Category Archives: Mental Health

How to Cope with Stress and Depression at Work

This week I wanted to talk about something that isn’t really shared much, but it should be. I have done previous blogs around mental health and depression. This time I thought it’d be important to highlight something that affects a lot of people. Depression at work. How on earth can you spot something like that? It’s a valuable question to ask because quite often a person might simply shrug it off as stress and think they’re just having a bad day. I personally want to talk more about it so people are able to identity depression or stress at work before it gets worse.

Depression at work can slowly creep up on anyone at anytime. In fact, one in six New Zealand adults were diagnosed with a mental disorder in 2013. What’s even more shocking is to know millennials are more depressed at work than any generation. These findings shed some light on why young people or adults might be more afraid to voice their concerns about mental illness because of the stigma around it.

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I’ve talked about the stigma around mental illness in previous blogs but you an imagine how daunting it’d be to share this kind of information in a work environment. A perfect example of this was when I used to work in customer service. The supervisor at the time was talking about an employee’s mental health like it was any other topic. They were gossiping about them and I was listening in horror. That employee had obviously disclosed this information in private and it was been shared with other people without their consent. Not all work places are like this but it could be one of the big problems around mental health and work places. People don’t know how to talk about it or address it.

Employees might not want to tell their boss about their reasons for wanting a day off, so it can lead to people showing up to work 9-5 five days a week. Yet they’ll perform well below average and won’t really seem like themselves. When things start to get out of control there are unfortunate consequences which can eventually lead to losing a job or leaving because you feel completely miserable. This isn’t enjoyable for anyone to go through because a common feeling with depression is guilt, so if you fail in your work life, it’s an ongoing vicious cycle. I’ve been hesitant to open up about my own experience but seeing other people on my news feed be courageous and say they left their job because they were experiencing depression, or struggling, made me want to do the same.

My experience only really happened towards the end after a few months. I had a great team I liked working with, an awesome job, and a healthy pay check. Yet I wasn’t healthy myself. This isn’t to say oh hey I got a new job and it made me depressed. That’s not how it works. Things in my personal life had seeped over where I wasn’t getting enough sleep and I was stressing myself out over little things. So if you aren’t getting enough sleep you aren’t productive at work and you don’t eat properly and so on. I had of course tried to sort out those things in my personal life and things would seem fine but then there started to be more grey days than good days. Eventually it all became too much.

lose itAfter performing well and achieving accomplishments I had gotten worse. I wondered why I couldn’t complete even the most basic tasks. I would drag myself to work and as soon as I walked in the door already I would feel like a failure dreading the day ahead. Surely this wasn’t normal. How could I be feeling this way when I’ve had many jobs in the past and thrived in busy environments? The worst thing to do is to push it aside and pretend it’s all rainbows and sunshine. I was afraid to jeopardize my new position and lose everything. I know I’m a good writer it’s what I love to do and what I want to do for a job yet my weakness was I couldn’t admit I actually had a problem. Partly because I’m a bit stubborn and pride got in the way where I thought the dark cloud would pass.

While you might not have experienced depression like I have, you’ve most likely had a bad day. Depression, however, isn’t just a low day that goes away. Everyone can feel sad, grumpy, or moody every once in a while. With depression these feelings can continue for days, weeks, or even years. It’s a lonely and horrible place to be. Plus, it can seem almost impossible to tell the difference between stress and depression at work if you haven’t experienced it before. So here are some common symptoms of stress and depression at work, but again everyone might be different:

Stress at Work 

  • Increased anxiety and irritability.
  • Impaired sleep and concentration.
  • Verbal or physical aggression.
  • Reduced attention span and impaired memory.

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Depression at work

  • Low, depressive mood with negative thoughts about self and others.
  • Numbness, emptiness and despondency.
  • Lack of interest in life and motivation to do things.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Social withdrawal.
  • Lack of appetite, or comfort eating.
  • Sleep disturbance.
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs.
  • Feelings of guilt.
  • Self-neglect.
  • Anxiety.
  • Suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm.

