Guest Post: Louise Gornall

Thank you to Louise for doing this lovely post on mental health in schools for this year’s mental health awareness day (which I’m turning into a week of blogging because why not?). Go check out her amazing book featuring agoraphobia and OCD, Under Rose-Tainted Skies and definitely follow her on Twitter/Instagram! And if you do struggle at school and are getting no support, try a helpline (online or by phone). They’re super helpful and likely to be much more understanding than your school is being. There’s no shame in that. Now, over to Louise!

First of all I’d like to thank Charlotte for asking me over to have a chat about mental health in schools. It’s a privilege to be here.

Funny thing… just after I’d agreed to write this post, it occurred to me that I haven’t been to school in over a decade. (I’m old, y’all.) 
Things can change a lot in over a decade, so I guess this is a preface, to let you know that I can’t accurately tell you what it’s like to go to school today with a mental illness. I would hope it’s better than it was. See, when I was at school, no one talked about mental health — folks rarely talked about health, period. I’ve suffered on and off with various mental illnesses since I was 11, but I honestly don’t ever remember talking about them at school. Luckily, my Mum is a mental health nurse, so in my house, we don’t shy away from mental health talk. Your mental health should be treated with as much caring and compassion as a broken bone or a ruptured something.
Anyways, I figured seen as I can’t really tell you what mental health is like in schools today, I’d tell you a little bit about how I think mental health should be addressed in schools. 
I made a list! 
1.) I would love to see more open discussion. I think the only way to eradicate the stigma that surrounds certain topics is to talk about those topics, and to tell people it’s okay to talk about them. 
2.) I’d love to see stronger bullying policies in place. Bullying ruins lives. It awoke suicidal tendencies in me at the age of 12. It should be zero tolerance.
3.) Schools should invite people who suffer with mental illness to give talks/run coping workshops. I think experience has value and it’s important for people to see and hear how mental health can be managed by the people who are actually living with it. This would also serve to give mental illness a face that isn’t glamourised by Hollywood horror movies.
4.) More access to services. I don’t know if you guys have a school counsellor or not, but every school should have one. Teachers aren’t always equipped to handle mental illness, but it runs rampant in schools. There should be a professional available to talk to, that everyone has access to because sometimes it’s not mental illness, sometimes life is hard, you’re exhausted and you just need an impartial person to tell you you’re doing okay. 
5.) I’d love to see more promotion of helplines/advice centres/doctors. I didn’t know the number for a suicide helpline until I went to college at 18. EIGHTEEN!! If money restrictions prevent schools from providing help, they should absolutely provide links to other outside sources.
I could go on, but I think 5 is a pretty perfect stopping point. Thank you so much for reading what I have to say, and hey, if you find yourself struggling, don’t be afraid to reach out to your doctor/teachers/friends and ask for help. Mental illness is a long and hellish battle –you’re going to need help. But trust me, this thing you’re fighting is not insurmountable. You can learn to manage it. I promise.


A Day In The Life Of…OCD

*This is a very short story based on the typical day of someone with mental health issues and while I have experience with various mental health issues, I can’t speak for everyone and every type of issue. This is purely from my experience. There are three stories and each one goes through the same day just to show the differences between them.*

I hear the beep of my alarm and reach over to turn it off. It’s 6.46am and no one else is up yet so I lie in bed for a little while before I move. When I do eventually move, I decide to get dressed, rushing the whole process. I try to keep my hands off the fabric as much as possible since the feel of it makes me retch, but it’s not fully possible to do that. 

When I leave for the bus, I think about my usual seat the whole walk there. What if it isn’t free? What if someone’s sat in the one next to it and I have to awkwardly sit next to them? What will happen if I can’t sit there? But when the bus finally arrives, my usual seat is free and I rush to sit in it, feeling a wave of relief rush over me once I’m there. 

At college, I sit in my usual seat and wait for my work to be returned to me. Once I hear my name called, I slip my jacket sleeves over my hand to hold the paper since it feels even worse than the fabric does to me. I slide the papers into a few plastic wallets just to stop it feeling that way to me. 

Once I’m home again, I decide to take my dog out for a walk. I follow the same route I always do with him, but when I see another dog on our path. This is super bad since my dog is very scared of other dogs so I sort of carry on hoping this dog and his owner will cross the road, but they don’t. Thinking of my dog and his welfare, I cross the road and head a different way, feeling my heart speed up as I’m aware of how different my route is now. I make it home 10 minutes later than I would have normally, and I start to feel better again once I’m back in my house. 

At home I go for a shower and whilst in there, I’m very thorough with my cleaning. I use three different shampoos and a conditioner, even though I know it’s bad to over-shampoo, it’s just a bad habit. I also scrub my whole body 4 times before I leave the shower. The worst part of it is the towel for drying off since the fabric rubs across me and it’s always worse when my skin is wet so this is basically my hell. I rush through it, get into my pyjamas and head down for dinner. 

