There are many questions we have when it comes to mental health. 1 in 4 of us in the UK are faced with mental health difficulties at some point in our lives, and that statistic is based on those who seek support. That’s approx over a quarter of the population (which in 2017 was 66.02 million people). Despite this, there is still a huge stigma, and a huge lack of awareness of mental health. Why; could it be because of lack of understanding? Or even knowledge in the subject? It’s because of this and stigma and discrimination that people are afraid to talk about how they are feeling. In this series of interviews, I shall be talking to people about their experiences with their mental health, how it affects them and their day to day lives, and how speaking up about how they were feeling helped them.
Today, I’ve been speaking to the wonderful Keighley Perkins, a university postgraduate student who is passionate in raising awareness of mental health, and also experiences mental illness herself.
Hello Keighley, thank you ever so much for speaking to me today. Can you please start by telling me a bit about you?
I’m a postgraduate researcher and a blogger. I’m currently working towards an MPhil in Applied Linguistics at Swansea University. I’m fascinated by the language we use to discuss mental health and suicide – especially in the media. My research, therefore, looks at how newspapers report on events involving males with schizophrenia and the impact that media guidelines have on these reports. I hope that I can help media coverage on mental health become more accurate and sensitive by working with journalists and mental health advocates.
When I’m not studying, I’m blogging at https://mentallydiscursive.wordpress.com where I investigate different media portrayals of mental health and interview people with lived experience of mental illness.
That’s really awesome to hear! Can you explain a bit about your condition?
I’ve been diagnosed with anxiety and depression, which I’ve lived with about 8 years now. It can be difficult to manage my mental health, especially in the world of academia, which is very intense and demanding, but I have an amazing support network around me and some useful strategies that make things a bit more manageable.
I’m so glad you have that support in place. It’s really important to have that support network around you. Did you talk to your lecturers about how you are feeling? If you did, then was it difficult to have that first conversation?
I have spoken to my supervisor about my mental health. Having that first conversation was an incredibly nerve-wracking experience as I didn’t know how she would react, but I’m so glad that I did. The first thing that she did was thank me for trusting her enough to tell her about my mental health. She then asked about my triggers and how we could set up our supervisory meetings so that they didn’t impact upon my anxiety and depression. I left the meeting feeling so relieved and supported.
The only thing that my supervisor asked of me was that I be open and honest with her about my mental health, especially when it came to my workload. Thanks to her understanding, that’s something I’ve been able to do.
During my course so far, I’ve experienced two periods of mental ill health. Being able to tell my supervisor that I’m anxious or depressed has relieved so much of the pressure I put on myself to succeed because I know that I’ll always have my supervisor’s support.
I’m sorry to hear about your two periods of mental ill health, but I’m so glad you were able to talk to someone about it and how her understanding has helped you. What advice would you give for students wanting to talk to their lecturers about how they are feeling?
While I would always advise people to tell their lecturers about their mental health, I understand that it can be quite a daunting experience, so my first piece of advice would be not to feel bad if you can’t talk to them. Just don’t write it off completely. You can always tell them about it when the time is right.
I’d also remind any students considering having this conversation with their lecturers to remember that no one wants to see you struggle or fail. Your lecturers will always be there to support you. Anything they can do to help you to be successful, they will do.
My final piece of advice would be to make notes before you go in. One thing I’ve learnt to do over time is to make notes before any meeting that I go into. It helps me to gather my thoughts so that I feel less nervous when I go in and assures that I won’t forget what I need to say. Preparing some notes beforehand on exactly what you want to say to your lecturer will provide you with the necessary support to help you through the conversation.
As a student myself, I can relate to the fear of speaking up about my conditions. However, I found that after discussing it with my lecturers that things became a bit easier and as you say, they are there to help.
You mentioned you have anxiety and depression, in your own personal experience with them, could you tell me how these affect you and the symptoms you have?
I see my anxiety as like a mosquito that’s constantly buzzing around my head. Most of the time, it’s quiet and settled. Occasionally, it’ll fixate on something and start feeding itself. When that happens, I get foggy-headed, a cold feeling throughout my whole body and I find it hard to concentrate. It’s like my brain starts churning out thoughts faster than I can grasp them. It leaves me incredibly flustered, so I can’t make any decisions on what to do to make the situation better.
