Welcome to the Living With... series which presents first-hand accounts of life with mental illness and substance misuse.
Stories from people who have been service users with GMMH are put forward here with the aim of providing an insight into what daily life is like; breaking down confusion or possible stigma around illnesses which can effect one in four people.
If you are worried about your wellbeing or that of a loved one, we would always recommend in the first instance to speak to your GP or care co-ordinator.
Living With... Addiction
A service user tells his story about how he turned his life around by attending the Alcohol and Drug Services in Salford to help him with his addiction to amphetamines.
Michael is 43, married and lives in Salford. He started using amphetamines when he was 23 to get through double shifts at work. “A friend at work gave me some speed when I was tired at work. I started using amphetamines regularly at work and for nights out at the weekend. Within six months I was taking amphetamines every day and spending from £5 to £10 a day.”
Michael was eventually sacked from his job and started to commit crimes to fund his habit. Unwilling to speak to family or friends about his problems he kept his addiction a secret. “I didn’t see it as a problem and didn’t think it was anything they needed to know about.”
Soon Michael was spending over £100 per day on amphetamines. He started having hallucinations due to the lack of sleep, suffered from paranoia, had arguments with his wife and was repeatedly arrested by the police.
“I reached rock bottom. I’d been kicked out of my home and nearly took my own life. I met up with my wife and promised that I’d get help. I got an appointment with Salford Substance Misuse Services and they recommended services in Salford.”
Alcohol and Drug Services in Salford provide services for recovering drug and alcohol users who are serious about changing their lives. The ethos of the service is to enable recovery through a range of psychological and social interventions.
“I was really apprehensive about going somewhere new, but I was assigned a key worker who dropped everything to talk. I built up my self esteem by taking part in group work and completed a 12-week intensive recovery programme.”
Michael is now free from his addictions and says his life is no longer ruled by drugs. He volunteers as he wanted to give something back and has been on a number of training courses. His next challenge is to get back to work and he’s well on the way to achieving this with a number of new qualifications under his belt.
For more information about the help Michael received, visit our Substance Misuse Services.
To find out more about the truth and dangers of amphetamines, visit Talk to Frank
Living With... Bipolar Disorder
According to The Royal College of Psychiatrists, bipolar (also known as manic depression) causes severe mood swings, that usually last several weeks or months and can be:
- Low mood, intense depression and despair.
- High or ‘manic’ feelings of joy, over-activity and loss of inhibitions.
- A ‘mixed state’ such as a depressed mood with the restlessness and over-activity of a manic episode.
It affects 1% of people, and often starts around the teenage years or early 20’s.
32 year old Caroline, who suffered with the illness since her teenage years, shares her story.
My problems started when I was about 15 years of age. I became depressed at school, feeling alienated and having suicidal thoughts. I began cutting my forearms as I felt it gave me a sense of release from the sadness that engulfed me.
When my parents saw my scars and realised what I had been doing they took me to the GP. Unfortunately, the GP didn’t seem to understand the severity of my situation and put it down to the usual tensions between a teenager and her parents. I was referred to counselling, but looking back I needed more than that. Mentally I wasn’t in a place where I could engage with the counsellor, and subsequently I didn’t find it at all helpful.
By the time I was 17 I had moved out of my family home and in with my boyfriend. We both started smoking cannabis, doing speed and acid and drinking heavily. I still felt incredibly down, but thought that my problems were because of the drink and drugs, and if I stopped my problems would be solved.
It was a very bleak time for us both, and resulted in my boyfriend having a breakdown. We felt we just needed to get away, so moved down south. It was at that time my boyfriend begun to get very possessive. I knew I had to get out of that situation, so I moved back to my parents’ house in Salford.
I had cut back dramatically on the amount of drinking and drugs I was doing, but still the depression was there, and I began to see that maybe my problems were because of a mental health issue, rather than the alcohol and drugs.
Once again I went to my GP, still sceptical about whether there was actually anything wrong with me, or whether they could help. The doctor said I was depressed and I started a course of Prozac. With hindsight I can see that this was a lifesaving move for me at the time, although the Prozac made me extremely high – the polar opposite to what I had been feeling previously. I felt so much better and started socialising again, and fell back into the bad habits of drinking and smoking cannabis.