I find it difficult to eat certain foods and my parents know this so there are very few issues with dinners here, but eating out or with friends is a whole other deal. In this case, my parents are having stew while I have ham, egg and chips as they know I can’t deal with the texture of stew (along with many other foods). 

I head upstairs for bed and watch the clock until it hits 9.38pm, at which point I settle down to sleep. 

A Day In The Life Of…Depression

*This is a very short story based on the typical day of someone with mental health issues and while I have experience with various mental health issues, I can’t speak for everyone and every type of issue. This is purely from my experience. There are three stories and each one goes through the same day just to show the differences between them.*

An incessant beeping wakes me and I stretch to turn it off, whilst yawning. I sit up, feeling suddenly very tired and very much like I’d rather just lie back down again, but when I check my sleep tracker, I see I’ve slept for well over nine hours. How fun? I chuck on the first outfit I find; a pair of leggings along with a baggy hoodie. It’ll do.

Walking to the bus, I feel every step as the sun burns into my brain via my eyes. Everything aches and I don’t entirely know why I’m going to college, other than the fact I sort of have to. The bus is loud so I just sit in the first seat I find and then put my earphones in. I sit in silence and wait for the bus to get to college, still unsure why I’m bothering.

College is loud as usual and although I have a couple of friends there that speak to me, I don’t really talk to them. I spend the morning quiet, looking forward to my next opportunity to sleep, while we have our work given back to us. I honestly don’t worry about whether I’ve passed it, or whether there’s anything I need to redo, because what’s the point in caring loads?

Once I’m home, I get to do the thing I’ve been looking forward to all day; walk my dog. I take him out for a couple of hours and spend time training him to weave between my legs and spend time cuddling him. It’s nice and peaceful and the fresh air helps me to feel relaxed and I enjoy it. Dogs are just about the only thing that makes me feel anything at all.

That night, I know I should have a shower but the effort is just too much and it doesn’t happen. I also don’t eat because I don’t have the motivation for that either so I just head straight to bed early. I fall asleep quite quickly huddled under about three layers of blankets.

Mental Health Recommendations

So tenth of October is Mental Health Awareness Day and it’s also my birthday so I decided to make it a full week and really explore a few different angles. To kick off the week, I thought we’d start with a simple post detailing a few amazing books incorporating mental health into their stories.

First off, we have the fabulous Under Rose-Tainted Skies (Louise Gornall). This is the first book I read covering agoraphobia and OCD which didn’t make me want to cry or cringe constantly. It’s so well done and so understood (it is an own voices book so that does make sense!) that it almost feels like the main character, Norah, could be related to you. It’s beautiful and yet very realistic; nothing is sugar-coated or made a bit prettier. I see myself in Norah a lot and I will forever treasure this book. Plus it matched my hair when I bought it, so immediately puts it high in my favourites!

Heart Shaped Bruise (Tanya Byrne) is next and there’s no way I could leave it off this list. It’s about Emily, who’s awaiting a trial in a Young Offenders Institution and the reader has no idea what she’s done or how she got there. It’s her side of the story and it’s so beautifully written that we can easily understand each phase of anger and bitterness and every other bold, dangerous feeling. In terms of mental health, it’s interesting but not particularly ‘helpful’ (not it’s intention!) but I did have to put it in here since it’s so good and well put-together. She goes to psychiatrist meetings and there’s a strong mental health angle and it’s super thrilling and interesting to read.

Only Ever Yours (Louise O’Neill) covers eating disorders in a sci-fi sort of setting. Girls are robots, created to be the most beautiful to impress the men and have babies (it’s also very feminist which is fab!). This causes the girls to think very harmfully and very realistically in terms of eating disorders. I love how this book is so real and yet so unreal all at once.

Am I Normal Yet? (Holly Bourne) is the first in the Spinster Trilogy and is so good, especially in its depiction of OCD. It’s a contemporary story and follows Evie as she struggles with her mental health. It’s a nice story and has a very real feel to it since the symptoms of Evie’s mental illness are very real. I can relate to Evie a lot and enjoy seeing into her internal thoughts through this book.

Girl Online (Zoe Sugg) is a great book for teens as it portrays anxiety but it isn’t the sole purpose of the story. It follows a girl as she falls in love, goes through school and figures herself out all whilst dealing with different situations causing her to feel anxious. It’s well-written, realistic and is great for someone who’s either interested to learn a little, or is beginning to feel they may be struggling with anxiety themselves but are maybe unsure.

No Virgin (Anne Cassidy) isn’t specifically mental health either but it recounts a rape and the trauma a girl goes through. By doing this, it shows insight into the girl’s mind and how long-lasting the effects of a trauma (such as rape) can be. I particularly appreciate how it demonstrates the changes in the way she sees herself and feels about herself. It’s raw, it’s real and it’s very realistic.

Check back tomorrow for another mental health-themed post!