Teens need love or they'll end up depressed and anxious like me

AS Mental Health Awareness Week draws to a close, I can only hope that recognition around our ­cognitive and emotional health will continue and be part of ongoing, routine conversations.

A week seems scant dedication to the array of conditions that govern our psychological, sentient and social wellbeing.

Seven days is not a big enough umbrella to shelter all our ails. But it’s better than nothing, because there was a time when being “mental” had only one meaning.

It was a term kicked around the playground like a sluggish, depleted football, aimed at ­anyone who didn’t conform to our sense of norma, or who didn’t dress, comply or function as we expected.

Little wonder, then, that in those days, young, vulnerable voices didn’t pipe up but were instead forced to suppress their different nature for fear of further exclusion and persecution.

Although today our understanding of the workings of the brain is not quite as maligned, a generation still exists that maintains there was no such thing as depression when they grew up.

They claim anxiety is a modern invention and bipolar is plain attention seeking. Thankfully, we now know better, but the prejudices still need to be cut down to size. I’ve made no secret of my battles with depression and anxiety over the past few years.

But before that time I would not have dared to utter a word. I’ve had the Black Dog (as Winston Churchill referred to his dark episodes), waiting to pounce and pulling at my sanity strings intermittently since, probably, my early 20s — but I knew not what its name was.

No one had uttered the word “depression”. And if they had, I would never have applied it to myself because I presumed my thoughts and behaviours were because I was different, nay, weird — weak and pathetic.

I thought that because of a tricky, displaced childhood and challenging relationships with parents, I just wasn’t up to par with the rest of the world.

And yet, standing on the fringes of life, looking on in awe at everyone else, has taught me enormous personal and emotional strength.

I had to learn to analyse and understand, because there was nothing that classified or defined me. In turn, I developed greater understanding of others so have enormous levels of empathy.

I am grateful today’s generation has points of reference when it comes to their mental health. Some have ­mentors and are taught to understand their own minds and behaviours.

I am trying to refrain from saying the pendulum has swung too far in the wrong direction but I can’t deny a feeling of unease that everything now has a label and that many young people can’t rest until they have been prescribed a ­condition, a tag or a term that explains their demeanour.

Many find it impossible to overcome their predicaments and need profound medical intervention, something I am grateful exists.

Fundamentally, we know mental health is no match for physical health when it comes to receiving treatment.

Medically, the mind will always be the poor cousin of the body.

But just as we are now more alert to conversations about psychological problems and syndromes, I fear some of the names and labels are at risk of becoming overused, diluted, reduced and weakened.

Every adult I speak to has a personal story or that of a friend whose child or teen is suffering mental health battles. Every single one.

Statistically, that could be correct. But I have a nagging feeling that at times — not always — we are too keen to find a label for challenging behaviour or incredibly sad dispositions because that absolves us of responsibility and also means we have an answer.

And sometimes a drug. Is it a case of a little knowledge being a ­dangerous thing?

Hormones flying

In short, in some cases these ­maladies are, in my opinion, over-subscribed. No, I’m not referring to those young people who lack the will to go on, but let’s not pretend that being a teenager is anything other than hideous. I found it dire and one of the toughest periods of my life.

Hormones were flying all over the place, my parents didn’t understand me, boys were scary and other girls were terrifying — the pressure was insurmountable. I found it ­distressing and alienating.

Hitherto, I’ve dragged up three teenagers and the fourth child is about to become one in three weeks.

They’ve all responded differently to these tricky years but the one thing they have had in common is that these changes have been a battle.

Being a teenager is fundamentally really ugly.

So I wonder if we could find a good balance of supporting our ­children through these ­difficult times, digging deep for empathy and growing the biggest ears for listening.

Be smart enough to embrace when they really need professional help and potentially even medication, but also clever enough to decipher when they simply need to withstand the humdrum of adolescence — feel loss, anger, disappointment and all that comes with moving from one stage of life to another.

