We shouldn’t shy away from the ugly side of mental illness

1 in 4 of us experience mental illness at some point in our lives – but its prevalence doesn’t make it an easy ride.

We have the US president tackling the ‘stigma’ of guns by blaming mass shootings on mental illness instead.

But the image of violent mentally ill people is untrue. According to Time to Change, the majority of violent crimes and homicides are committed by people who do not have mental health problems, yet 90% of people who die through suicide each year are experiencing mental distress.

And at the other end of the scale, I feel it’s unfair to talk of the ‘common’ disorders (e.g. depression and anxiety) as if they’re nothing more than feeling a bit down or on edge.

Read the full article on Metro.

EastEnders: Is it wrong to portray somebody with mental illness talking to themselves?

This will probably go down like a lead balloon….and I will state right away that I am completely happy to be challenged on this – you might even change my mind…but here goes…

I know that there has been upset regarding the Lisa Fowler storyline in EastEnders. Her character returned to the Square and within days was seen talking to herself in what people believe is a stereotyped portrayal of mental illness. But there’s something that I, personally, think we are getting confused with regarding portrayals of mental health.

Whilst I don’t believe we should betray people as scary, frightening and irrational, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t portray mental illness in that way. It is, after all, pretty scary sometimes.

So I think with this EastEnders storyline, it all depends on what happens next. It all depends on the context. Do we get to see Lisa the person, or do we only get to see Lisa the ‘crazy person’? That’s when I might want to raise a complaint. But I’ll give it a little time yet.

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Stop using mental health as bait

We all love to boo a pantomime baddie, but that’s usually because they’re stealing a magic lamp or weaving destructive magic spells. We know it’s all made up and we know they’ll get their comeuppance. But yet again, Katie Hopkins and Piers Morgan are enjoying the boos and hisses by taking their pantomime into real life. They’re baiting us with mental health stigma. Sadly, that’s not fictional.

MegaphoneBBC Question Time was a prime hook for the recent onslaught of mental health provocation with Katie Hopkins, rather predictably, tweeting:

‘Breaking news: it is possible to pay for mental health counselling privately if you save hard enough’.

Of course the mentally ill are fair game aren’t they. They’re bound to get upset and have a tantrum. That’ll get the Twitter engagement figures flying. That’ll land more controversial headlines.

It was much the same with Piers Morgan’s recent attacks on Will Young:

‘Will Young does not have PTSD. He has WNTS – Whiny Needy Twerp Syndrome.’

Mental health campaigner Denise Welch rightly called him out which resulted in more mud-slinging from the lovely Piers who called Denise a ‘publicity-starved bore’. Nice.

So why am I falling into the trap and talking about them some more? Because they already have the platform and the airtime. They already have the ears and eyes of millions of people. And they already have the power to influence. Sadly.

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Pipe down Piers

There’s a charter for those who work in PR, marketing, accountancy and HR. It’s to promote responsibility. Yet celebrities – who have a much greater influence than I have, for example, in my PR role – don’t have to sign up to anything.

So it’s kind of about trust and good will. What would you do if you had such a powerful platform? If one tweet could reach millions? If you could completely change somebody’s day? Would you try to do something to help? Or would you ridicule those who do?

It’s ironic, really, that Piers Morgan accused Denise Welch of using mental health to raise her profile. He uses his nasty pantomime act to gain attention a la Katie Hopkins. I watched Good Morning Britain one morning on the TV in the gym. It was the interview with Nicola Thorp who was sacked for refusing to wear high heels.  It was deliberately provocative, of course. Does he really believe women should wear high heels or face losing their job? Whether he does or not it’s shocking. Shocking that he believes in something so blatantly sexist or, on the other hand, shocking that he is willing to peddle such shite to draw in the ratings in a cheap and nasty Jerry Springer show kind of way.

It’s Good Morning Britain. It’s mainstream telly. I’ve never watched it since leaving the gym that day.

But I couldn’t get off Twitter last night.