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Getting Help 

If you’re experiencing stress at work it could be to do with your work load or other areas of your life. It’s much easier to pull yourself out of stress if you get help early and simply talk to someone about it to avoid getting burnt out. Decrease your workload or take the time to find a healthy balance. A bit of stress is good if it keeps you motivated where you meet deadlines, but not if you’re falling asleep at your desk and chugging a crazy amount of coffee each day.

Of course it isn’t just as easy as saying you can pull yourself out of severe depression because you can’t. I’m not saying it’s an easy road to recovery but the first step is admitting the problem otherwise it just goes on and on. Reading the symptoms now you may think it’s easy to spot the problem but I was experiencing some of these things without actually knowing it for at least a year. I now look back and realise I can’t blame myself for something that was out of my control. Having a mental illness isn’t your fault.

The best way to get better is to seek the help you need either through counselling or medication depending on how severe the depression is. Little things like exercise and doing things you enjoy can help with depression. Other things like meditation and getting rid of negative thoughts. Even knowing what triggers your stress or depression is a good step towards self healing.

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Walking up Mt Eden for some exercise

Most of all don’t push yourself or ruin your mental health. If the job isn’t working for you perhaps take a break for the sake of your sanity and as hard as it is, leaving a job can sometimes be the only option. There will be other jobs and opportunities in the future, but you are your number one priority. People sometimes ask, “what if that situation happened again?” well, I now know the symptoms of stress and how to handle it. Right now I’m in great health and have overcome depression, but I probably wouldn’t recognise myself a few months ago.

Some people with mental health can hold down jobs quite easily and for others it might prove to be a lot harder. Since we spend a lot of our time at work feeling supported at your job is important. You don’t need to yell it out in the middle of the office that you have anxiety or depression or whatever it is, and you don’t have to disclose your mental health situation to your employer if you don’t want to. Yet chatting to the right people and those who you feel comfortable with can bring a feeling of relief. Whether it’s family, friends or a partner, people who can support you are those who truly care about you no matter what.

If I have any advice for someone who might be going through stress or depression don’t suffer alone. Dealing with depression or mental illness isn’t a weakness. There are the old feelings of will people pity me if I tell them, will they think differently of me and not think I’m capable of functioning properly. The fear of feeling vulnerable in front of others and not wanting to draw attention to myself. When I began to think more positively I realised I wasn’t alone. There are others who have gone through a similar situation or know someone who has.

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Remember you’re valued just as much if you open up to people about a mental illness. Having a mental illness often feels like you’re trapped in your own mind and in a emotional prison. Or that you’re in a fight and it’s you vs you. It won’t happen over night but gradually you’ll get better and win the fight. Just like when you heal from an injury or a broken bone, your mind is also healing, day by day you become stronger until you’re ready to get back on track.

The Mindful Minute Challenge

Exciting things are happening in the mental health space, especially in New Plymouth. Last week I got to sit down and catch up with my lovely friend Natalie who has been super busy! In between a delicious coffee and some lunch she told me about her latest project. It’s a beautifully designed book targeting mental health, which means the content is even more important. This book is going to do amazing things for the mental health scene in Taranaki for a wider audience.

If you currently know someone going through mental illness, or if you’ve experienced it yourself this book might be exactly what you need. It’s a productive and hands on approach to encourage people to feel brave to talk about mental illness with friends or family. I can’t wait to get my hands on it. Check out our chat below to find out what’s inside Natalie’s new book:

Tell us the name of your book

The name of the book is, The Mindful Minute Challenge. The book is a multimedia/ educational resource that challenges readers for a month to engage with their mental health for a few minutes each day.

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What inspired you to write your book?

Inspiration came from a web series that I created on my YouTube channel this time last year called ‘The Mindful Minute Challenge’. This web series documented my journey of challenging myself for a month to look after my mental health and mental well being by asking myself daily insightful questions. The web series was a success with viewers who enjoyed the daily uploads with a focus around mental health, which isn’t discussed as much as it should be.

The idea to turn this web series into something tangible arose. It aims to encourage others to partake in the challenge through whatever communication medium suited them whether it be through reading, writing or watching the educational videos.

Who helped you create your book and how long did it take?

