FEATURE: The hidden illness that is still seen as a weakness

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“I have had problems with anxiety for more than ten years.”

I’m speaking with a client of No Panic Sheffield - a charity that supports people who have panic attacks and anxiety disorders - and this is clearly a very personal subject.

No Panic Sheffield

No Panic Sheffield

“I went to see my GP who prescribed drugs, which made the anxiety a whole lot worse,” he continues.

“That’s when I decided to look into talk therapies rather than medication. The progress has been slow and there have been relapses, but the No Panic Sheffield group meetings have really helped me to come through rocky patches. When I compare myself now with how I was three years ago, things have improved dramatically. I haven’t had a full panic attack for years and my general anxiety levels are much lower, just taking the edge off life now rather than completely blighting it.”

The gentleman in front of me has asked that his name not be used and, according to Anne Dargue, chair of No Panic Sheffield, this is a very real refection of the stigma that people fear with disorders like these.

“Even today, when people hear ‘mental health’ they think of serious conditions,” says Anne.

anxiety

anxiety

“I would say that most people have some sort of mental health issue at some point in their life - with stress or anxiety - but it’s not a helpful label because of the negative connotations.”

No Panic Sheffield launched in the city in 2009 and has helped hundreds of people since its creation, providing weekly group meetings where people can meet and talk about their experiences and gain encouragement and support.

Anne says: “No Panic Sheffield was created by two gentlemen working in Sheffield; Paul Bliss, of Improving Access to Psychological Therapies, and Dr Tom Ricketts, who was working for the NHS as a mental health practitioner.

“In their lines of work, they both saw people suffering with stress-related conditions and became frustrated with the lack of services available. They managed to get some funding from Sheffield NHS Health and Social Care to set up self help groups in the city, where people could share their experiences in the hopes it would make them feel less lonely and isolated in their disorders.

No Panic Sheffield

No Panic Sheffield

“So many people who are dealing with anxiety come up against people who don’t understand; who tell them to pull themselves out of it or pull themselves together, but the truth is anxiety is a dreadful thing to deal with, it feels like everything is shutting down and your world is closing in. And despite people thinking it should be, it’s not an easy cure.

“Our groups provide a forum for people with these conditions to meet other people like them, to share ideas and identify triggers.

“Dealing with these conditions can take years. Medication can mask some of the problems, but it’s a temporary solution. There’s more work to be done to help you learn to manage your thoughts and identify your personal triggers so that you have more control and can stop yourself from going to that meltdown place.

“It’s long and hard work and people need a lot of support and help while they’re doing it. That’s where we come in.”

And Anne says that, even then, learning to live with anxiety is an ongoing process: “You can get on top of your disorder and have a long period of relief from it, then something can happen to make it flare up again. We have people who come to group every week and others who just come along when they’re struggling.”

The groups are held every Wednesday evening and Thursday morning at Quakers Meeting House and are open to everyone. Each one is run by a volunteer who has been trained to act as a facilitator.

“We give our volunteers as much training as possible,” explains Anne.

“Quite often these are psychology students from the local universities, or people who’ve attended the groups themselves at one time and seen the benefits firsthand. Our charity survives on small grant funding and most of this goes directly on training, which we know is essential.”

But Anne reveals getting the necessary funding can prove difficult.

“Charities collecting for animals or children or people with cancer are always more popular than charities like ours that deal with mental health issues,” she says simply.

“It’s a hidden illness and is still seen as a weakness. This week is National Anxiety and Depression Awareness Week and we hope, that by talking about it, we can start to see these opinions change.”

Visit No Panic Sheffield for details.

Unknown triggers:

* Food has been proven to affect our mood, with some making us feel calmer while others act as stimulants. Those to avoid include anything with caffeine, sugar and alcohol, processed food and even white bread and white rice. Foods thought to be good for your mood include turkey, beef, whole wheat bread, salmon and greek yoghurt.

- Certain medications can cause anxiety symptoms, including those for thyroid, asthma and weight loss supplements. Decongestants and combination cold remedies have been known to increase anxiety too.

- Your thyroid gland itself can cause anxiety symptoms, so if your anxiety is coupled with weight loss, weakness, or a neck swelling, see your doctor.