Between the ages of 19 and 27 I seemed to have two mental states; either I was exceptionally low and depressed, or extremely high. I started a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), and my therapist suggested I might have Bi-Polar Disorder.
Finally in 2004, I was referred to a GP for the Salford Mental Health Directorate, and he diagnosed me as suffering from Type 2 Bi-Polar Disorder. I resisted going on medication for quite a while, due to misconceptions about the side effects, but when I eventually did start taking Sodium Valproate, I realised I had spent a long time feeling miserable when there was actually no need to. Admittedly I did feel a bit ‘fuzzy’ and indifferent at first, but I worked with the doctors to find a dose that worked for me.
I completed a BSc Sociology, and did a Correspondence Course and have had articles published in various magazines. At the moment I’m doing an MA in Literature, Culture and Modernity.
For the first time in years, I feel like I can actually plan for my future; my life is no longer a matter of coping with each day as it comes, I can now enjoy life and look forward to what the future holds. Once I have completed my masters degree, I plan to do a PHD and become a university lecturer.
If you can relate to my story and haven’t yet sought help, I’d like to encourage you to go to your GP and get a referral. It is scary to make that first step, but the results are definitely worth it – I’ve got my life back.
Liam was 21 when he was diagnosed with Hyper Mania (now known as Bipolar Disorder).
It all began at the age of 14 when Liam’s personality changed and he felt different. Prior to this time he had been a quiet and studious child who worked hard and was well liked by teachers and his fellow pupils.
He became very disruptive in school and was rude to his teachers. Unfortunately, they did not realise that this was more than naughty behaviour and Liam was excluded from school as he was disrupting his fellow students when they were studying for their O’ Levels (now known as GSCEs).
It was at this time that Liam visited his GP to talk about the situation as it was concerning him, but he was dismissed as having normal teenage feelings that were just a part of growing up. He left school with very few qualifications which impacted on his career prospects. He found it difficult to keep a job for more than a few months due to lethargy and had difficulty sleeping.
In the months before his diagnosis when he was 21, Liam was behaving strangely in his local community. After being told he had Bipolar Disorder, he was admitted to the Trafford Mental Health Directorate as an in-patient for four months. Liam describes this period of his life as a very daunting time, particularly for a young man who was not very world wise.
During his stay Liam was given Lithium, which is a mood stabiliser used in the treatment of Bipolar Disorder. After his discharge, staff advised Liam that it would be better for his recovery if he moved to a hostel with more support. He moved into the hostel to continue his rehabilitation. He spent two years at the hostel and during this time worked in the onsite factory making party decorations. Liam described how, with support, he kept his job, managed his own budget and lived in a shared house.
It was after a conversation with his brother that Liam decided to leave the hostel. He was concerned that if he spent too long there he would be unable to integrate back into the community. He explained his thoughts to his new social worker and she arranged for him to move into a shared house and attend New Way Forward (formerly known as Trafford User Group or TUG).
It was during this time that Liam became part of the ‘Monitoring Evaluating Reviewing Trafford Merit Project’. He was part of a recruitment panel which gave him valuable interviewing and communication skills.
Liam was kept extremely busy with his volunteering work and it was his inability to turn down opportunities which saw him relapse some years after he was first diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Despite eating healthily and reducing his medication he had put himself under too much pressure and this, coupled with his mother’s deteriorating health, saw him return to Trafford Mental Health Directorate’s inpatient unit for three months.
After his time in the unit, Liam was able to move on with his life and he got his own flat through the Making Space Project. He continued to attend rehabilitation sessions at a community mental health unit in Trafford for a year.
Now Liam is passionate about breaking down stigma around mental health and volunteers for two organisations, the Trust’s user action team and ‘New Way Forward’ based in Trafford.
Liam is now able to recognise the signs and symptoms that could signal a relapse, and with help and support from his partner he is able to find a balance between volunteering and taking time for himself.
Liam’s advice to other service users:
“Look for a volunteering role, it will allow you to be involved and have your say but make sure that you respect your boundaries.
“If you are feeling unwell or depressed, make sure you contact your GP, it can be difficult but don’t be embarrassed about it, you are still the same person and you will get better.”
Living with... Caring for someone
Anne is a mum and cares for her son who has a severe and enduring mental illness. Anne became a Governor in 2008 and represents the views of people who care for someone with a mental health problem.