During late 2016, the opportunity of working with Werry Workforce Wharaurau came up. They are a national centre for infant, child and adolescent mental health, led by Dr Sally Merry, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, and situated within the Department of Psychological Medicine at the University of Auckland.

They were looking for a creative project that encouraged the awareness of mental health and well being for youth. For four months we worked collaboratively on the project to ensure it would meet our aims and the needs of our target audience. One big aim was to ensure the language used to promote positive mental well being was going to be suitable as using the correct language when discussing mental health is of high importance to reduce stigma that’s associated with mental illness.

This link is the creative project we made on their website.

Was it quite fun putting the book together?

Yes the book was a lot of fun to put together. I’d never done a project like this before but I love a challenge. Learning how to use the software and what it takes to create an e-book and hard copy book. I learnt a lot about the creative process of putting a book together, I don’t think I’ve ever looked at so many variations of the colour blue and also types of paper before! Being a creative person I loved putting the design elements of it together. The aim was to create a scrapbook/diary kind of look to the book that was bursting with colour.

What can readers expect to find in it?

Because it’s an an educational resource readers can expect to find a variety of elements to the book. We aimed to not make the book to text heavy. It’s a light read that poses daily questions, and space for readers to write their ideas down as well. Readers are encouraged to use the book in collaboration with my YouTube channel and watch the daily video that ties in with the daily question.

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Do you have a main target audience?

The main target audience is for youth aged between and 13-25. But I feel people of all ages may gain some insight from the resource.

Is there a particular message you hope to get across?

The main message I hope to get across is to assist in talking more about mental health, mental health awareness and mental illness. By releasing these resources they’ll act as a guide to anyone who may find them of use and a stepping stone to talk about mental health in a non-confrontational format.

Another aim of the book is to help people talk about mental health in everyday circumstances. Talking about mental health can be scary (as mental health is so personal to each and every individual). However, having the correct educational tools set up, resources created by youth for youth and surrounding yourself with strong support networks may be a formula for assisting in reducing mental health discrimination.

Do you plan to publish your book nationally?

Never say never. If an opportunity arose where this was a possibility and it felt like a suitable fit then I would for sure consider taking this on board. The Mindful Minute Challenge itself has evolved in such as short space of time (less than a year) and many opportunities have arose from starting the challenge in the first place (that I would not ever have imagined to come to light). I’m very grateful for this chance indeed.

Can we expect to see a series or sequel in the near future?

Yes a series and or sequel will be on the cards. The wheels are in motion for different versions of the resource to be released, this may be late 2017 as we are in the first stages of new development. It’s hoped this resource is just the beginning.

When is your book available to purchase and how will others be able to purchase it?

The e-book is available to download now via this link. Those who are interested in purchasing the e-book version will need to ensure they have the correct software installed to ensure they can open the book due to the book having written and video media components. I’ve found Adobe Digital editions the best software to open the book.

The price of the E-book is listed in USD for $8.63 which roughly equates to $13 NZD. The hardcopy book will be available to purchase early April 2017 and I’ll be accepting pre-orders soon.  The price of these books will be between $25-$45 NZD.

What are you currently working on at the moment?

Currently I’m working on a project with World Merit 360. I’ve been lucky enough to have been selected as one of 360 people from around the world to participate in the world merit 360 program in 2017. World merit 360 is an opportunity for individuals to help in changing the world by focusing on the United Nations Sustainable development goals.

The sustainable development goals are universal goals to call action to end poverty, protect the planet and help ensure all people enjoy peace and prosperity for future generations to come. There are 17 goals and the goal my team and I will be focusing on is Good Health and well being.

In August 2017 I will be travelling to the United Kingdom to meet my team of my global goal and teams from the other 17 global goals. I’ll be helping to write an action plan 003 which will be presented to the United Nations themselves.

If you’re interested in following Natalie’s book release dates and projects keep an eye out on her Twitter, or subscribe to her awesome YouTube channel

Mental Illness: Let’s Talk About It

Mental illness. These words are often the elephant in the room. When these words are spoken it’s as if no one knows what to say. What if you say the wrong thing? It’s not unusual to tread carefully with your words. But what I’ve noticed is the silence. The silence is worse than anything. Mostly because people shuffle around awkwardly and they prefer not to talk about such a thing. Well, I want to talk about it.

