Fighting the stigma of mental illness

Daniel Worley
Daniel Worley

I never felt there was anywhere to go, I did not think doctors could help me. I went on honeymoon with my new wife, we went to the Maldives and it was on the plane that I had my first massive panic attack. I thought I was going to die.”

Speaking about his experiences with mental illness, Rushden author Daniel Worley is hopeful that his tale of recovery might inspire others facing conditions which still bear the brunt of misunderstanding and stigma.

Daniel first suffered panic attacks, anxiety and depression when he came out of the Army in 2001 and then started experiencing agoraphobia, which left him reluctant to leave the house. His first panic attack happened on a plane.

He said: “I tried to hide it as I did not want to freak everyone out. I suffered through an 11-hour flight which I couldn’t get off.

“The worst thing about panic attacks is that you have trouble breathing. Your heart is racing and you think other people can see what you are going through. You think people can see you having a panic attack.

“Every day I started having them, sometimes more than once a day and I had to have beta blockers to help with them.”

Daniel is still not quite sure what triggered his condition, but believes it could be down to leaving the Army (he confessed he felt he had left his family) and the traumatic situations he encountered in service (which included the death of his good friend after a grenade explosion).

He said: “I was only ever diagnosed with anxiety and panic attacks and they were trying to get me to take medication; I don’t like taking that but I knew, with the agoraphobia, if I did not battle through it, I would be housebound. I had to fight through it to keep a normal life.”

Daniel was speaking in the wake of news that supermarket chains Tesco and Asda had withdrawn two Halloween outfits after they were criticised for stigmatising people with mental health issues.

He said: “I don’t think it is going to help if you brand people with any condition. We are trying to get the stigma away from mental illness.

“So many people suffer from it now and it is going on all the time. Mental illness is something that needs to be recognised.

“It is getting better but there is more information out there. When I first started suffering I did not know what it was. I did not think there was much information out there and I don’t think GPs are geared up to cope with the demand of mental health cases.

“They are well trained with other illnesses but I’m not sure they go into mental health illnesses as much.

“Also, you don’t want anyone to know anything, so people aren’t talking about it, so people who aren’t suffering don’t get any information.

“I would suggest, if you went for a job and mentioned you had a mental health condition it would affect your chances of getting that job. So you would hide it and people wouldn’t know you were suffering.”

But Daniel is keenly aware that confronting mental health issues rather than hiding from them is the road to recovery.

He now works as a security officer and managed to maintain full-time work while fighting his mental health illness with counselling, exercise and the act of writing.

He has recently published his first novel, Become, which tells the story of a man who wreaks a campaign of revenge against someone who murders his wife and child. He is already working on its prequel, Becoming.

He said: “I started writing poetry in Bosnia, to offload my thoughts. I started writing fiction in 2003-04. It did help, getting my thoughts on to paper.

“If you can’t talk to anyone, it can help to write your thoughts down. You have to offload your thoughts and writing is a good option, even if it isn’t published.”

Richard Pascall works as a private counsellor and has his main office in Kettering.

He said: “There is still a stigma. When people see me it is confidential but they don’t broadcast the fact they are coming to a therapist. I think the stigma is going away but people don’t always know how to treat others when they have mental health problems.

“One lady came to see me – she is having problems with her family – and no-one asks her how she is or how she feels about things. The best thing you can say to someone is ‘are you OK? How are you?’”

More funding for mental health problems:

“One in four people will experience a mental health condition,” says Kirsty Woods, financial manager at Kettering Mind.

Kettering Mind is a charity which works to help those with mental health conditions, running services such as a support centre every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at its base in Russell Street.

According to Kirsty, more work needs to be done to increase understanding of mental health problems.

She said: “Depression and anxiety are the most common.

“It is increasing, possibly because of the economic situation as there are no jobs for younger people.

“We are seeing a lot more younger people and parents phoning us up about their children. There is still so much stigma and discrimination about. You think you have broken through the stigma and then the supermarkets do something like this.”

Given its prevalence, Kirsty believes more funding needs to be available to support people living with these conditions.

Kirsty said: “There isn’t enough funding goes into it and there has been a change in funding. We used to get a grant but now people get personal budgets and there are high eligibility criteria used by Northamptonshire County Council for that.

“A lot of people are falling through the net.”

Anyone who would like to donate to Kettering Mind or would like more info can ring 01536 523216.

Fact file

World Mental Health Day will be held on Thursday, October 10. To mark this, a talent show called With A Little Help From My Friends, featuring local performers such as the Arts Barn Gilbert and Sullivan Society, The Seagrave Singers and the Kettering & District Theatrical Society, will be held at the Lighthouse Theatre in aid of Kettering Mind. Tickets cost £7. The show will start at 7.30pm. To book, see lighthousetheatre.co.uk.

Kettering Mind will be holding a health and well-being ‘open shop front’ information point in Gold Street, Kettering, on the same day from 10am.

The novel, Become, by Daniel Worley is now available on Amazon for Kindle, priced 97p.