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I am standard

An ode to the fabulous Standard Issue magazine. Sign up for their podcast here
I have spent most of my life wondering why I wasn’t up to ‘standard’. You know, the average standards, that your average girl aspired to be. Of course, your average girl could never have actually reached those standards. Mainly because they never existed.
But that doesn’t stop us – it certainly never stopped me – aiming for whatever we interpret these standards to be – and when you’re anxious and awkward, the path to them can be even steeper.

I have always felt like an outsider. I was the only girl who didn’t make the school choir aged five and I was so shy as a teen I sat in the pub in utter silence (until I found what a bottle of Lambrini could do for my non-existent confidence).

Part personality, part anxiety, part media. All of it plays a role in our confidence. And the pressure that’s on us – all of us – hits us in many different ways.

I started writing about my anxiety in April 2016. It kind of felt like when I point out my own giant zits to the rest of the office floor. If I told the world how awkward I am, rather than the world telling me, I would feel more confident, more in control. So I said: “Hello world – my name’s Lucy, and I have anxiety. Sometimes, I sit shaking on the bed scared I am going to die. It’s not pretty. But I can and do live with it.”

By October 2016, I was writing for Standard Issue. And just weeks later, I had a column. I was out to play a part in proving that we all meet the standard. Even those girls in Cosmo (not that I ever interviewed them, but successful comedians, actors, public speakers and hipsters were all profiled in my column sharing many different challenges, traits and hiccups in life).

I knew I wasn’t alone when it came to mental illness. I had already joined Time to Change as an ambassador and had been open with many friends and acquaintances who lived with various mental health problems.

But with or without diagnosed mental illness, there are so many others pressures in life. They might trigger mental illness but, even if they don’t, they’re about as good for our health as Brexit is for the country’s.

Be skinny. Be beautiful. Be a sex goddess. Live like a bastard Stepford wife oozing perfection, manicured nails and a Hollywood smile. Keep on top of your Brazilian, take herbal hair remedies to make your mop shiny and never leave the house looking and behaving anything less than film star glamorous. In fact, don’t even open your front door when you hit 35 – it’s checkout time (at least that’s what the leader of the USA would have us believe).

But then came Standard Issue. The fabulous Sarah Millican farts, the gorgeous Taryn Brumfitt has curves and the wonderful Fiona Longmuir sweats. This is standard. This is real life. And nobody is ashamed of nature any more, we celebrate it. Loudly and proudly.

Aside from feeling that I finally meet expected standards – my new expected standards – Standard Issue has given me a voice, a platform. I’ve since had bylines in the i newspaper and the Independent, and I’ve even drafted a book (watch this space – says my new-found confidence). It’s made me feel that I am worth something.

Oh, and loads of other people have responded to my writing and said they totally relate, they totally get it; anxiety it happens to them/their kids/their partner too.

But by saying I am standard does that make me average? Absolutely not. I meet new standards that I now understand are the real ones. Basically, to be real and human and fucking happy about it.

The Standard Issue community and all the wonderful articles and conversations with contributors, editors and readers on social media made me realise that none of us are average. We all meet the standard. But we all do it in our own wonderful ways.

We all have unique potential and ambitions and aspirations. And that’s OK. Because the Standard Issue community listens and supports that. And makes us roar with pee-inducing, wrinkle-creasing laughter along the way.

So thank you Standard Issue. Thank you Sarah, Mickey, Sam, Jo and everyone else who has written, shared and laughed with me. I’m all woman – not just the bit the other magazines report on. And now I know that, I’m all the more delighted – and delightful – for it.

Long live the Standard Issue legacy. Chin, chin wonderful ladies. I salute you.


What do British children have to be anxious about?

An international study has shown that British children are among the most anxious in the world.

This week’s news on the subject reminded me of a recent visit to my GP to discuss my anxiety. He compared my life in England to the life of those in war torn countries. I felt bad. And a bit stupid. I haven’t witnessed bus bombings or lost my home. And I am certainly not living on a fault line or at risk of being engulfed by an avalanche. What on earth do I have to be anxious about? Are we truly a country of whinging poms?

