or II, but still can seriously impact your life.

Bipolar disorder otherwise not specified – This is when someone has bipolar – like mood changes, but it doesn’t fit the same pattern of the above.

I hope this clears up some of the myths and misconceptions around bipolar disorder. If you have any questions, pop a comment below, or ask someone you know with the disorder. It’s always good to ask questions, and learn from people with lived experience!

Journaling for Mental Health

Writing and journaling is a cathartic, therapeutic experience. I started a journal when I was first diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. It helped me accept the illness, and work through the ups and downs of living with mental illness. It gave me a better understanding of myself, and encouraged me to be proactive and find coping strategies for everyday life. Basically, writing about our experiences, feelings and worries helps our overall our mental health. Why would you not want to start one.

Journalingyour thoughts and feelings, is like decluttering your mind. It can feel like we have so many files filled with negative thoughts and emotions, it’s always a good idea to sort through them from time to time. This where a journal can help. It’s a helpful habit to get into!

Why should you journal?

Keep a notebook with you, or even sticky notes, it doesn’t matter, as long as you have some paper and a pen or pencil. You can journal on your phone, laptop or computer, whatever feels comfortable for you.

Process difficult emotions

Journaling will help you deal with difficult emotions and events. Having something written down can help us our feelings and emotions. It might be you discover how you really feel, or it brings up emotions about an experience you didn’t realise you had. It can help us understand why we react to events in a certain way, and it can help us realise coping strategies and triggers.

Help in difficult times

If you’re going through a rough patch, writing keeps your mind occupied and focused. Anything creative can help when we’re having a difficult time, but writing can also help you make sense of what you’re going through. Journaling can help you during uncertain times, when you’re feeling isolated, or when you’re going through a stressful period. Write down all the concerns, worries and stressful thoughts that you’re experiencing. Putting it all down on paper, helps you process your emotions and feelings. It can help you get to the bottom of why you feel the way you do – and what you can do about it. If you can’t do anything about it, it can act like a release. Writing down, getting those negative thoughts and feelings out of your head and reading them through, is really beneficial.

You might just want to rip up the notes you’ve made, and throw them away. It can feel that those thoughts no longer have any control over you. And it’s cathartic just to write, rip up the paper and move on!

Journalingcan also be challenging mentally. It can bring up difficult emotions and feelings. It’s important to take care of yourself if you’re exploring difficult topics. Let someone close to you (in real life or online, they both count), know that you might need to talk to them about difficult emotions this has brought up for you.

I’m finding there’s great power in journaling – it helps process difficult emotions and make sense of them. I’ve found things out about myself I didn’t even realise, after reading back old journal entries.