“I want to make sure service users and carers are getting the services they need and deserve to help improve their lives. I see Governors as information points for people to access if they are in trouble or need help with something, so that we can point them in the right direction or use their experiences to improve services.”
Anne feels passionately about people who care for someone with a mental health problem being represented on the Council of Governors and says: “Carer’s views are not always represented - it’s getting better but for a long time carers were side-lined despite them often knowing the service user they care for the most as they are with them 24 hours a day. I wanted to ensure carers views were heard at the highest level.”
Before Anne’s son was diagnosed with a serious mental health condition she didn’t know anything about mental illness because she didn’t have to. “It’s not something you think about until it happens to you or a member of your family but when it does you want to find out as much as you can to help the person you care for. Knowledge is power and I wanted to find out as much as I could to take an equal part in my son’s care and know what the consultants, nurses and psychiatrists were talking about.”
It wasn’t until Anne took an active role in her son’s care and started attending support groups that she realised how wide spread mental health problems are: “It could be anyone, it could be someone sat on the bus next to you. But there’s a great deal of stigma towards people with mental illness in life in general as well as in the workplace. People with mental health problems often don’t tell other people about their illness because there’s a stigma attached to it and this is something we’ve got to address.”
Despite this, Anne and her son have always spoken openly about his illness: “We’ve never hidden it. I think it’s very powerful when people speak openly about their mental health problems and it’s important to get this message across.”
Anne credits her own experience as a carer to the people who have helped her and her husband, Terence, to cope: “In some ways keeping busy and active helps for us – just getting on with it. We don’t think of it anymore as it’s part of the fabric of our lives. Everyone we’ve met connected with my son’s care has been excellent and without them we wouldn’t have been able to cope. Knowing that you can ring someone when there’s a problem makes a big difference not just for us but for our son too.
“It really helps to speak to people who know what it’s about, whether it’s meeting people at support groups or meeting the variety of people I see in my role as Governor. Talking to people from all walks of life and the professionals who work at the Trust has been a great support because you are able to share any problems instead of bottling things up.
“I like to get involved with things – that’s why I became a Governor. I’ve had so much help over the years from the Trust’s services it’s nice to give something back. I feel very strongly about that.”
Living With... Dementia
Kevin Barr worked for our Open Doors Dementia Service from 2016-2017 as their Network Facilitator and is one of three service users living with dementia that have been employed by Greater Manchester Mental Health Foundation Trust (GMMH).
Kevin feels passionately about raising public awareness of dementia and strives to help and support people to maintain a fulfilling, meaningful and productive quality of life.
Kevin a retired as a solicitor when he was diagnosed with early onset alzheimer’s dementia in May 2014. Kevin became worried about his memory when his father, aunt and uncle had dementia and he became concerned when he also started to forget things. Kevin went to see his GP and was then referred to the Salford Memory Assessment Team, where he undertook a memory assessment.
“When I received my diagnosis, I felt devastated and unsure what the future would bring. I was reassured by my consultant Dr. Noble that you can live well with dementia and there is a lot of support in Salford for people receiving this diagnosis.
I was firstly invited to attend, together with my partner Mary, a Post Diagnostic Course. Over several weeks, we were provided with information and guidance of how to live well with dementia and what to expect in the future.
Early this year, at one of these meetings, it was announced that the Open Doors Dementia Service was looking to recruit an additional facilitator to set up a new support group. I decided to apply for this role and was lucky enough to be appointed.
At the monthly meetings we chat about our experiences and exchange information about services and various other support groups in the Salford area. Information is also given about research and discussions are encouraged but there is no pressure to participate. This is left up to the individual group members’, who are welcome to join in if they so wish, and indeed they often do once they become familiar with other members of the group.”
Read Kevin's Dementia Diary below.
Living With... Depression
Depression is a serious illness. Health professionals use the words depression, depressive illness or clinical depression to refer to it. It is very different from the common experience of feeling miserable or fed up for a short period of time.
Emily is 40 years old, lives in Manchester and is employed in a full time position within a large organisation. Emily talked to GMMH and agreed to share her experiences of depression.
What was the trigger for your condition?
