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The inspiration behind Singing in the Rain by Rachel Kelly
Posted by SANE
15th Mar 2019

Five years ago, I wrote a memoir Black Rainbow about suffering from severe depression. At the time, the most common reaction was that I was brave to open up about the condition. Stigma was real. I myself struggled to understand why a privileged life – which I undoubtedly enjoy – had been no guarantee of a privileged mental health. I was supported then by the SANE community, at the time something of a lone voice in the mental health wilderness. 

 

Now the landscape is different. Mental health is firmly on multiple agendas. Everyone from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to the Prime Minister talk of the need to look after our psychological wellbeing: we are all much more aware of mental health now. 

 

The greater openness with which mental health is treated should be welcomed. Yet as one battle fades, another emerges: the nature and quality of treatment. You might have thought by now, given the focus on mental illness and the increased government expenditure – the Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced in January this year that the biggest single rise in budgets was in mental health services – that those who suffer would be delightedly discussing their improved care. Yet my experience as an ambassador for SANE running wellbeing workshops and speaking in schools, universities and businesses, is a disillusionment among many of those who suffer with the help they are receiving. 

 

The two standard approaches offered by the NHS are medication, chiefly in the form of antidepressants, and cognitive behaviourial therapy: a talking treatment, which aims to change the way people respond in thought and action to the world. Currently, these are the best options we have, but neither are perfect solutions especially in a world of patchy treatment and long waiting lists. 

 

First medication. 7.3 million people were prescribed antidepressants in England in 2017. Many of those same people are long-term users of the drugs: 4.4 million of them were also prescribed such drugs in both of the two previous years. Millions of people are therefore not sufficiently cured of their mental health problems that they are able to stop taking the drugs after oneyear. 

 

I’m no scientist and it is not for me to pronounce on how effective various chemical compounds are at producing changes in the brain. And yes, I took drugs over many years and did recover. Medication may well have been part of that recovery (though this is a subject of much debate, with some trials suggestingthat in some cases placebos achieve strikingly similar results to the real thing). But in an ideal world, I would rather have avoided the side-effects of anti-depressants, sleeping pills, anti-anxiety medication and the feeling that I had to rely on drug-taking over a long period. 

 

The second established treatment is a course of cognitive behaviourial therapy. Over the years, I have felt warmly towards various counsellors who have tried to help me, talking sympathetically and listening to my problems. And I have undoubtedly been helped.  

 

So conventional treatments have been of benefit, and my lesson here isn’t to disregard either drugs or CBT. But I do increasingly feel there is a third element to my own current sense of calm and wellbeing, and that is a belief in my own agency. Boosting my sense of self-empowerment is a third leg on the stool of recovery, and one I feel is at times neglected in the mental health world where it is easy to become dependent on others,whether psychiatrist or therapist. 

 

It’s impossible to disentangle all the different elements in my own recovery. But what I do know is that feeling passive, and powerless to do anything about my condition, was part of being depressed. The more I discovered my own ability to take action, the better I felt. 

 

This insight is the basis for my current approach to managing my own mental health. Every day I remind myself that I can make a difference. This begins as soon as I wake. 

 

The first thing I do is to make my bed, the white duvet perfectly aligned and my pillows plumped. A small gesture to be sure, but one that reminds me that if I take control of small decisions in this way I will feel my own power to affect larger decisions. 

 

In addition, I can take care with the language I use to myself and to others. Instead of saying ‘I’m at the mercy of my depression’ I might say ‘I can choose how to respond to my low mood’. Or instead of saying ‘I can’t deal with this stress and worry’, I might say ‘I can’t deal with this stress and worry yet.’ 

 

My approach, and the creation of a practical workbook of ideas and exercises for readers to complete, has evolved with the help of many others, including mental health nurses, psychiatrists, therapists and psychologists, as well as those who come to my workshops. Together we have developed practical steps you can take to feel empowered, be it writing an appreciation letter, cooking with your mental health in mind, or composing a poem to process difficult feelings. There is a place in my day for thinking and reflection, but I’ve found that while pondering often makes me sad, doing rarely does. 

 

That seems to me the power of a workbook. It is something you can complete, little by little,  week by week as you take on more responsibility for your own mental health. The book is structured from easy steps, to more demanding ones over the course of a year. Of course not all the ideas will speak to you but my hope is some will, as you effectively create your own toolkit of strategies and a bespoke self help book. Just as many have found their courage to open up about their mental health condition, I hope their bravery will extend to believing in their own power to influence their recovery.

 

Rachel Kelly is a writer and mental health campaigner, and an ambassador for Sane. Her latest book is Singing in the Rain: An Inspirational Workbook, published by Short Books £12.99. 

 

Website: http://www.rachel-kelly.net

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/rachelkellynet

Singing in the Rain: An inspirational workbook on Amazon

 

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