Bipolar Scots woman who struggled in silence for 20 years urges people to get mental health help

A woman who struggled in silence with bipolar disorder for more than 20 years is urging people to ask for mental health help.

Angela McCrimmon, from Livingston, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 19. She struggled in silence for more than 20 years with medication, but no other support.

After years battling with self-harm and suicidal thoughts, she hit rock bottom a few years ago and a friend stepped in and got her professional help.

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The 43-year-old activist and community champion for mental health charity See Me is getting ready to start a new role as a volunteer with the NHS, helping staff talk about their mental health.

Angela McCrimmon, See Me volunteer champion
Angela McCrimmon, See Me volunteer champion

Ms McCrimmon, who has published a book about her struggles, says she has faced discrimination from health professionals as well as misdiagnosis. But after finally getting the right support she says it has saved her life. Now she is urging people to reach out before things get to crisis point.

Her call comes as mental health charity See Me has warned increasing self-stigma is stopping people getting much-needed support, because they feel guilty and don’t want to be a burden on services during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ms McCrimmon said. “I kept quiet so long, things just got worse and worse. It took me until I was 40 to get real help. I got medication, but no therapy or other treatment. For a while I was self-harming.

“At my worst I was in a state, withering away at home. A friend stepped in and got me help. But when a health professional came in I was convinced they couldn’t help me. I had spiralled out of control and was angry. I didn’t want to talk to them at that point. I was suicidal and they were getting in the way of that.”

She became so ill without the support she needed that she was sectioned.

“For the five weeks I was sectioned I got the medical help I needed and I became more like myself again,” she said. “All I needed to hear was ‘I can help you’. In the end, it was worth speaking up.”

A recent survey from The Scotsman revealed almost 70 per cent of people in Edinburgh feel their mental health has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Experts have warned of a mental health emergency across the country.

At the start of lockdown in March we told you we would be there for you in the pandemic. Through our There For Each Other campaign, we are talking to people in communities – like Ms McCrimmon - looking at how they are working hard to make a difference and what more can be done.

See Me says the work their champions like Ms McCrimmon do to tackle stigma is more important than ever, as people feel put off asking for help because of an alarming rise in self-stigma.

The charity recently asked supporters who have experience of mental health problems what their experiences of stigma and discrimination has been during lockdown and social distancing.

More than half – 54 per cent – said the self-stigma they felt around their mental health had shot up.

Ms McCrimmon, author of ‘Can you hear me now? Finding my voice in a system that stole it’, says writing and sharing her poetry through social media live events for See Me has helped her cope with anxiety and low mood in lockdown.

“People didn’t speak up before because they were scared they might be the only one,” she said.

“Now that’s changed, people are reluctant to speak up because they fear it’s not bad enough, they are thinking someone must be struggling more than they are.

“It makes it a real struggle to take that first step, when you think there’s loads of people out there who could be worse off. It’s hard too when you know that you might not get the help.

"I’ve waited two years already on NHS waiting list. I got myself a therapist that I pay for and turned lockdown into a project. I’m writing another book.”

She added: “It’s so important to remember that your struggle is no less than anyone else. We all have our breaking point. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

Wendy Halliday, director at See Me, said: “At the start of the pandemic people adapted to changes and then things got better, there was a feeling of things being slightly back to normal. Then these tougher restrictions came in. Constant change can really impact people’s mental health symptoms.

“If family and friends can’t see us in person, then it’s harder for them to notice how people are doing. And we have found it can be much harder for people to ask for help when they can’t do it face to face.

“Social media can make people feel like they shouldn’t be struggling with their mental health too because they think, people are dying, and there will be others in a worse position. They can feel they don’t deserve help. That can lead to them putting off getting help, to a point where it gets so much worse.”

Ms Halliday said it was vital to check in if people notice changes in their nearest and dearest.

“Reaching out and asking for help or admitting we are not feeling OK mentally can be so daunting,” she said. “Self-stigma can be damaging, people will judge themselves.

“It’s definitely harder to open up those conversations digitally so we have to make extra effort with people we know. We can all help people take that first step, ask how people are doing, show we are really there to listen and that we care. That can make a huge difference because it takes the pressure off that person to find a way to bring it up.”

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