I was 27 years old and following the birth of my first child, I began suffering from postnatal depression. This lasted for two years. I was in an unhappy relationship which contributed to a pattern of feeling depressed. I stopped eating and sleeping properly and this contributed to my anxiety.
How did it affect you?
I felt like I was removed from society and I didn’t want to be around people, even my friends and family. I left my job as it involved a lot of lone working which I found was detrimental to my condition.
My sleep pattern was disrupted and I alternated from not being able to sleep at night to feeling exhausted and having no energy to complete even the most basic tasks. I also lost my appetite and didn’t want to eat. I felt extremely disorientated and this was mainly caused by my anxiety which made everything seem worse.
What did you do?
When I began to suffer from postnatal depression I visited my GP who was extremely supportive and said that my depression could have been caused by a chemical imbalance as a result of my pregnancy.
The GP monitored me and as the depression did not lift he put me on a course of medication which helped to treat my depression.
I was fortunate to have a strong support network of family and friends to help me care for my child when I was suffering as I didn’t have the energy to do it. I also spoke about my suffering to the health visitor who was also extremely understanding and supportive. She told me that there were many other women who also went through the same experience so I was not alone.
I read a lot about depression when I was recovering. I found that professional publications which give facts about the condition were really helpful to me to understand what I was experiencing and to help me make sense of my condition.
How do you feel now?
People who know me now say I am a much happier person than I was when I was suffering from depression. I was a shadow of my former self and didn’t want to socialise or engage with other people. I had to make lifestyle changes in order to help myself. I ended my negative relationship and made sure I ate as well as possible and began exercising and taking pride in my appearance.
I am definitely a stronger person as a result of my experience. I have a lot of empathy for people who are suffering from depression and can spot the signs in others.
I have a positive outlook on life and am more patient and appreciative of everything and I jump at new opportunities rather than waiting for things to happen to me.
I let each bout of depression take its course and don’t feel guilty about it as previously I suffered extreme guilt when I was depressed.
How did you begin your recovery?
It took a very long time. I still have periods of depression today but I know how to spot the signs and I ensure I am eating well and getting enough sleep and I tell myself that I will be ok and I can get through it.
My main recovery tool was to remove the negative things in my life as they were making me unwell and giving the depression a reason to return. My support network really helped me and they helped with my recovery by talking to me.
What advice would you give to people who think they may also be suffering from depression?
My advice would be don’t keep your feelings bottled up, speak to somebody you trust. Visit your GP and ask them for help. Also, be wary of some websites which give other peoples stories and don’t be tempted to diagnose yourself.
You can also visit the depression alliance, which is a registered charity for support and advice. You can get through it and help and support is available for everyone who is affected.
Due to the sensitivity of the subject matter and person, ‘Emily’ is a pseudonym.
Living With... Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are a serious mental illness affecting over 1.6 million people in the UK . There has been an increase in cases with both women and men being affected by the disorder, which is responsible for more loss of life than any other form of psychological illness.
Eating disorders are characterised by an abnormal attitude towards food that causes someone to change their eating habits and behaviour.
A person with an eating disorder may focus excessively on their weight and shape, leading them to make unhealthy choices about food with damaging results to their health.
Types of eating disorders
According to NHS Choices, eating disorders include a range of conditions that can affect someone physically, psychologically (mentally) and socially (their ability to interact with others). The most common eating disorders are:
- anorexia nervosa, when someone tries to keep their weight as low as possible, for example by starving themselves or exercising excessively
- bulimia, when someone tries to control their weight by binge eating and then deliberately being sick or using laxatives (medication to help empty their bowels)
- binge eating, when someone feels compelled to overeat
Eating disorders that do not fit with the above definitions may be described as:
- atypical eating disorders
- eating disorders not otherwise specified
Owen is in his early thirties, lives in the Greater Manchester area and has a full time, professional job. Owen has been through the eating disorder service at GMMH and wanted to talk about his journey in battling the illness.
When did you first start experiencing difficulties around eating?
“I first thought that I might have problems with my eating when I was aged 24, but to be honest looking back now I probably had issues regarding eating two or three years earlier and even as far back as a teenager, but at the time I did not realise it. In my case I experienced problems with my eating due to anorexia caused by excessive exercise, especially after eating.”
Owen enjoyed running and wanted to get fitter and frequently went to the gym, burning around 1600 calories a day. Yet eating smaller portions and lower calorie foods like fruit, vegetables and salad, consequently his weight plummeted and he found exercising extremely difficult.
