Time To Talk Day, marked on 1 February, gives everyone the opportunity to open up about mental health. It’s a subject close to my heart, because it took me 11 years to talk openly about the fact I have bipolar disorder and anxiety.
My story begins in 2003, when, aged 15, I experienced an episode of depression, anxiety and psychosis, where your mind loses touch with reality.
I wasn’t sleeping, my heart would suddenly race, I would cry and have regular panic attacks and couldn’t concentrate on anything. I was incredibly frightened and exhausted.
My parents, as well as teachers at Immanuel College, were hugely supportive and understanding and I sought help from a psychiatrist for the first time.
But that year, while on Israel Tour with my youth group, I also experienced a manic episode and had to come home early. I felt so ashamed, even though it was not my fault that my mind wasn’t well.
My madricha was an incredible support to me and I thank her to this day for all she did to make sure I was safe and well.
Months later, when I started studying for my A-levels, I had a further severe depressive episode.
For the next four months, I was kept in hospital and, aged just 16, I was finally diagnosed with bipolar affective 1 disorder (formerly known as manic depression), which causes both depressive and ‘high’ manic episodes.
The disorder can be medicated and therapy helps, but it’s about finding the right medication and support, which can take a while for each person.
For the next 10 years, I managed my condition and in that time achieved A-levels, went to university and travelled.
But when I turned 25, I again found myself spiralling into illness with a bipolar manic episode.
People suffering with this can have racing thoughts, reckless behaviour, increased activity and movement and delusions, which can, in the worst cases, turn into psychosis. This is what happened to me.
Through no fault of my own, I was back in hospital again. It was extremely frightening. Owing to the severity of the mania, I couldn’t see how ill I was and felt incredibly vulnerable.
At that time, I had no idea if I could recover and get back to some kind of normal life again. It affected everything and even when I began dating, I felt I had to hide my condition.
In fact, from the moment I was diagnosed as a teenager, I didn’t feel comfortable talking about it. I was a shy teenager and just wanted to fit in with my peers and not feel different, so I hid my condition from those who were not close to me. I wasn’t aware of any mental health blogs for teenagers or any charity campaigns at the time that could help me.
But my family and friends have been a huge support and it’s been amazing to see the change in attitudes to mental health within our community just over the last five years, thanks to the incredible work of charities such as Jami, which are helping to fight stigma and support those who are unwell.
For the past two years, I have worked as a volunteer for Jami’s Mental Health Awareness Shabbat, which has been a huge success, and encouraged more people to start conversations about the issue, up and down the country.
But I feel more still needs to be done to educate people and help normalise mental illness. One in four of us will suffer from mental health issues during our lives. It’s important we feel comfortable saying we are unwell and need support.
Now, 13 years after my diagnosis, I am trying to do my part by sharing my story through writing and blogging, to fight the stigma that still exists within our community and beyond.
There remains a lack of understanding about mental illness, but I hope my story can help others feel less alone.
- Eleanor blogs about mental health at beurownlight.com, which is nominated for a UK Blog Award. She is a freelance writer for numerous publications, including Metro and Huffington Post.
- Time To Talk Day takes place on 1 February. See: time-to-change.org.uk
Mental health: The Facts:
- One in four people will experience a diagnosable mental health issue in any given year
- One in 10 young people (aged five to 16) will experience a mental health problem, but 70 percent will not receive appropriate support
- Fifty percent of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by the age of 14 and 75 percent by age 24
- Nine out of 10 people with mental health issues experience stigma and discrimination
- Suicide is the biggest single killer of men aged under 45 in the UK
- Jami provides practical and emotional support for the mental health needs of the Jewish community
- Its services include providing community hubs and outreach, education and training and bespoke recovery support plans
For more info visit jamiuk.org or call 020 8458 2223
- Main image posed by model.
Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.
Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.
For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.
Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.
You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.
100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...
Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.
There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.
In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.
Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish News also produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.
In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.
Voice of our community to wider society
The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.
We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.
By Joe Millis