Dominic's blog

I am a 46-year-old man and have been married for 20 years. My wife, a teacher, and I have four children, aged 19, 17, 14 and 12. I've worked in various commercial, creative and communications-related roles during the 23 years since I graduated from university, mainly to do with the internet. Although I haven't had anything remotely approaching a conventional career, my family and I are pretty robustly middle-class.

My experience of mental illness

I've always been a somewhat moody person, prone to pessimism, especially in winter; but also tending towards energetic cheerfulness and high spirits when the sun shines. My childhood was pretty miserable, my adolescence wild, my twenties and thirties manically busy, if intermittently fulfilling. Over the years, though, as financial, marital, social and parental responsibilities began to weigh heavy on me, I lost confidence and self-esteem. I changed jobs repeatedly, drank heavily, slumped into a sense of darkness and despair that I couldn't shake off.

I was formally diagnosed with depression in 2009, a diagnosis that was changed to type II bipolar affective disorder after a bad, pseudo-manic reaction to depression medication.

Three years of slow decline into suicidal despair followed. Various chemical regimes, prescribed by a variety of doctors, possibly slowed but did not halt this descent. In November 2012 my condition became acute. I tried to kill myself. Again in January 2013. And again in May 2013.

After the second suicide attempt I was re-diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. This made more sense and also opened the door to treatment through talking therapy, Dialectical Behavioural Therapy in my case, which has been fantastically elucidating and has provided me with a way of approaching my life and my problems with a new-found positivity.

It's hard for me to know what effect my illness has had on my family and friends, because I'm still working very hard to understand what's happened and is happening to my mind.

Taking part in Bedlam 

I wanted to take part in the programme because I felt, instinctively, that the worst thing to do would be to try and hide from what had happened to me as I recovered from my suicide attempts. Despite the vast and terrible feelings of failure, shame, horror, emptiness, it felt really important not to shy away from the reality of the situation.

This was for my own good: trying to avoid the growing nightmare in my head was what led me to try and kill myself.

But it was also for the benefit of others. The single biggest block to me not getting more and better help earlier, before my condition became critical, was the idea that mental illness is something that can't be talked about or properly treated or that one can't deal with oneself. It seems ridiculous now that I am being treated with effective talking therapy and understand so much more about what has gone wrong, but a year ago, I just didn't know how to explain the true desperation of my situation or to whom I could explain it.

Taking part in the programme felt like an opportunity to let myself and the rest of the world know what had happened, in a public way that could never really be forgotten or erased or ignored. I think my worst fear at first was that it would happen again. Then it did...

It was easy and enjoyable to take part in Bedlam - I didn't realise I was being filmed most of the time, although Paddy and Alice, the director and producer of the film I'm in, were punctilious about checking that I was ok with being filmed for every scene.

However, the whole thing having been filmed, sensitively, for the right reasons, by really skilled film makers and with the painstaking support and involvement of highly skilled and committed medical professionals, means that there is a record, and a guide for anyone who feels that they are at the end of their tether, but don't know what to do about it. My advice: do something. Tell someone. Do not wait for it to get better by itself. Because it might not. If you're feeling that you can't go on, that you'd be better off dead, then you need help. Get it.

The impact of Bedlam

I don't know how much difference a documentary about people suffering with mental illness can make. I don't think it can do any harm, particularly not if it has been made with consideration for the dignity of the ill as well as the information and edification of the audience. Fear thrives in the dark and film is all about shining light on things. If it helps one person then it's done its job. From what I have seen online following the first film, it has raised the profile of mental health and mental illness and got quite a few people talking about it. That in itself is a huge positive difference.

Improving understanding of mental illness

Better education, from infant school onwards, would improve understanding of mental illness. We need a better public vocabulary for discussing and defining how people feel inside their heads. Greater agreed measures for understanding the difference between 'I'm so depressed' as in 'I've just had a really bad day' and 'I'm so depressed' as in 'I am going to kill myself today'.

As things stand, we need far more resources available for diagnosis and treatment of mentally ill people. We need freely available talking therapy for a much larger number of people. It's all very well me saying that we need to talk about it more, but you can't just approach a stranger, or even a friend, and start telling them that your mind's not working properly. You need professional listeners, medically trained experts, who can guide you through the darkness to the light at the end of the tunnel.

Ultimately, we need some serious social changes and recognition of the mind as equal to the body in terms of need for health - both in terms of fitness, and in terms of disease and illness. In the same way that we recognise that excessive alcohol, sugar and fat and no exercise are detrimental to our physical wellbeing; we need to recognise that certain aspects of the way we live mentally are also, for some people, a large minority, unhealthy; and to do something about it, about the way we live our inner lives, and how they are affected by our outer lives, by society.

My treatment at SLaM

The treatment I got from and continue to receive from SLaM is, not to exaggerate, life saving and life changing. I've been really, really lucky to get first class treatment at a time when budgets are being cut and resources are being outstripped by demand.

Speak out about mental illness

Don't be scared about speaking out about mental illness. There may still be some stigma attached to the idea of mental illness but it's on a par with racism and sexism - it's dying out in the civilised world. Most people are kind and sympathetic when they hear you've been ill, and it is so, so much better to be open about your problems than to keep quiet. Fear and disease thrive in the dark. Shed light on your troubles and at least you can see what they are and start dealing with them. Mental illness is not a weakness in your character. It might be a disorder in your personality but it doesn't mean that you're a lesser person, even if it feels like it. People understand, even you, if you explain what's going wrong. Admitting that there's something wrong to yourself and telling the people who love you is what you have to do. Talking about it to a medical professional is the first step to recovery.

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