Caroline Verdon: Mental health awareness is a subject close to my heart

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It’s mental Health Awareness week and it’s subject close to my heart.

Since I was 19, not a year has gone by where I haven’t had some sort of involvement with my local mental health team – something that seems to shock people outside of my close friends and family. If mental health was like a game of bingo I’d be close to having a full house. In the past I’ve had everything from body dysmorphia and bulimia to depression and anxiety and various things in between.

At my worst I’ve believed I didn’t look like a person, I thought I was so disfigured that other people didn’t recognise me as a member of the human race. It impacted every aspect of my life. I was at university at the time and ended up having to get a four month extension on my dissertation and during that time I moved back to my parents’ house, studied from home and went to twice weekly appointments with a psychologist.

Since my uni days I’ve suffered mainly with anxiety. For me I think it will be something that will always be there, but I have a full on tool kits of tricks to help me deal with and I employ them all – I write lists, I take time out for myself to unwind, I talk to my husband about where my head is at, I’m working harder at eating the right foods and exercising more and I also check in with my GP when I feel myself slipping down a rabbit hole.

It’s hard to describe what it’s like to suffer with anxiety but I’ll try. My anxiety tends to be based on catastrophies – if money is a bit tight, my rational brain says “I will just unsubscribe from Netflix and save £8 a month, that’ll solve it” but the other half of my brain imagines a scene where I’m homeless, divorced and my child has been adopted by someone else. Even if I know that won’t happen, I feel like it will and it can be hard to get the knowing and the feeling part of my brain to marry up.

About six months ago I got a bit out of control and I was convinced I was dying. My blood pressure had been a little higher than normal in one singular isolated reading and I went into panic mode. For two weeks, the first thing I did when I woke up was lift both arms in the air and put my tongue to the roof of my mouth to check that I hadn’t had a stroke in the night. I’d then go to the bathroom and stand infront of the mirror to check that my face was still symmetrical. I stopped doing anything that could increase my heart rate incase I had a heart attack and I ate nothing but green vegetables as everything else would definitely kill me straight off.

I knew that one day of a slightly elevated blood pressure doesn’t cause a stroke but I couldn’t stop the feeling of panic. I couldn’t marry up the rational intelligent part of my brain with the part that gave me the knot in my stomach and the all-encompassing feeling of dread that comes when you think your world is ending.

I wrote notes on my phone to my toddler and to my husband for them to read in the event of my extremely imminent death. I cried as I imagined having to tell them that I wasn’t going to be around anymore and that I wasn’t going to be able to see Arthur grow up. Whilst at the same time trying not to cry incase the crying itself caused me to have a stroke or a heart attack and die. All this whilst working and parenting and adulating and attempting to look like I had everything under control.

I think the hardest and the cruellest part is that it’s like your own brain is turning against you making you think negative things about yourself and about the situations you find yourself in. It can make you feel like you are a burden to your loved ones and do you know what? It is lying.

Imagine finding told that that huge weight that’s on your shoulders that you’re worrying about can be made lighter and in some cases can disappear entirely, imagine finding that your friends and family want to help you, imagine finding that you are worth it and that actually you can not only cope but thrive. All those things are true and I am proof.

Back our new campaign

This week you may have seen #wheresyourheadat trending on social media.

It’s a campaign that Radio Aire has launched nationwide to get a ‘mental health first aider’ in every workplace. We’re working in association with Mental Health First Aid England to get a change in the law to make sure that every workplace trains a member of staff to be able to identify, understand and help someone who may be experiencing a mental health issue. We already have workplace first aiders and fire wardens – isn’t this just as important?

Evidence shows that the earlier a mental health condition like stress anxiety or depression is detected, the easier it is to manage and treat. Evidence also shows that at some point in our lives we are going to need help with our own mental health and when that happens, we want to make it easy for you to talk about your mental health at work and to ensure that there are trained colleagues on site who know how to point you in the direction of any help you might need.

The cost to a business is minimal – just losing a staff member for a morning’s training and in the long run, we all know a healthier workforce is going to be a more productive one so it’s a win for everyone. In order to get the government to consider talking about this in parliament we need 100,000 signatures and at the time of writing we’re at 26,000. If you would like to show your support and get involved head to wheresyourheadat.org

A problem shared...

In February 2017, 15 year old Morley school boy Daniel Long died from suicide.

An inquest concluded he was suffering with acute anxiety. His mum, Emma Oliver said she began noticing changes in his behaviour when he was studying for his mock GCSEs. Despite getting As and A*s, Daniel became fixated on revising and was having trouble eating and sleeping.

She was shocked to hear from other parents after his death who told her they too were worried about their own children’s mental health and so Radio Aire worked with her to launch ‘Problem Shared’ – a campaign calling for every school to have a counsellor so that every pupil always has someone to talk to.

If you’d like to get involved and back our campaign just search Radio Aire Problem Shared.

Caroline Verdon is one half of the breakfast show at Radio Aire. You can hear Caroline and Ant between 6-10am every weekday morning.