What are the signs/side effects?
“What eventually brought it to my attention was the fact that my weight had dropped so low, I had a lack of energy, felt cold all the time, my fingers even turned blue and my mind was just so preoccupied with food that I could not concentrate or accomplish simple tasks, even at work. I became irritable with my family, saw less of my friends, becoming more isolated and occupied with controlling my eating and exercise.”
Other signs and symptoms included checking his weight almost daily with an intense fear of gaining weight, having a distorted image of his body, carrying out strict rituals before eating and cutting out all fats from his diet.
What treatment do you have?
“Once I realised that I had a problem with my eating I eventually got referred to the Eating Disorder Service in Salford. For the first year and a half I underwent Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with a Clinical Psychologist who was really understanding and easy to talk to.
This helped me talk about my concerns and fears associated with eating and how to deal with the mental thoughts and issues that I had, looking at the deep rooted causes. They helped me to regain weight slowly and a dietician looked at what I was eating (I kept a food diary), made suggestions on what to eat and how to maintain a normal balanced diet.”
What is your advice to other people going through a similar experience?
“My advice to anybody who thinks they have problems with their eating is don’t feel ashamed, you may feel scarred but you are not alone and help can be found. There is a lot of pressure on people as regards to what we are told to eat and how much exercise we should do, making it easy to get quite obsessive about your eating. Don’t worry and think that only women are affected and not men too, it can happen to anyone at any age. In my experience it came about through striving to get fitter.”
Does the support from the GMMH experts really make a difference?
“Yes the help I received was great. If it wasn’t for that initial help I don’t know how much further I would have gone without breaking down at the gym. You get expert advice and you are not forced to do anything you don’t want to.
“The staff are there to help you address your problems, giving you choices at every step. They help reassure you, give you confidence and you know in the back of your mind that somebody is always there to help and listen should you need it.”
Did you know where to go for help?
“At first it was difficult to get a referral from my GP, but eventually after looking on the internet and talking to people over the telephone I was eventually put in touch with the Eating Disorder Service in Salford.”
Should more be done?
“Unfortunately yes, especially with men like myself who you do not expect to suffer from eating disorders. Greater awareness is needed, along with straightforward ways to assist and encourage people to get help, helping people feel less embarrassed and anxious about eating.”
Due to the sensitivity of the subject matter and person, ‘Owen’ is a pseudonym.
Published data from Beat (Eating Disorders Association UK)
Living With... Schizophrenia
According to NHS Choices, schizophrenia is a long-term mental health condition that causes a range of different psychological symptoms. These include:
- hallucinations - hearing or seeing things that do not exist
- delusions - unusual beliefs that are not based on reality and often contradict the evidence
- muddled thoughts based on the hallucinations or delusions
- changes in behaviour
Doctors describe schizophrenia as a psychotic illness. This means that sometimes a person may not be able to distinguish their own thoughts and ideas from reality.
The exact cause of schizophrenia is unknown. However, most experts believe that the condition is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
There are many misconceptions and negative stereotypes about people with schizophrenia, which make people think that people with schizophrenia are violent, out of control or have split personalities.
The reality is that schizophrenia is not split personality, and people with schizophrenia do not have ‘multiple’ personalities or any other personality disorder. Research shows that people are as likely to be struck by lightning as to be harmed by a stranger with a mental illness.
A smartly dressed, articulate young man, with a broad smile and a strong handshake is probably not the first picture most people conjure up when imagining someone with schizophrenia. Ignorant it may sound, but 25 year old David is certainly not how most people envisage someone with a mental health problem.
Brought up in a suburban terraced house in Oldham by his mum and dad, David, his brother and sister had a happy childhood. “We didn’t want for anything”, said David, “we were happy and comfortable. My Dad was a teacher and believed that a good education is the key to a successful life. He did a lot of extra-curricular activities with us to try to give us the best start he could”.
Like most young boys playing football and going on bike rides were David’s favourite pastimes. He reminisced, “My brother and I used to go for walks in Moss Bank Park in Bolton and catch sticklebacks in the stream.”
Unfortunately, when David was 7, his parents separated and he went to live with his mother and grandfather in Bolton. He lost contact with his father and missed the stability his family had had.
