Updated: Saturday, 25th November 2017 @ 8:08am

'Faith is my anchor, it kept me from drowning’: Manchester shares stories for World Mental Health Day

'Faith is my anchor, it kept me from drowning’: Manchester shares stories for World Mental Health Day

| By Marco Ferrari

Today is World Mental Health Day and, with one in four adults suffering from some form of mental illness, now is the time to start talking about it.  

The North West was named as the region with the highest number of suicides per 100,000 people in the UK in a report published by the Office for National Statistics earlier this year.

And as the Conservative government’s cuts to NHS mental health trusts, disability services, and social care sweep the nation, depriving the population’s most vulnerable people of their welfare; it’s easy to for those of us with mental health issues to feel that the future is bleak.

At the same time, the nation seems to be shifting towards a more culturally aware and accepting attitude towards mental health, particularly in Manchester.

This change is coming round largely because of the efforts of mental health groups to raise awareness of mental health issues and tackle the stigma around them.

One such group is thecalmzone.net, whose #mandictionary adverts can be seen around the city centre promoting awareness of mental health issues faced by men in a light-hearted way.

The Diocese of Manchester is another group who see mental health as one of their responsibilities.

And Manchester Cathedral held a service dedicated to get people sharing their stories to mark World Mental Health Day this afternoon.

A number of people spoke candidly about issues they had faced in the past, including the elderly Joyce who talked about her husband’s death, a Nigerian woman named Sydney who spoke about being ostracised in her home country, and Sharon who opened up to the congregation about her depression.

The common theme with all the speakers was their faith in God, and how it had helped them with their personal difficulties.

There was a real sense of catharsis as the speakers told their stories with sincerity to an empathetic congregation.

MM spoke to Sharon from Rochdale who told us about society’s apprehension towards mental health.

She said: “People can deal with illness when they see someone with a broken leg or a broken arm or some physical disability.

“But I think we have a great fear when it comes to things to do with the mind. I think it’s a fear of mental health, and ignorance.

“And I think we need to raise awareness of how many people it actually affects.

“There’s definitely a stigma. I know from my own experience, I don’t ever talk about depression really to anybody, not even my family.”

When asked how it felt to share such a personal story, Sharon said: “It felt cathartic. I felt vulnerable, it was a big risk really. But you get to that certain age where you just don’t care anymore [laughs].”

Sharon told us that her faith in God had helped her deal with depression, saying: “I think faith can play a huge role in dealing with mental health.

“Potentially it could be negative for those who are told they haven’t got enough faith and should be healed and all the rest of it. But faith for me has been like an anchor.

“If I’m a ship at sea and the waves are crashing around me, and the whole world feels like it’s just turmoil and chaos, my faith has kept me anchored, kept me in a strong place.

“It’s kept me from drowning, and it’s kept me from being shipwrecked.”

MM also spoke to Dr J S Bamrah, the medical director of Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust, whose expertise gave us an insight into mental health issues across the city.

He said: “The number of stress disorders and depressive illness in Manchester is very high. We know that Manchester has one of the highest rates of suicide in the country, which is an extreme mental disorder.

“Alcoholism, substance misuse, bipolar affective disorder (which used to be called manic depression), dementia, anxiety disorders, and obsessive compulsive disorders, are some of the most common forms of disorders.”

When asked about societal attitudes towards mental health, Dr Bamrah said mental illness sufferers are often treated like 'some kind of Martian' when they should be treated with dignity.

He said: “I think the stigma around mental health is one of the reasons why this year’s World Mental Health Day is about dignity.

“Just because people have had a mental illness doesn’t mean that they are some kind of Martian. It is this kind of thing, raising awareness, which reduces stigma.

“I think we all carry some sort of bias in our head which we don’t play out.

“Even people who’ve had mental health problems within the family or amongst friends tend take a pejorative view of these things, and often we treat people with mental illness as second class citizens.

“So there’s a huge amount of work that needs to be done on this.”

Main image courtesy of Psych2Go, via YouTube, with thanks.