I have known people close to me that have suffered from mental illness. Only with time did I realise what was occurring. As I grew older, I began to understand from my own experiences and from seeing others go through it, that when bad things happen in life, a bad break up, a death, or a loss of a job, depression can kick in very unexpectedly. I know that New Zealand as a whole has some of the highest rates of suicide and depression. Now is the time for us to talk about it more in every day conversation and to give people the hope they so desperately need. So that no one feels like they have to suffer alone.

I wanted to do something a bit different with this blog and something more personal. I interviewed some friends who have kindly shared their experiences about their mental health/illness including; anxiety, depression, and bipolar. I’m very humbled that they’re letting me share their story, so thank you again. I’m sure their experiences will encourage people who might currently be struggling. Read on to find out about their inspiring journeys.

Bipolar

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I thought it would be interesting to speak to Raz, 25, because he is a true friend, he is full of energy and he has a very captivating personality. Most of all, he is very straightforward and upfront about his ups and downs with his bipolar disorder. It’s both admiring and encouraging! Check out how far Raz has come and what he thinks about bipolar:

When did you first notice any signs or signals that you had bipolar disorder? 

I first found out when I was diagnosed while in rehab for drugs. Prior to this I didn’t suspect I had any type of disorder.

Did it take a while for you to accept it or were you ready to seek help?
I didn’t want help, at the time rehab felt like a prison. Being strapped to the bed so I wouldn’t hurt myself.
Was it quite scary to deal with at first?
Not exactly scared, I didn’t want their help. I was young and dumb, there was a twisted pleasure from denying their help. Having to get used to taking all these different type of pills, therapy and just in talking things out instead of resorting to violence was something completely foreign to me.
Are your moods quite unpredictable and is there a sense of mania or depression?
Yeah, my mood changes a lot. I can wake up happy and by the end of the day I can be depressed, even suicidal. Generally, I can’t tell if I’m going through mania or a depressive state until it’s over. While in one of those states it feels as if you have been like this your entire life, at least that’s how I feel.
Have you pinpointed certain triggers that make your bipolar more intense, like lack of sleep or stress?
Triggers can be anything really. Something I see for example, can trigger a memory and that in turn triggers an episode. Stress not so much for me personally. I learned how to deal with stress but sleep deprivation does. The medication I take sometimes causes insomnia, so it’s like a vicious cycle.
Do you take medication, and has this improved or helped you a lot?
I take anti-psychotics and mood stabilizers. They have helped, episodes rarely happen but the feeling of depression that sometimes happens doesn’t really go away.
Are your friends and family supportive of your journey? 
Yes, every one has been really accepting. If not for some of my friends which I consider like family I probably wouldn’t be alive right now.
Have you always felt quite comfortable to share your story with other people and if so why?
I don’t have anything to hide. I’m not ashamed of having Bipolar disorder. I’ve always being straight forward with people. What you see is what you get, you either accept me for who I am or you don’t.
Have you ever had a breakdown or had a moment where your bipolar felt like it couldn’t be controlled?
Yes, when I had my two suicide attempts via overdose. In those moments I just couldn’t see any way out of the situation apart from death. I was exhausted both mentally and physically. Ending it all seemed the only way I could be at peace.
How do you put yourself in a good mood or pull yourself out of a negative space?
I call a couple of my mates who I mentioned are like family to me. Talking to them always calms me down. I also think of the best thing that happened to me that day and just focus on that.
For people who might not know much about it how would you explain bipolar in your own words?
It’s hard describing it. Unpredictability, self-destructivness, one moment you feel like you can take on the world and start doing reckless shit like “Yeah, stealing this car and driving it off the pier sounds like an adventure” and you can’t hear how crazy that sounds. It just sounds normal to you. And then when mania ends you’re on the floor crying because of depression.
What would be your advice to those struggling who might be afraid to tell other people or don’t want to get help?
Please get help, I couldn’t have gone through some of the stuff I did if it wasn’t for people willing to help. Don’t be afraid to tell people. If they distance themselves from you when they find out, it just proves they weren’t real friends to begin with. And you need as little negativity in your life as possible.