Aged 17, David “got in with the wrong crowd” and started drinking heavily and dabbling with drugs. “I still managed to hold down a job as a Telesales Operator, but my friends would say things to me like, ‘You can come over to my house as long as you don’t drink’”.
It was around this time that David started to have auditory and visual hallucinations and feel paranoid. “Even though it made me very confused, I didn’t think there was anything wrong, but then my thoughts started to become reality to me and I started acting out my hallucinations.”
It was David’s sister who realised that he needed help and arranged for him to be assessed at Bolton Hospital. In 2000, he was admitted for alcohol and drug misuse, and was also diagnosed with schizophrenia.
After seven weeks at Bolton’s mental health inpatient unit, David was discharged and allocated a Social Worker to help support him. However it wasn’t long before his old habits resurfaced. “Over the following three years I was in and out of the system quite a lot”, David said, “It was a very chaotic lifestyle”.
It was while David was at the inpatient unit that a member of staff told him about volunteering with the Patients’ Council in Bolton. The Council was set up with the aim of service users helping fellow service users in a supportive role by visiting the wards and offering information about different voluntary services, and how to access them.
David joined the Council as a volunteer and really enjoyed making a positive difference in the lives of fellow patients. “There is often a gap between patients who feel like they’re isolated, and the staff. I like being able to help people see that the staff are there to support them and it’s good being able to help bridge that gap”.
David flourished as a volunteer and it wasn’t long before he came up with the idea of Creative Pastimes, a voluntary service which sits under the umbrella of the Patients’ Council. He secured funding for a three month pilot scheme, and started his initiative.
Bike rides, a walking group, cinema and shopping trips and service user social evenings are some of the activities that Creative Pastimes offers service users as part of their therapy. David feels it’s important for patients to engage with activities while they are receiving treatment. “If you choose to partake while you’re here, you will find you can do and cope with a lot more when you’re discharged from hospital.”
David would like to carry on helping service users once he has been discharged, “I plan to carry on volunteering, but I’d also like to do a Psychology course.”
When asked what advice he would give to people in a similar situation, but who aren’t receiving help yet, David said, “If you realise you’ve got a problem, go and ask for help. You can’t deal with it on your own. The staff are there to help you; you just have to trust them. For me, my faith is also very important; I wouldn’t have got through this without it.”
*Homicide Inquiries: What sense do they make? Psychiatric Bulletin, Szmukler G, 2000. This refers to people being killed by someone suffering from a mental illness with symptoms of psychosis, such as schizophrenia.
Find everything you need to know about Schizophrenia on NHS Choices, including causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, with links to other useful resources.
Living With... Self Harm
According to Mind, self-harm is a broad term for a way of expressing very deep distress. Often, people don’t know why they self-harm. People may injure or poison themselves by scratching, cutting or burning their skin, by hitting themselves against objects, taking a drug overdose, or swallowing or putting other things inside themselves.
Tragically, nearly 6,000 people take their own lives every year in the UK – that’s 16 families bereaved by suicide every day. Nearly twice as many people die form suicide as they do in road traffic accidents.
Daniel is 14 and had been self-harming for a year and a half before he tried to take his own life for the first time. Unwilling and unable to speak to family members or adults about his problems, the Trafford youngster kept them to himself and even came up with a number of covering stories to keep his secrets safe.
Daniel’s parents split up when he was very young and he rarely saw his father. When Daniel was seven, his mother was in a relationship with a man who was abusive towards them both. Several years later, Daniel had a number of abusive experiences which led to him being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
At 12, he started to self-harm, hurting himself as a way of coping. At 13, Daniel tried to take his own life in the first of several attempts. Fortunately, on the last occasion, his mother found him before it was too late and began to realise the full extent of her son’s problems. After this incident, Daniel was referred to GMMH’s Young Person’s Directorate and started to receive the professional support he so badly needed.
He is still coming to terms with what he has been through, but is very positive about his recovery and keen to praise the professionals who have helped him. Every week, Daniel attends the Specialist Day service run by GMMH in Prestwich and looks forward to his time there as it often gives him the break he needs from the pressures of school.
Daniel has spoken at his school assembly about self-harming to help fellow students understand. “Don’t keep it a secret – no matter how minor you think self-harming is it’s serious and you should get help,” he says.
