Today is World Mental Health Day. According to the Mental Health Foundation, one in six adults suffer from a common Mental Health issue (anxiety, depression, work related stress) and Mind reported that 1 in 4 adults will be affected by a Mental Health Issue each year. Unfortunately, many people who suffer from Mental Health issues feel isolated and struggle to discuss their mental health. Many charities and campaigns aim to support people with mental health issues and reduce the stigma and discrimination around mental health including, Mind, CALM, Time to Change, and Heads Together. They want us to start talking about Mental Health.
In the hope to raise awareness and help others who are suffering from a mental health issues, I want to share my story.
Two years ago (almost exactly), I was diagnosed with stress and depression. I went to my doctor as I was struggling with my mood and I was signed off work for a week. In my teenage years I had suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression so I knew the symptoms, and understood the importance of getting support. The symptoms I faced were low mood and lack of motivation. I found it difficult to get out of bed some mornings and I slept a lot. I also wasn’t a very pleasant person to be around and when I was on my own, I cried a lot. I had a loss of appetite, began to lose weight and I wasn’t take care of myself. My GP was very understanding and I was referred for counselling. Looking back I think a year prior to that the symptoms began to appear, as I started missing days off work and became irritable with friends and family. I also had many issues with my sleep, but didn’t really pay any attention to this at the time! The symptoms slowly worsened until I received my diagnosis. There were several aspects impacting my mental health in the run up to that diagnosis.
I was in an unhappy relationship, and we were saving for a mortgage. The stress of this and the relationship did not help my mood. Unfortunately, a few months before I received my diagnosis this relationship ended, which was the final straw for my confidence. This was an important aspect that affected my mental health, although another main issue, was my work.
I was preparing for the BCBA exam. Which as many of you know or have heard is very hard. I spent a lot of time revising, which added stress to my relationship, and was hard on me. I failed on my first attempt so I was very anxious to do well on my second attempt. I had a very limited window to pass, as my Masters degree would no longer qualify me to do the BCBA exam, as the board had added additional hours of training to the curriculum. I put pressure on myself to pass so that I wouldn’t have to do additional work to obtain my BCBA certification.
I also lack a lot of confidence, generally and in my work. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to become a BCBA as I hadn’t had many years’ experience and was uncertain of my capabilities. It’s very hard when you look at your colleagues and peers and feel that they are more knowledgeable and confident in the field and you wish you could be more like that. Unfortunately, not focusing on your own strengths only knocks your confidence more. As my mental health deteriorated, my confidence decreased more and more. I got caught in a cycle of feeling incapable, and feeling unable to restore my confidence.
Even though I am better and healthier now, I continue to see a counsellor and am open with my supervisor about my personal struggles. I am lucky that she is very supportive. It’s important to recognise when you need support with your mental health. Ways you can do this is by speaking to your colleagues or supervisors (especially if you’re preparing for the BCBA or BCaBA exam). Also it is very important to take good care of yourself. Have a good work and life balance, exercise and find time to relax. You can also turn to GP for advice or a referral for counselling you feel that would suit you.
I also spoke to Jane McCready from ABAA4All to get her perspective on Mental Health as a parent
“I was talking to another autism mum the other night who is under huge stress with her teenage autistic daughter and a marriage which has nearly broken down. We talked about her stress levels, day in day out. She looked tired, drawn and desperate. Her girl nearly broke mum’s arm the other day – she was reaching for a phone to call for help and her daughter yanked back her arm violently. She is pretty sure next time she will actually break a bone, she is getting big and strong.
I empathised with her as can remember a similar time, when Johnny was little, had only just been diagnosed, and I was still hoping for great things from his eclectic school (hadn’t yet started ABA).
I felt I must be a terrible mother. The worst in the world. At soft play centres and the like, all the other mums sat drinking coffee while their little ones scampered around happily and played with each other, safely and co-operatively. I marvelled that they could just let their kids run off. I needed to be with Johnny every single second, clambering one step behind him on the wobbly slide. Why? Was I an over-protective mummy?
No. I knew from bitter experience the whole range of things that could go wrong if I left him to his own devices.
1) he would simply disappear, run away, maybe even out of the centre into the path of a car. He would not come back if called, did not even seem to know his own name. Had no idea that cars were dangerous.
2) he would hurt himself or others. Either by accident because, eg, he did not know it’s not safe to hyperactively jump off a 20ft piece of equipment. Or because he would bite, kick or headbutt other kids if in his way. Or headbutt a wall or punch his own head if some small thing did not go his way.
3) he would destroy property or another kid’s toy or eat something dangerous (I lived in terror of him choking as he would eat everything, off the dirty floors, old bits of rubbish out of puddles etc.)
4) he would not be able to tell me if another kid hurt him, as was non verbal. Though not non vocal. All day long he never ever stopped a high-pitched squealing – sometimes happy, sometimes sad, but always very loud. People would stare and then complain.
5) he wasn’t yet toilet trained and nappies could leak.
Oh I could go on. It was the same at home, only worse as he had developed a mania for trying to flood the house or post everything he could find down the floorboards or behind radiators. If asked to stop? Tantrums, headbanging on (concrete) floor, biting me.
I lived in fear he would break someone’s nose as he had a habit of suddenly headbutting violently forwards or backwards. I spent literally 18 hours a day (he didn’t sleep much) stopping him from hurting himself or others. His sister was only a bit older than him, and I had to protect her often from his rages or headbutts.
Mealtimes were another battle: he literally only wanted to eat chicken nuggets and chips, would throw all other food at me or all over the floor. I remember crying as I cleaned ketchup and peas off 100 soft toys in the toy box.
I am a very strong person, I had come from a very challenging senior director role in an American investment bank. But I was on my knees living like this. I think I was close to a nervous breakdown. My husband too.
When I finally decided to try this thing called ABA (which I was highly sceptical about as my lovely council autism experts had told me it was ‘very intense’ and even ‘horrid’) everything started to change very very rapidly for the better. I learned strategies to redirect his behaviours, and he learned to communicate his needs with words not his fists.
So when people ask about the stress of setting up a home ABA programme, I say yes, there were strains. Finding and keeping tutors. Having people trooping in and out of the house all day. Finding the money. Borrowing the money. Fighting the LA for a statement. Fighting the LA to say eclectic didn’t work and ABA did. Hiring legal help when they refused to look at that fact objectively. Writing a million reports. Keeping the house ever-so-slightly tidy. Day-long team meetings. Learning new techniques. Sticking to those techniques after an 18 hour day. Finding more money. More legal battles.
Yes, all that was hard.
But compared to the heartache of watching your beloved, golden boy headbutt a concrete floor or his grandfather? Wondering if he would ever talk, or read, or put on his own socks, or use a toilet?”
I also asked her what helped her most to deal with her mental health and stress and she responded
“In my early days (pre Facebook!) I found a lot of comfort and help on the Mumsnet SN Children board. Plus, I found comfort with friends willing to lend an ear as I ranted endlessly about autism – often on long, therapeutic park walks. I recommend Mumsnet and Facebook groups to share experiences. A problem shared is a problem halved – talking to others in the same boat can really help
I think there are so many supportive Facebook groups for parents now – my own page ABAA4ALL, Focus Autism UK, Autism Support UK, Child Autism UK.”
Special Thanks to Jane McCready for her insight.
Busy Analytical Bee Newsletter
Busy Analytical Bee: December edition – Depression and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
Mumsnet: Special Needs Chat
World Mental Health Day
Time to Change
CALM: Campaign Against Living Miserably
Mental Health Foundation