May 31, 2010

We need to talk about bullying

I think that every single person who reads this blog has come across bullying in some way or another. Some of you may have been bullied, seen bullying or were bullies (or any combination of those three), so it isn't hard to learn that bullying exists in some capacity in almost every school around the world.

In my opinion, bullying is a major problem in schools today and can lead to long-term suffering for the victim in the form of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and even suicide. It is estimated that in the UK anywhere from 15-25 children will commit suicide due to bullying. Isn't that scary?

So what exactly is bullying?

Bullying includes, but is not limited to, name-calling, alienation and exclusion, punching, pinching, kicking, teasing and coercion. Victims of bullying often become isolated from their peers because of their exclusion from group activities, the bullying of their friends (who eventually stop associating with them) and criticising them based on the way they dress, physical features, disability, race, class, hobbies or gender.

Schoolyard bullying can happen in the classroom, in halls, toilets, on the playground, on the way to and from school (on buses or on the route walked home) and anywhere that isn't under the eye of a teacher. It is horribly common and the results of bullying can be sometimes devastating.

A lot of people who are bullied will often not report it to their teachers or parents, or they did so at one point and nothing was done about it. Bullying can often be dismissed by adults in power which only reinforces the individual's feelings of low self-esteem.

So what can be done about bullying? In a lot of schools here in Australia there are a growing number of students and teachers starting anti-bullying campaigns and this increased awareness of the severity of bullying will lead parents and teachers to be more alert for bullying and to take reports of bullying seriously. I think bullies need to start being punished rather than be let get away with it. Bullies will never learn that their behaviour is wrong if they do not receive any form of negative response.

Obviously the one thing you can do is report it if you are being bullied or if you see someone being bullied. Be brave, stand up and say something... you could save someone's life.

May 19, 2010

Wednesday's child is full of woe

Recently I have been involving myself in various mental health support forums and am finding it for the most part to be fairly rewarding, but... I find myself getting very frustrated and annoyed by the number of people who are so absorbed in their own self hatred that they completely disregard or contradict anything anyone tries to do or say out of concern for them.

It is sad and really detrimental to their recovery because they will drive away anyone that would have tried to help them. I won't even offer a kind word to these people any more because they don't listen, so when the time comes when they've decided to get proactive and work towards their recovery, suddenly no one will be there. It is like some horrible real-life Boy Who Cried Wolf.

I really think the key is to boost self esteem and challenge negative thinking before it consumes you. There are so many different ways to start building your self confidence and starting to challenge negative thoughts. These can be as simple as giving yourself positive affirmations and can go all the way to identifying negative thinking and challenging it.

Here are some links to get you started!
- Building Self-Esteem: A Self-Help Guide
- Feeling OK about who you are
- Self-Esteem
- Challenging negative self-talk
- Thought Awareness
- Overcoming low self-esteem (this entire series of work books is AMAZING, not just the self-esteem module!)

May 05, 2010

It's my self-injury birthday

Today I finally reached three whole years without self-injuring. I had been self-injurying in one way or another since I was around 15 years old. I took the big step to razor blades when I was 16 and it was a downhill spiral ever since. I didn't appreciate or understand the addictive nature of the behaviour until many years later, and by then I suppose it was too late.

I still think about it every day. I still fight the urge to hurt myself every single day of my life. I dream about it, fantasise about it, even make up plans of how to do it and get away with it (completely impossible now that I am living with my partner, by the way). I actually sometimes wonder if people with addictions to drugs or alcohol think about their given up addictions in the same way that I do with self-injury.

I see people at least every day who have harmed themselves. Some are friends, some are strangers. Every time I see a young person with fresh cuts on their arm when their armband slips or their sleeve falls down I feel a pang of worry for them. I worry when I see young people who have cut themselves because I too was once them and what started as a scratches soon developed into so much more. I worry that they don't appreciate the highly addictive nature of the habit, and that some day they will be struggling to give it up like I am.

Self-injury is the act of intentionally causing yourself physical injury by cutting, burning, interfering with wound healing, hair-pulling (trichotillomania), skin-picking (dermatillomania), head or wrist banging... and many, many other ways. The reasons that people self-injure are as wide and varied as the self-injury methods. People self-injury to cope with overwhelming emotions, stop/prevent/induce dissociation, as a physical representation of emotional pain, inducing euphoric feelings, gaining control, self-punishment and many other reasons.
People that self-injure often keep it hidden from family and friends because they are ashamed. You could pass people in the street and never know whether or not they self-harm.

For more information about self-injury you can visit Self-Injury: A Struggle, which not only has an excellent FAQ about self-injury (for both people who self-injure and their friends and family) but also a large and tight-knit forum community where you can talk to others and receive support.

May 04, 2010

What's your diagnonsense?

In the wide social community that those of us with mental illness inevitably find ourselves in sooner or later, the sharing of each other's diagnosis seems to end up happening sooner or later. Some of us have them and some don't. Some people even have more than one. We all seem to have something different "wrong" with us, so obviously it is a good talking point. But how important are diagnosis to our recovery? Do they do any good, or only harm?

