Fear and loathing in mental health

By Kirsty Maxey on Tuesday, 10 May 2022

Whilst we probably all know that fear plays a big role in mental health – both for those suffering and for those supporting – the consequences of that fear and the impact that it has, is rarely researched. So in Mental Health Awareness Week I thought I’d share my thoughts and a little of the research that is out there to shine a spotlight on this aspect. As always, it’s important to say, that mental health is personal, and everyone’s experience is different.

For my brother, who suffers with mental distress, fear and loathing seem to happen at the same time. He says he feels the fear almost to the point of paranoia. It’s a fine line. On those bad days I think “I’m falling apart; I have no future; I am worthless; I am a burden to others; I am completely helpless and the pain will never go away.” For him, it’s all fear, and the inner critic or your ‘inner bully’ as he describes it, will beat you up and take control. He says, “I try reflecting and using techniques to manage it, but it feels like you are on a tightrope and you can fall either way”.

For me, I see that pain and the struggle for him and our family. It’s that late night or early morning call or message, I can already feel my stomach clenching into a fist, my heart is beating fast and I’m beginning to sweat and feel sick. My brain is screaming “please don’t let anything bad happen, please be okay.” For me, what is driving that fear is that I know so little, and it can feel like there are very few people who really have the understanding, expertise or time to really help.

In the UK, it has been claimed that people are becoming more fearful, and this is impacting on our experiences of mental distress.

A number of studies have found that distinct social groups experience fear differently according to their social positions, roles and relations. For example, mothers experiencing psychosis have particular fears about the effect of their distress on their children and the potentially intrusive role of social services. Interviews with adolescents diagnosed with depression found that ‘“living in the shadow of fear” emerged as the essence of the adolescents’ experiences and ultimately defined what it was like to live with depression’.

When it comes to accessing the services that can help you, fear and mental health have been linked in a number of ways. It has been argued that fear drives the current mental health system, which has become increasingly risk averse, most notably through the introduction of Community Treatment Orders and it has been claimed that such practices, fuelled by stigma and fear of ‘dangerous’ service users, prevent people from accessing support.

One consequence is that people still fear talking about mental health problems even to their GPs because they fear losing control, external judgement, treatment, losing one’s children, and being institutionalised.

My family and I know what its like trying to navigate the healthcare system to get the help we need. We have lived through the anger, the fear and the frustration. So today, at the start of Mental Health Awareness Week, I just want to say that by talking about it we begin to understand better. And you find that there are people and places that can help. If anyone wants to talk, please message me at kmaxey@teamspirit.co.uk.

Plus there are lots of other places where you can get support:

At Teamspirit we have a team of Mental Health First Aiders: Kirsty Maxey, Zoe Miranda, Jo Preston, Antonia Phillips, Eleanor Ross, Sam Turner, Lisa Wilde. And this week we have a range of additional support for anyone suffering.

The Mental Health Foundation https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/

Mind Charity https://www.mind.org.uk/

The Samaritans https://www.samaritans.org/

Rethink Mental Illness https://www.rethink.org/

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