Anxiety & Depression

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Now dealing with mental illness is one that is not easy and one person I spoke to has anxiety, depression, and bipolar. We’ve had good chats in the past about mental illness and Hannah is very brave for opening up about it. Read more on Hannah’s personal experience and how she perseveres:

At what age were you diagnosed with bipolar, depression, and anxiety? 

I was diagnosed at 16.

Having all three must be a struggle, are there days where it becomes to much or you break down?

I break down quite frequently. I am seeing a psychiatrist weekly though for more help and as someone I can talk too. And I get support through medicine.

Is one thing more present than the other sometimes, for instance one day do you feel anxious and depressed or does it happen all at once?

The depression is definitely more present than the other. Anxiety comes about only in situations where I feel extremely uncomfortable.

When did you think to yourself that it was time to start medication and to see a counselor?
I didn’t think anything was wrong with me. My parents saw that I was suffering and forced me to go get medical help.
Are you surrounded by good people such as friends and family that support you?
My family is very supportive of my condition, and they try to make sure my days are full of things that make me happy and put me in a positive place. My friends likewise know about my condition and are very kind towards me.
What helps you to calm down or to put you in a positive mood when you’re feeling quite down?
I listen to music that I can sing along too or have a smoke and talk to a friend on the phone, it calms me down the most.
What triggers you to self harm or to think of suicidal thoughts and how do you get out of that state of mind?
I haven’t self harmed myself in quite a while now and I think it’s due to the medication I’m taking. What would trigger me to hurt myself is thinking about little things I’ve done in the past which make me feel very low about myself and my self esteem. Once I’m in that mood it’s very hard to come out of it. If I get that way I will end up hurting myself in one way or another.
How would you describe an anxiety attack for people that don’t know what it really is?
I get really really scared all of a sudden, my breath becomes short and at times I feel like I can’t breathe. Quite similar to a panic attack which I suffer from as well, but if you have them both you know the differences.
Having these mental illnesses, does it make things quite difficult such as being in a relationship or having a job?
I think I find it a bit tricky being in a relationship because I want things to be serious and always positive. With a relationship there’s always going to be ups and downs and with my insecurities that come along with these mental issues that I have, they put up a barrier at times. I find it hard to fully trust people.
Do you ever feel afraid to tell people about your condition in case they judge you or don’t understand it?
Yes! I am always careful with who I tell because people brush it off and say “there’s no such thing, she just wants attention” and it’s things like that which really hurt someone like me and brings my self esteem down even lower.
What would your message be to people who are struggling with anxiety, bipolar, or depression?
Get help! The sooner the better. People are there who want to talk to you and help you sort out your problems. Don’t bottle it all up, get it out!
After what you’ve gone through do you feel like a stronger person and has it taught you a lot about yourself?
I’m still recovering and getting the help I need from doctors and my family. It will take a lot of time but I am fully committed to getting the help and to get better.

Depression

13329617_1427046547321282_6292145216688342401_o.jpgNatalie Lanfear, 23, is a huge role model to me and a great advocate for mental illness. Natalie has a YouTube channel/series that looks at her experiences with depression as well. I’m excited to be chatting to Natalie today! Read on for more about her plans for the future:

When did you first know you had depression, and did you recognise it as depression?

I’d most likely had depression for around two and a half years before being diagnosed by a doctor with depression (although I have experienced diagnosed anxiety since the age of 14). I had no idea for those two and a half years prior to being diagnosed that depression was something I had left alone, something I would experience or have to go through. Even when being diagnosed with depression, it took me a long time to accept that I had this illness, (mostly due to myself being a stubborn person) and that it was in fact something that I had.

However, deep down I knew something wasn’t right. I was having more bad months and seasons (rather than just days) than good, and life became a chore to do rather than be lived. Hiding the pain was something I’d somewhat become the master of, so other people didn’t know that I had it. In real terms this actually made my mental health heightened and worse by covering it up.

Do you think having depression changed your life dramatically?

