Mental ill health is something that can strike any one of us at any time – and when it does, it can be catastrophic for the individual and their loved ones. No area of a person’s life goes untouched, whether it be the work domain, personal relationships or simply the ability to enjoy the fundamental pleasures of day-to-day existence. When I was 26, my brother and I were diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Like many people with this condition, we had both been unwell for some time but had managed to somehow carry on functioning, hiding our symptoms from those we were trying to protect. When the breaking point finally came, it was both a shock and a relief for all involved; shock for the family – who were completely unaware of our decline – and relief for my brother and me, because we no longer had to pretend we were okay.
Both of us were no longer able to work or think for ourselves. We became completely dependent on those around us to make our decisions, sort out practicalities and to ensure that we were kept safe. My family had to rely entirely on the guidance of mental health services during this terrifying and uncertain time. Sadly, less than a year after the diagnosis, my brother lost his battle with bipolar and took his own life. The family, still reeling from the trauma of both of us becoming so suddenly and simultaneously ill, then had to deal with this loss. Unfortunately this is not an uncommon event. It is estimated that the suicide risk for people with bipolar is around 15 to 20 times greater than among the general population, a harrowing statistic to learn. But numbers mean nothing to a family in crisis; everything changes and nothing is ever the same.
My mother’s devastation meant she did not seek help immediately. After struggling to process this loss, however, she eventually found the courage to contact Mind, the mental health charity. By subscribing and donating to Mind, she was able to feel that in some way she was helping other families cope with their experiences. Not only this, but through their website and publications she found solace in the inspiring and empowering stories of other young adults who had overcome their mental health problem and gone on to lead rewarding and fulfilling lives. Learning about their strength gave her the motivation and drive to carry on. There is a wealth of practical resources on Mind’s website, from knowing your legal rights (which helped me when I was unable to work), to local support organisations, and also hands-on tips for coping day to day with a mental health condition. During a trauma, these practicalities can be the hardest thing to get to grips with and are as important as the emotional support available.
My family were not the only ones who found support. Through Mind, I was able to locate a local group run specifically for people with bipolar to help with my own mental health journey. I was able to deal with my own grief then – which I could not process at the time of my brother’s death because I was still in crisis myself.
One of the most valuable things this created is that I’ve had an opportunity to share my own experiences. I have been able to help others not to judge people who do attempt or commit suicide. All too often, when a family has lost someone to suicide there is anger directed at the deceased, ‘How could they be so selfish? How could they just abandon us like this?’ This is an understandable reaction, borne of their own feelings of bewilderment and loss – but it is not all about you. I know first hand how much of our OWN grief and guilt we are carrying when we are that low, how our perspective changes and narrows, how nothing seems to exist apart from that one moment of unending and crushing despair.
I truly believed I was a burden on my family and that the least selfish thing I could do was to end my life. Imagine, then, how hard it is to see in the media people attacking those who commit or think of committing suicide, labelling them ‘selfish’ and ‘a coward’ – when sometimes to that person who is suffering, they are being anything but. I teach people how unfair it is to ever judge someone harshly for thinking of ending their life. What they need is understanding, compassion, to be listened to – not punished for having these emotions or, indeed, for acting on them.
I am so pleased that McGowan Transcriptions has decided to support Mind this April. As team mentor, the welfare of my colleagues is of such great importance to me. I know all too personally how quickly situations can spiral out of control if not addressed, and of the value of feeling listened to and accepted. Any charity that is dedicated to people in times of crisis gets my vote. Through the amazing work that Mind do, it is of great comfort to me and my family to know that others will continue to receive similar help and advice. Thank you, Mind, and thank you, McGowan Transcriptions for all your support and love.
by Li Collins, Team Mentor