I’m no doctor, but one thing I do know is that anxiety can be a perfectly understandable response to an event. That is anxiety, but it’s not an anxiety disorder. Although traumatic events can certainly lead to one.

My GP was right in one respect. I haven’t grown up surrounded by trauma. My family wasn’t rich but we didn’t want for anything (except that Mr Frosty machine I asked for every Christmas). I had a nice home life, a mum I could talk to about anything and I did alright at school (if you take my D in Geography out of the equation, but at least I now know that I don’t live on a fault line).

So why, out of the blue, did a panic attack bring me to my knees on a busy street in Hull when I was a teenager? Why was I diagnosed with an anxiety disorder?

According to the NHS website, causes may include a history of stressful or traumatic experiences, a chemical imbalance in the brain, genetic factors, substance misuse and painful long-term health conditions.

I have no idea what caused mine. I don’t think there’s an actual test to prove that your chemicals are out of sync – although I know that anti-depressants make a big difference to me. As does talking therapy, exercise and cutting back on caffeine. So it must be a mix of things – both internal and external.

In my experience, I am more scared of the imaginable than I am of the reality. Before I was diagnosed with pleurisy as a teenager, I was convinced I had lung cancer. I wouldn’t even make 18 never mind 27 like Joplin and Hendrix. When I got the diagnosis, however, I just got on with the convalescence and quite enjoyed my time out from A-Level Law.

So if British kids are more anxious, it certainly doesn’t mean they are weaker.

Me grinningThe unknown plays a big role for me. I grew up in the 80s, when Charley the Cat showed us that ‘stranger danger’ was rife, and school assemblies featured warnings about acid rain and plastic bullets. No wonder I was worried.

In terms of my diet? Well, we ate crispy pancakes and Fray Bentos back then, and Maggie had previously taken the milk away so we were probably drinking blue pop instead.

My brain, my worries, my diet – it all must have played a part.

But what do today’s kids have to be anxious about?

Millennials seem to be far more concerned with world news and politics. My 18 year old is politically-savvy, which is great in some respects, but for several years now he has lay awake at night worrying about current affairs. Social media means it’s not just school assemblies where kids are burdened with warnings about how scary the world is, it’s a 24/7 stream of extreme fear. He was terrified about the Tory’s getting into power, but he got used to it, he dealt with it. Now it’s the unknown all over again. And it could get even worse.

‘Fake news’, climate change, snap elections, nuclear threats, unpredictable presidents, headlines telling us to eat more salmon to prevent cancer, headlines telling us too much salmon causes cancer. A ball of confusion that lives in every kid’s iPhone and niggles at them 24/7. They should be asleep, but they’re too worried to sleep, so they consume even more of it.

On top of possible chemical imbalances, traumatic events, genetic factors and of course adolescence, I’d say kids today do have an awful lot to be anxious about. With so many ways to access ‘stories’ (careful omission of the word news there), the unknown is rife.

Our kids have absolutely no clarity in what they are going to have to take on when we all draw our pensions. Perhaps along with mental health, ‘media and political resilience’ should also be added to the curriculum.

Like this? Follow me on Twitter – @Lucy_Nichol78






Celebrities speaking out can make a real difference in mental health

As published in the i Newspaper – 21st January 2017

When people speak out about cancer or heart disease following news of a celebrity’s struggle with the conditions, we don’t accuse them of trying to make the illnesses “trendy”.
However, those who speak out about mental health are sometimes criticised for that very reason, as two comments from social media show:
“Mental health disorders are not something to brag about. Please stop trying to make mental illness trendy”;
“Having mental health issues is now trendy, the new victim fad.”

But those of us with mental health problems, and the ambassadors who try to prompt conversations about mental health, don’t just “try it on” for the sake of the latest campaign. In fact, long before celebrities signed up as mental health ambassadors, many were unwillingly “outed” by the media, with headlines boasting “sensational” photos of them breaking down in public.

Read the full article here