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We can all step out of darkness into the light

By Chris Saunderson

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We all take our health for granted and like so many other things in life, we don’t realise how precious it is until we don’t have it.

This is true of physical health but also of our mental health. One in four of us will suffer from serious mental health problems at some time in our lives.

Leave a Light on for Me aims to help people cope over the winter months.
Leave a Light on for Me aims to help people cope over the winter months.

In 2012, my mental health broke down and for the first time in my life it felt like my world was both disintegrating and spiralling out of control.

It happened suddenly and without warning early one morning, with an episode so terrifying that I found myself dialling 999 as I was sure I was going to die. This was to be the first of many anxiety attacks.

People often make throwaway remarks about such attacks, I know I did; but true anxiety is far and beyond your wildest nightmare. It comes out of the blue when you least expect it and almost shuts down your ability to function and to be rationale, palpitations, sweats, shakes and a feeling that you are losing control, you are no longer in the present but outwith your physical body looking down.

I still experience these attacks, but the episodes are less frequent, living with it can limit your life and prevent you from doing so many things you once enjoyed but with help it can be managed.

Whilst anxiety is hard to deal with and for others to comprehend, depression is equally hard to understand... I worked in mental health for many years, but am not sure I truly understood the depths of the condition until 2012.

The worrying thing about depression is that you don’t actually realise you are depressed until you are at a really low point.

Gradually you lose interest in things you once enjoyed. The sky always seems grey even when it’s blue, you snap at people you love, you use humour or sarcasm though inside you feel flat, and everything seems such a chore. You paint a plastic smile on your face and the effort to keep smiling is tough.

You can’t talk about how you feel because you can’t bear to and anyway you feel guilty as what do you have to be sad about, you should be grateful and there are so many people worse off than you....so you say nothing until one day you find you are slipping further and further down a dark hole.

The hole gets so deep and so dark, it feels like you can’t get back up to the light.

If anxiety hits you like a giant tsunami, then depression is like drowning in a pit of despair.

Carolle Ralph has supported people during the pandemic.
Carolle Ralph has supported people during the pandemic.

So why am I bearing my soul to the world? I guess because I feel strongly that mental health should be taken seriously and that with the right help, no matter how desperate it feels, you can come out of the darkness and back into the light.

The challenges of these past nine months have pushed many people into that dark place and if we aren’t careful then we will have a second pandemic on our hands.

But if we all have a better understanding of how devastating it can be then we can together help each other and when need be encourage those we love to seek professional help.

Long periods of stress and challenging situations can weaken any of us and endanger our mental well

being. A significant number of people in Moray have lost their jobs, for others their future plans have

been torn apart, and many folks are worried about paying mortgages, bills and buying food. Families who

had been reliant on steady incomes now plunged into near destitution by covid. We forget that our

children and young people may not be able to cope with their fears, uncertainty and missing their friends

along side all the other challenges of growing up. The constant negativity of the media is damaging to fragile young minds and indeed to all of us.

Older people and the vulnerable seeing no one for weeks on end, terrified to go out and missing their valued though perhaps few social groups and friends.

Care home residents living without regular visits from their friends, and of course those who have had covid and those who have lost loved ones and not been able to say goodbye.

All these situations are hard to bear and at a time when we actually need greater access to mental health services the ability to seek help has been reduced and statutory services are under pressure. This is worrying because by the time you reach the point of actually admitting you need help, you maybe at your lowest point and you need it immediately not in six weeks or six months time.

So, as we approach the dark months of winter, we need to help each other as best we can to stay well. Not

just to avoid Covid but also to ensure we look after one another’s mental well being. We can do this by

checking on those who may need a bit of extra support. Loneliness and isolation are killers and a friendly call or offer of help can make all the difference. We need to look beyond the smile and the “fine” response when we ask how someone is doing.

Leave a light on logo
Leave a light on logo

If something tells you a friend or family member is not quite right, they probably aren’t. We should keep talking to our young people to make sure they are okay, look for warning signs that things aren’t so good and be kind always. Compassion and kindness are free but can make such a difference to someone who is in despair. For the young mum struggling without support, the offer of help can be a lifeline to get through her week.

Lastly, avoid comments such as “pull yourself together or get a grip” it’s not helpful and makes the person feel worse, so try not to judge and just be a friend even though you may not understand how they feel.

Remember, depression is a medical condition and you wouldn’t tell someone with diabetes to snap out of it so why would you say that to someone who has a mental illness.

Moray has a wonderful community spirit. We have pulled together many times over the years, if we all play our part in supporting each other we will get through this period of darkness and into the light.

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