A regional daily journalist has opened up about his time in a psychiatric hospital in a bid to raise awareness of mental health issues.
Derby Telegraph social media editor George Allen, left, suffered a breakdown aged 16, and spent a month in hospital recovering after being given the choice to admit himself voluntarily or be sectioned following what he termed a “manic episode” brought on after a teenage breakup and exam stress.
George is one of several regional journalists to have written about their past battles with mental health this year – with other examples including Amelia Shaw, of the North Wales Daily Post, Kristian Walsh, of the Liverpool Echo, and former Hull daily Mail staffer Steve Anderson.
In a piece for the Telegraph to coincide with World Mental Health Day 2017 earlier this month, he described having “paranoid delusions about the end of the world”.
He wrote: “I wasn’t sleeping, or at most getting three or four hours a night in the days before my hospital admission. I felt exuberantly confident and magnetic, while also crumbling under the obsessive idea that I was being followed.
“It was a classic case of bipolar affective disorder, or manic depression, and I was having a ‘manic episode’. At the psychiatric hospital I was given the choice to admit myself voluntarily or else I would be sectioned. I went with the first option, thankfully.”
George described having to leave the door open and his legs visible when using the bathroom in the hospital, as well as keeping at least one arm outside the shower curtain when showering.
During his time there, a fellow patient tried to take her own life on multiple occasions.
However, George also paid tribute to “kind nurses, careful treatment and interesting new friends” who helped him through his time there.
He added: “I came out of that hospital stronger and with a better understanding of myself – plus a diagnosis of bipolar affective disorder. I learned that stress is a trigger for my breakdowns, and I only had one more episode during my final year of university.
“Generally I am a lot better, and I know how to deal with my mental health with self-care and heaps of [TV sitcom] Peep Show. Although when I pitched this story, my boss asked me in a caring way if I was “alright now” – and I immediately said “yes”.
“But I’m not, actually, fully, ‘alright now’. I still worry that one day soon another toxic mix of stress and anxiety will send me straight back to the hospital. I still have to take myself out of the office to breathe because my heart is racing, and many a time I’ve considering calling in sick because I’m so depressed I can barely eat.
“So that’s why writing this is important. It’s OK to tell your boss and your friends and your family that you’re not OK – even if I haven’t quite worked out how to do that without fear yet. If you’ve worked it out, let me know. I’d be keen to know the trick.”
George told HTFP: “I had a moment of quiet reflection the morning after that piece was published and I realised that I felt a lot less shame about the whole thing, simply by being so open about it.
“This week me and a colleague had a chat about mental health in the office kitchen, while our editor walked past and made a coffee, and it felt very normal. That conversation was sparked by the story.
“So, all in all, I’m chuffed to receive so many nice messages and see all those lovely comments on our Facebook page.”