3 Experiencing mental health problems
An understanding of the effects that different types of mental health problems might have on the individual is best gained by hearing what people who live with mental health problems say about their experiences.
You will now watch a short video by the actor and TV presenter Stephen Fry who articulates the numbing effect his bipolar disorder can have. Note that the video is titled manic depression and not bipolar disorder, reinforcing that terms change as our understanding and ideas about mental health problems evolve.
View the video The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive Part 1.
As you watch the video make brief notes on any signs and symptoms that Stephen Fry describes.
Fry talks about his frustration and misery as he describes the effect that his bipolar disorder has on his life. In the video he focuses on the depressive features of his mental health problems. You will have seen how he suffered; he wanted to be alone, he felt guilty that he had let other people down, and felt a tremendous sense of misery and failure. He doesn’t discuss the reckless and impulsive behaviour during the manic phases he has also experienced. If he had, he might have told of his shoplifting sprees and of how he was on the run from the police. It was when he was a young offender in prison that he was first diagnosed as having mental health problems.
You will continue to gain the perspective of people who have experienced mental health problems by reading two transcripts of a case study that give two views of how depression affected Kate.
In this excerpt taken from Lorraine and Kate: Depression (OpenLearn, 2016), you will read how Lorraine noticed how work was taking its toll on her friend Kate. You will then have the opportunity to read about Kate’s own perspective.
Note in the response box below any life stresses that had a harmful effect on Kate’s mental health.
Part 1: Lorraine’s story
I’ve been friends with Kate since we were at primary school. After school I went to work for an estate agent, got married and now have a toddler and am expecting again. I still work at the estate agent, part-time. Kate got a job working for someone in a big firm in Leeds.
She lived with her mum and dad and travelled daily at first. We saw each other most weeks, went for a drink at our local, to the cinema, that sort of thing. Then Kate moved into a small bedsit in Leeds but she mostly came home at weekends and we kept in touch.
When Hayley was born she thought she was cute and would drop in to see us. We got a routine of us going out for the evening every other week. Kate’s job seemed very pressured. She had to have her work mobile on all the time because the people she worked for were overseas a lot and they could ring her any time.
So she didn’t want to go to the cinema or to the leisure centre in case she missed a call. Our nights out became less regular and when we did go out they were less fun, she seemed to be edgy.
We went away for two weeks' holiday and we hadn’t arranged another meeting. Kate said she would ring when she was free. Weeks went by and it was a relief when she did ring. She said she didn’t want to meet because she wasn’t well. She was ‘signed off’. When she told me it was depression I told her how glad I was it wasn’t something serious.
That was over a year ago. I know now that depression is serious and that I said the worst thing possible. But I didn’t know and I hope I’ve been a good friend all the same. Kate hasn’t gone back to the job in Leeds but she’s much better although her medicine is still not quite right for her.
Sometimes when they try a change of pills she gets side-effects and feels awful but she’s the old Kate again.
Now read what Kate said about the stress she was under.
Part 2: Kate’s story
Looking back I don’t really know how this happened to me. I suppose I did work too hard and I hadn’t had a proper holiday. How could I afford one, the money I’m chucking at my landlord? The best I could do was to go back to Mam’s.
I just reached a point where work overwhelmed me. The inbox seemed to just fill, and I’d work harder and harder, but more and more things to do would appear. I felt stressed and anxious the whole time.
There were just some days I could hardly get out of bed because I knew what was waiting for me when I got to the office. And I was so tired as well, constantly tired. I had been keen on running, but that went out the window – even if I’d had the time, I could barely lace my shoes never mind get round the park.
I was lucky; I was at home when I ‘broke down’. It was a Monday morning and I just couldn’t get out of bed. Mum came in to see what had happened and I just started to cry and cry and couldn’t stop.
I couldn’t even talk to her, I just cried. She was worried, so she got me straight down to the surgery and our GP was great. He took it seriously – which surprised me, to be honest. Thank God for that.
It’s a year later, I still have regular check-ups because I’m not back to normal and the medication still isn’t right. There are days when I don’t want to see anyone and I find crowds dreadful.
When I meet people I have to work hard at concentrating on what they are saying. Friends think I’m OK but I’m abnormally tired after being with them. Apart from thinking depression wasn’t serious Lorraine has been great and I just love seeing her and Hayley.
Watching Hayley crawl around takes me out of myself. I can see that I still worry too much. I realise it is me; I wasn’t over-worked – I’d got things out of proportion. Yes, I can see what went wrong but I still don’t know why.
You have read about the same situation from two perspectives. First Lorraine tells us how she observed Kate change from the good friend she used to know to the more distant and ‘edgy’ Kate. Kate’s symptoms match many you have read about earlier: feeling overwhelmed, being stressed and anxious, constantly tired, staying in bed, crying a lot and isolating herself. These are all typical signs and symptoms of depression.
What life stresses did you note that affected Kate? She was, perhaps, overworked without adequate time to relax between work days, being pressured to perform for her employer, and she had money worries (the rental on her flat). It was all at a time when she moved away from her support network – Lorraine and her mum.
In the next topic you will learn more about some of the interventions commonly used to alleviate mental health problems.