Jane is 15 and lives with her Mum in Greater Manchester and agreed to talk about her experience of self-harm in order to raise awareness of the condition to other young people.
When did you first experience issues with self-harming?
I started to self-harm during my first year of high school, aged eleven. I was bullied in school and despite my efforts to get help, none was made available.
How long was it before you got help for your self-harming?
I was fourteen when I started to receive help but I didn’t actively seek it. My mum found me self-harming and took me to my local GP.
What was the next step?
My GP referred me to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) which is an information resource regarding young people’s mental health.
I had Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for eight weeks but I didn’t feel that it helped me. It is important to build a relationship with your therapist but unfortunately I wasn’t able to. My condition worsened and I was then referred to the inpatient unit at Greater Manchester Mental Health where I received group therapy and took medication to help me.
How have the Trust staff helped you?
I was very scared when I was referred to the inpatient unit but everyone was really kind. I then started treatment with a specialist who has helped me enormously on my road to recovery and is the most amazing woman I have ever met.
It was difficult to stay as an inpatient but it meant I received a great deal of support from the staff.
What would your advice be to other self-harmers?
Firstly, don’t do it. You might feel completely alone but there is support available. Secondly, get help and talk to someone you can trust. Finally, don’t use the internet for advice; the best thing is to speak to professionals who can advise you properly.
Do you think schools need to be more involved in student’s well-being?
Definitely, if I had been offered support when I was bullied then maybe I could have dealt with the situation in a better way.
Pippa is fifteen and lives with her family in Greater Manchester.
When did you first experience issues with self-harming?
I was aged twelve and in my second year of high school when people started to spread hurtful stories about me which meant I was the focus of a lot of unwanted attention. The school got involved and I thought it would help the situation; unfortunately they didn’t take the time to listen to my side of the story.
I started to self-harm after watching a programme on TV. I thought it seemed like a good way to cope. I only self-harmed for a short time and once the attention died down I stopped completely.
When I was in my third year of high school, aged fourteen I got involved with ‘the wrong crowd’ and I started self-harming again as I was unhappy with the way my supposed friends treated me.
How long was it before you got help for your self-harming?
I kept my self-harming secret for over eight months. It was only after I was admitted to hospital (for a separate reason) that the nurses noticed my scars and mentioned them to my mum. Up to that point she didn’t know I was harming myself.
What was the next step?
The hospital referred me to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) however, at that time there was little help they could offer me.
When I started my fifth year of high school, aged fifteen I was still self-harming and my situation was getting worse, I received a letter to return to CAMHS. I went to CAMHS but I found it hard to talk about my problems and didn’t feel as though I was improving.
I had to take two months off from school as I had no energy to look after myself and struggled to function. My mum really looked after me during this time and eventually I was referred to Greater Manchester Mental Health for treatment.
How have the staff at the Trust helped you?
Being treated at Greater Manchester Mental Health meant I could finally start my recovery. My mum took full responsibility of me so I could attend sessions during the day but still live at home with my family and they said they could see ‘the old Jodie coming back’.
GMMH staff were extremely kind and approachable and managed to put me at ease which was really helpful to my recovery.
What would your advice be to other self-harmers?
My advice would be to speak to someone, a family member or friend you trust. Now I am in recovery I couldn’t imagine self-harming again because I have seen the hurt and upset it causes and I don’t want to put my family through that anymore.
Do you think schools need to be more involved?
I think more needs to be done. There should be a greater awareness of self-harming in schools and colleges so that people don’t feel as though they are alone.
I was scared to ask for help and I didn’t want to go into hospital and be treated differently. I’d like to see the stigma about self-harming reduced through education.
Due to the sensitivity of the subject matter and people, ‘Daniel’, ‘Jane’ and ‘Pippa’ are pseudonyms and ‘Trafford’ has been used instead of ‘Daniel’s’ actual home town.
If you have had suicidal thoughts recently, or are worried that someone you know might be depressed of having thoughts of suicide, there are people that can help.
The Samaritans operate a service that is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Call 08457 909090. If you prefer to write down how you are feeling, or if you are worried you might be overheard talking on the phone, you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Childline runs a free helpline for children and young people in the UK. The call is free and the number will not show up on your phone bill. Call 0800 1111.