Yes depression for sure changed my life dramatically. My first bought of depression happened when I was quite young at seventeen years old after a sporting injury. I had to take an entire year off school in year 12. It really changed my life and the relationships between people in my life at school. At the time I had no idea what I was going through and having to balance the act of typical teenage highs and lows whilst battling my mind was a never ending cycle of inner turmoil. I relapsed twice in the three years following this time. This is why I am partly so passionate to talk about mental health especially towards young people.

Are there some days that are harder than other days?

Without a doubt some days are harder than others living with a mental illness. A common misconception I’ve found in the past year, as in 2016 I have been speaking more about mental health on a public scale, is that because I am in recovery I am magically cured! Usually this misconception is fuelled by ignorance of mis-education that has been placed within society. Granted the recovery is not even comparable to living through depression, I would not wish that upon anyone. But with recovery you have tools in your toolbox that you know will work for you. And you are more aware of your own signs and signals when your mental health is detonating. By experiencing mental illness you don’t just get over it, you work with it and become a newer, improved version of yourself when embarking upon recovery.

What things help you get through or put you in a better mood?

Things that help manage my mental wellness are exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, attempting to have balance in my life with trusted family and friends. Being extremely honest with myself within how I’m feeling, saying no doing tasks or events where appropriate, doing hobbies that I enjoy and knowing my personality, which lies towards ambivert qualities. For example, I love being around people but also know my limits and need time and space to be alone to recharge whilst knowing within myself this is alright.

Were your friends and family quite supportive when you told them?

I was very lucky that I had an extremely supportive family and close group of friends. Although my family and friends knew long before I did, or wanted to accept that I had depression, that I wasn’t myself. At the age of 17, it was a time when I found out who my true friends were and I am lucky to still have these people in my life today. Although we don’t live close anymore with our lives having gone in different directions. Our bond as friends is strong because we have all gone through our fair share of ups and downs, mental health struggles included!

Are there certain triggers that might make your depression harder to deal with?

One trigger that makes it difficult to manage my depression is change. Change in relation to everyday life events, major life events, and seasonal change. Change is inevitable within life and change is always to going to happen. I can’t speak for the future and predict how having been through depression may help or hinder changes in future events. But being aware of my triggers and how to best respond to them, will assist in preventing a relapse and managing my mental wellness for life.

I think it’s also important to note that depression can affect people in a number of different ways, noticeable triggers may not be evident for all people experiencing depression and triggers can be hard to pinpoint.

What made you want to share your story to the public?

I have been running my YouTube channel for the past three years. I always knew I wanted to talk about mental health in some form but timing is everything. I had to make sure I was in a suitable head space to be able to talk about my mental health whilst safeguarding and protecting my mental well being at the same time. I ran a mental wellness web series on my YouTube channel this year which was well received, and also shared my personal experience with the black dog. I was extremely nervous to do this but felt I was at a point on my mental health journey that I could manage it.

I had a great desire to share aspects of my story in hope that it would help others who are experiencing/experienced their own mental distress. I wanted to provide them with hope and a form of comfort that mental illness can be recovered from.

Have you always been quite open to discuss depression if people ask about it?

Yes I have been quite open in discussing depression if people ask about it. I’ve always been the kind of person who is comfortable in discussing difficult topics with others when it is right, mental health is no exception. Mental health and depression aren’t dirty words, we all have mental health. It is something that should be discussed, in good times and bad.

Do you think the stigma around mental illness makes it hard for people to open up about their struggles?

Absolutely. Although I was happy to discuss my struggles with mental illness doesn’t mean I wasn’t apprehensive about the stigma that is associated. and continues to be associated with mental illness/health and wellness. However, I do feel like with myself , and many others, who share their stories about their experiences with mental illness, that the stigma does have less chance of thriving with the more people who discuss it.

You’ve done some amazing work raising awareness for mental health/illnesses in Taranaki, what do you hope to achieve next?

Thank you. That is very kind of you to say. It has been without a doubt an incredible year on with working on my mental health awareness projects that I have been lucky to be part of. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of it without my strong support crew around me and people within the community who have been backing these projects as well.