I know that in my case I was glad, relieved and even thankful to get a diagnosis. I had spent so many years knowing something was wrong, but not having it confirmed. So I felt relief that I finally had a name for this mysterious illness that had affected my life so intensely, and that now that I knew what it was I would be able to fight it. You can't fight a monster you can't see or understand, can you?

However, with my diagnosis came a whole lot of drama. People just plain don't believe my illness exists, and that it is just a bogus label made up by doctors so they had a box where they could stick people like me. Hell, some doctors don't even believe it exists. On top of that, there is also the wonderful traits that people think I should have. I should be promiscuous because Susanna Kaysen (author of Girl, Interrupted) was and she had the same diagnosis that I do. I should be an attention-seeking, manipulating individual that will stop at nothing to force people to never leave her side.

There are good sides and bad sides to every diagnosis. My disorder finally had a face, but I had to deal with the stigma associated with that diagnosis. Sometimes the good outweigh the bad, like in my case, but in others the bad is the winner by far.

So when we consider the good and the bad sides of the diagnosis, it is unsurprising that some people would rather just not know. They would rather just battle their faceless and nameless monster without worrying about the specifics. Is this any less viable than knowing? How can I be the one to say that a choice is wrong for someone else? Every single one of us is different and we all have different ways of dealing with our illnesses.

Isn't it amazing how a few simple words can so greatly affect what we feel about ourselves?

May 02, 2010


I went to the book store yesterday and found myself at the check out with arms full of the memoirs of people with mental illnesses. The first one I picked up to read as soon as I got home was "Bloodletting" by Victoria Leatham. I suppose I picked it to read first because it was the only one that was even remotely applicable to me. The book is a written record of Victoria's experiences with Bipolar II and her struggle with self-injury.

Victoria struggled with her Bipolar Disorder for approximately 15 years before a doctor finally recommended she try Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) as well as medication. In the past, doctors and psychiatrists had done seemingly nothing except give her various forms of psychiatric drugs. She had never done any form of psychotherapy except for partaking in some group therapy on the occasions that she was hospitalised.

I want to use this book as an example for explaining my number one psychiatric pet peeve: Drugs do not make you happy.

That last statement may come as some sort of surprise to you, but it is true. There is no magical medication that will make you happy. Antidepressants are mood stabilisers. Meaning that they regulate your mood so that you do not have extreme highs and lows, thus making your mood easier to deal with and handle. They do not make you happy, and they should never be the only form of help you seek for depression issues. If you only ever take medication and never once try psychotherapy, you are likely to relapse because you never changed your behaviour in the first place.

I am not saying, and I never will, that medication is not useful. It certainly is for many people (and then it isn't for other people as well), but medication alone cannot "cure" depression because it is often more than just a chemical imbalance. We have a lot of negative, self-defeating behaviours that are often learned, and unless you unlearn those negative behaviours and thinking patterns, you can take all the medication in the world and relapse.

I definitely believe that doctors in Australia are incredibly script happy when it comes to psychiatric medication. Most GPs will be only too happy to give you a prescription for a psychiatric medication and then send you on your way. Some won't even bother to suggest you see any form of mental health support group, let alone seek an appropriate counsellor. I always wondered why a GP was even allowed to write prescriptions for psychiatric medication when they often have no idea about the medication or how it works.

A doctor I saw once prescribed Fluvoxamine when the medication I was on (Venlafaxine) was making me drowsy and I was experiencing suicidal thoughts. Fluvoxamine (or Luvox as it was branded when I was taking it) has the very common side effect of making you incredibly drowsy. The psychiatrist I saw after everything went a bit pear-shaped on the Luvox front (Lets just say that I was only awake for a few hours before being so exhausted I had to go back to sleep) was aghast that I was prescribed it in the first place considering I was complaining about drowsiness and the fact Fluvoxamine was withdrawn from the American market after a tasty little scandal with a school shooting. It isn't a very popular medication (and a very old one, since it was one of the first SSRIs on the market) and I still wonder why a GP was able to prescribe medication that he had no idea about, and that had the potential to go very wrong, and then of course I wonder why he opted to simply prescribe medication to me (and not recommend I see a psychiatrist) when I told him I was suicidal.

My experience isn't unique, and I wonder if a lot of problems with recovery could be prevented by medication only being prescribed by psychiatrists and used in conjunction with an appropriate psychotherapy (CBT, DBT, etc).

Would Victoria Leatham had to have suffered for so long with mental health issues if she had been told about CBT in the first place? Maybe they could stop a whole lot of people suffering for so long if they could just use psychotherapy and medication as the first response to mental health conditions, and perhaps they should stop letting GPs prescribe psychiatric medication when they have no specific psychiatric training.

So, the moral of the story is that medication won't make you happy, but it can be very useful in the successful treatment of various mental illnesses when used in conjunction with an appropriate and supportive psychotherapy.

Obligatory disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, and my opinions are based on a metric fuckton of personal experience and a whole lot of experience with others who are receiving treatment for