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The challenge of mental health

In this video, Professor Dave Cliff candidly shares his personal experiences of mental illness, and what he has found to help him through it
In 2013 I had a an event. So, I’d been working really hard because I really enjoy my job and I enjoy the adrenaline of doing a lot. So I was saying yes to too many things I was working harder and harder, the adrenaline was kind of rising and so
I found myself waking up ever-earlier, so I was waking up at 5:00 in the morning and getting work done and thinking, ‘wow I’m in charge’ and then I was waking up at 4, and then at 3, and then at 2 and then I just wasn’t sleeping and I didn’t sleep for five days. And when you haven’t slept a wink for five days the madness arrives in the post very quickly afterwards.
And it was deeply unpleasant and luckily my wife convinced me to go to see my doctor and I booked in to see my doctor in the first appointment, I think it was at 8 am, and you’re supposed to get 7 minutes with your doctor and I left 57 minutes later because he was brilliant and he probably saved my life.
Catastrophic thinking. I was convinced that I hadn’t signed the particular form, or I’d signed it and my signature had gone outside the box, and therefore there was going to be a disciplinary and therefore I would lose my job and therefore that our children would be homeless and and I would end up in some catastrophic situation and all of that chain of reasoning would take about 3 seconds and now, looking back I can see that it was totally irrational. But when you’re gripped, when I was gripped by that thinking it was all-consuming and it would bring on kind of panic attacks and
and then there was a very brief period when it was it had been sufficiently painful, for sufficiently long, that a tiny part of your brain says ‘maybe it would be easier if you weren’t around.’ And that was the point at which I realised I needed to see a doctor.
I knew that I was in a desperately bad situation and I wasn’t very good at telling anyone about it. I have really close friends, I have a wife who I love massively with all my heart but I wanted to protect her, and them, from the stuff that was going on. My kids were quite small at the time, I didn’t want them to know. I think the person I opened up the most to was my GP, when I saw my GP and he was just brilliant, yeah. There was a lot of crying aswell, that was it was the weirdest thing, I would feel otherwise happy.
When I described it, it’s like if you’ve got a cold and you suddenly think, ‘oh my god I’m going to sneeze,’ I’d be walking down the street, or giving a lecture and I’d suddenly think ‘oh my god, I’m going to cry,’ and I would have about ten seconds to get somewhere because this uncontrollable crying episode would happen. I mean basically I was falling apart. I fell apart, I had a breakdown. That’s the truth.
If you don’t give yourself time to be quiet and to be calm that I think is something that I’ve learned is, I’m much better at relaxing, properly relaxing, rather than doing adrenalised things that look like they’re relaxation but are actually just raising the energy levels. So I think people need to take care of themselves. The other thing is people need to talk. So, a problem shared can actually be a problem halved and we live in a very stigmatised society. It’s only really, very recently that people, public figures, have felt able to talk openly about mental health.
You know, if I break a leg, I’ll come into work in a plaster and everyone will say ‘oh that’s really bad luck in six weeks you’d be fine, don’t worry,’ but if something goes wrong in my head there’s just a society is not so well-versed in talking about it and recognising that actually you can get better. In fact I’m probably stronger now than I was before I got ill. I definitely am, actually.
Well in the job that I do, I have a responsibility towards quite a large number of my academic colleagues, members of faculty and also to a large number of students in my school and so the thing that I’ve tried to encourage them to do when they have experienced mental health issues is to recognise that there are lots of potential ways in which you can get help.
For me, seeing my GP was transformational but I was also fortunate to have friends who have been through similar experiences and they helped me understand there are talking therapies you can go to see counsellors or therapists, and for me actually a very transformational thing was a non-religious meditation practice that’s very widely known now called ‘mindfulness’. Which is essentially just you do some breathing exercises regularly 20 minutes of being calm and concentrating on your breath and that has been brilliant for me, yeah. There’s lots that can be done, but you need you need to reach out and get some help.
I work for a university and so my relationship to the University is they’re my employer and they were brilliant. I mean the fantastic thing is that I’ve taken on more responsibility and I’m probably under more stress now than I was before I got sick and it’s great that the University had the faith in my recovery to trust me with that responsibility and I haven’t got sick again because I now know how to cope, so that’s great.
But then, we are a university, we have a very large number of students many of them come from different life histories and for some of them they’re still at a young age and so they’ve still got experiences to gain and I think whether you’re in a teaching environment like a university or whether you’re just an employer, which many organisations are employers, recognising that mental health is something that affects, the statistic that many people talk about is one person in four will have a clinical mental health experience negative experience, an illness, in the course of their life. For certain age groups, young men, the biggest cause of death in the UK at the moment is suicide.
It’s not road traffic accidents, or smoking, it’s people that are in a sufficiently bad place that they choose to take their own life. Recognising that it’s a big problem and recognising that it will only get better if we talk about it and we make provision for people and we welcome people back after they’re fixed, after they’re better, it should be as routine as someone coming back after they’ve broken a leg, and it isn’t yet. But I think all organisations can do something to improve that and I think our University has been great at addressing these issues.

Mental health is a significant challenge, for many of us personally and for wider society. Approximately 1 in 6 adults (17%) were found to have a mental disorder in the last major National Health Service (NHS) survey in England (McManus et al., 2016). Of the different kinds of mental disorders, the most common was mixed anxiety and depression. Mental disorders were found to be more common, and on average more severe, in women than men and are responsible for around 12% of work absences.

In the above video, Professor Dave Cliff candidly shares his personal experiences of mental illness. He talks of how it came about for him, what it felt like, and what he has found to help him through it. He also speaks of the ways individuals and organisations can reduce the risk of mental illness, and support those going through it.

One thing he emphasises is the need for people who are experiencing difficulties to reach out for help sooner rather than later. And to do this requires creating an environment and culture where there is no stigma in doing so.

In the UK, organisations such as Mind provide information, answer questions and offer details of local support services. For students at the University of Bristol, the Student Counselling Service can provide different options for support, including access to the online Togetherall self help and counselling service.

McManus, S., Bebbington, P., Jenkins, R., & Brugha, T. (eds.) (2016). Mental health and wellbeing in England: Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey Leeds: NHS Digital
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