Belfast Telegraph

Friday 1 August 2014

It was a relief to hear Lynda had a mental health issue

Mike Nesbitt recalls how he felt when his wife Lynda Bryans' clinical depression was finally diagnosed

Today, World Mental Health Day, I wish to write in praise of my wife and the manner in which she has used her own mental health issues to attack the stigma society still attaches to a medical condition as common as a broken leg.

Seventeen years ago, Lynda was diagnosed with clinical depression and I can tell you the day the diagnosis was received was a great and joyous day in our household. Seriously. Let me try to explain why.

Lynda was behaving strangely. My first memory of it was an evening when we were relaxing at home and she stepped around a bit of rubbish lying on the floor, rather than picking it up.

"How odd", I remember thinking, before getting on with watching football on the television.

But as the problem developed, the symptoms began to impact in more challenging ways. For example, we had to stop our Friday treat of eating out, because it frayed my nerves to sit and wait as Lynda's new-found indecision left her unable to choose a dish from the restaurant menu.

This was also the start of a long period of fear for me. I knew something was wrong and, clearly, it was in her head. Was she sick? Was it serious? And of course, in the back of your mind, was the killer thought: is Lynda dying?

It came to a head the day our GP was due to make a house call. He phoned me at work. I panicked when I was told he was on the line, because it was past the appointment time.

The killer thought broke loose, running wild with my imagination. But it wasn't that. The doctor was reporting that he had failed to see her. He had called, her car was there and he knew she was in, but she didn't answer his knock.

Later, I discovered she had been hiding below a window upstairs. That was the tipping-point.

With the help of the family, we got Lynda to see her doctor. That led to the diagnosis and the indescribable relief that it was a recognised ailment, with a course of treatment.

But there is a big difference between mental health issues and a broken leg. If you break your leg, you turn up for work on crutches and your colleagues rush over to find out what happened.

But if the problem is mental, your colleagues tend to give you a wide berth. The last thing they want to do is ask about it. Of course, there are mental conditions that require the patient to be isolated from society, but the same is true for a number of physical diseases.

In both categories, they are the exception; the rule is that one in four of us will suffer some form of mental health issue at some time.

In Lynda's case diagnosis led to treatment and of all the people, the impact of Liz the community psychiatric nurse, still shines in my memory; here was someone who brushed off the idea of stigma like fluff from a coat-collar.

That's why, on this Mental Health Day, Lynda and I will host some mental health patients from the South Eastern Trust. We will gather in the very posh atmosphere of Parliament Buildings members' dining room and celebrate the artworks they have produced as part of their treatment, as facilitated by Ned Jackson Smyth, art care artist in residence at the trust.

Lynda and I were invited to view their work at Ards Town Hall recently. We thought it deserved a wider audience and that the artists might like a day out at the Big House.

So, you can ignore World Mental Health Day, you can mark it, or you can do what we're doing and celebrate it. Because, sometimes, being told a loved-one has a mental health issue is a mighty relief.

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