My depression, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. Whenever I’m experiencing a depressive patch, I feel sluggish and lethargic. I don’t want to do anything or go anywhere. I find that all I want to do is sleep.
Thankfully, with medication, CBT and self-care, I don’t experience as many bad mental health days as I used to. The only thing that I struggle with on a day-to-day basis is my memory and concentration – both of which are not as great as they used to be. I’ve had to make a few minor changes to adapt to this change (such as making lists and taking more regular study breaks), but that’s nothing in the grand scheme of things.
Everyone’s experiences are different with these conditions, but I can definitely understand how you feel when you explain your experience with them. I’m glad that medication, CBT and self care help you. Is there anything else that helps you when dealing with your mental health?
I find meditation, mindfulness and CBT helps. I also have an amazing group of friends around me who provide me with endless support and a safe space to talk. Diet and exercise have been incredibly useful too, which is not exciting but true!
That’s really amazing to know! It is said that exercise can improve your mental health. They say the same with being creative. You do a lot of creative typing/writing I’m guessing, not just as a student but as the author and creator of Mentally Discursive. It’s really exciting to read your posts from your blog. It’s really insightful! Do you find that writing blogsfor Mentally Discursive helps you with your own mental health?
Absolutely. I love writing and doing research so I relish any opportunity to indulge in some of my favourite hobbies.
It’s great on another level as writing blog posts about mental health makes me feel like I’m contributing to something and making a change. Some of the things that I write about on my blog aren’t very positive (such as the emphasis on links between mental health and violence in the media), but I’ve had some really interesting conversations with people about mental health as a result of these posts.
It leaves me with a very positive feeling that I’m able to use one of my hobbies to make something of a change.
Reading your blog posts, I found one about training to become a Time to Change Wales (an organisation that aims to end mental health stigma and discrimination) champion. It was dated back to 2016. Going forward 2 years later to the present day and there seems to be a gradual change in attitudes towards mental health. Many years ago, the media would say that if you killed someone it’s because you’re “mentally disturbed.” Which obviously isn’t the right thing to say. Would you say that nowadays that the media are becoming better and more sensitive at reporting about mental health?
It’s a complicated story. I think the media is beginning to take steps in the right direction, but we still have some way to go.
The main problem is that, for the majority of people, the only information they get about mental health is from the media. While news reports are beginning to include more contextual about particular conditions when reporting on mental illness, there are still a lot of stereotypes surrounding mental health in the media – especially when it comes to violence and criminality. We can see this in America in particular around discussions about gun crime. Too often, the emphasis is placed on mental health, rather than how accessible guns are. When these are the only images about mental health in the media, audiences interpret them as truth through no fault of their own.
That said, I love that shows like Coronation Street, Emmerdale and Hollyoaks are beginning to work with mental health organisations to develop sensitive stories about mental health. It really helps to challenge these portrayals. I just think that more can be done to involve people with mental illnesses in the media so that we can broaden these portrayals and help people understand what mental illnesses really entail and what it’s like to live with them.
Thank you so much for answering these questions Keighley, I just have one more question for you. What advice would you give to someone who may be going through anxiety and depression too?
Don’t be afraid to talk. I understand that it can feel daunting initially when you start telling people about your mental health, but I’ve always found it to be a positive experience. People genuinely want to know more and to help – and, if they don’t, then that’s a reflection on them and not on you.
Practice self-care. Little things like managing your diet and exercise will really help manage your mental wellbeing. Don’t be afraid to cancel plans, to rest and to nap when you need it. You need to look after yourself before you can do anything else.
Take the time to find a good GP. It took me a while (and several doctors) to find one I can really trust, but it makes recovery easier if you do. My advice would be to research your GP surgery. Their website should have a list of each doctor’s specialty where you can find someone who specialises in mental health to work with.
Thank you once again to Keighley Perkins for allowing me to interview her. You’ve been a great help, and I’m sure people who read this will feel encouraged to either seek help or learn more about mental health.
Just to close, I just want to remind everyone that 1 in 10 young people (this includes people in school, college and university) can be faced by a mental health condition. It’s being there for them and not judging them that is very important. Encourage them to talk. Be a friend and see how they are. It only takes a matter of minutes to check up on them! Be there… Time to Talk Day 2019 is the 7th of February. University Mental Health Day is on the 7th of March 2019.