And don’t make excuses for them for just generally existing as teenagers.

Time to curb the greedy fat cats hiking vet bills

AS if you didn’t realise by now, I’m a crazy dog lady. I love the creatures, and whatever problems the world ever throws you, I guarantee the answer is always dogs.

I keep bulldogs, a gorgeous breed but one often blighted by inherent health conditions.

I used to have three but lost two recently and am left with just the one, Leo. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for him.

All the dog owners I know feel the same, our pets are our everything.

Which is why I’ve become increasingly perturbed over the past few years about the rising cost of vets’ fees.

Initially, I thought it was because I was getting old and crossed over into that generation that moans about how “things always cost less back in my day”.

But it’s a fact that vets’ fees have risen by twice the rate of inflation in the past five years. Most owners are now ­prepared to keep their pets alive at nearly any cost and are willing to undertake and commission more investigative procedures.

What’s the advancement of medicine for if not for that, after all? I had a beloved bull-dog called Dexter a few years ago, who ended up with an infection in his spinal cord, and his life was saved by Noel ­Fitzpatrick’s practice in Surrey.

TV’s Supervet was very clear about costs all along. He saved my lovely Dexter’s life after about £10,000 worth of treatment, of which our insurance only covered about £3,000.

Sadly, we lost Dexter a couple of years later, to ­something else equally ­expensive. At the heart of this, vet practices are being bought up by big corporations and private equity funds.

According to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, 51 per cent of UK practices are now owned by just SIX companies. A human MRI scan will set you back about £400. A non-emergency pet scan will blow your socks off at £2,500, because anaesthesia is required.

Why are there no recommended fees for the industry? And why do charges vary so much from ­postcode to postcode? Some companies refer to their acquired vet practices as “cash generating units” – cash cows.

There is something very uncomfortable about big business ­implementing corporate structures in the caring professions. With more of us having become pet ­owners during the pandemic, all I can see is the fat cats of corporate greed rubbing their paws in glee.

YOU GO FOR IT, DAVINA

PASS me my trumpet. I need to give it a good blow. Hallelujah! Finally there is an increasingly noisy uprising among us that is the menopausal revolution.

Of course, I didn’t invent the menopause. I wouldn’t do that to my worst enemy.

Nor did I initiate the conversation about it. But I am proud to have been part of starting the discussion a few years back and to have written extensively about my experience of it. And with it, my hatred of this ghastly change that is Mother Nature’s last laugh.

As if it’s not enough for us women to experience monthly periods for decades, and some of us to go through pregnancy and childbirth . . . then, just as you think you can reclaim your body, along comes the menopause.

Several years ago, I spoke about how bewildered I was with its onset. I foolishly thought I knew all there was to know about it and pushed it to the back of my mind.

There I sat, at 46, with what I thought was early-onset dementia, along with depression, overwhelming anxiety, mood swings, weight gain and a dry undercarriage.

Turns out it was just the next riveting chapter of that book Being A Woman: An Ongoing Story Of Crime And Punishment.

Thankfully, women are finally sharing their ordeals.

This never used to happen. Women were just expected to suffer, endure and put up.

Maybe that’s why I never knew anything about the menopause, because no one ever complained.

Now there are articles and discussions, and there was TV show last Wednesday night hosted by Davina McCall. But I was saddened to hear she felt ashamed to admit she was taking HRT to combat the menopause.

I have taken bioidentical HRT for six years and scream loud and proud about it.

YOU’RE NOT ALONE

EVERY 90 minutes in the UK a life is lost to suicide.

It doesn't discriminate, touching the lives of people in every corner of society – from the homeless and unemployed to builders and doctors, reality stars and footballers.

It's the biggest killer of people under the age of 35, more deadly than cancer and car crashes.

Yet it's rarely spoken of, a taboo that threatens to continue its deadly rampage unless we all stop and take notice, now.

That is why The Sun launched the You're Not Alone campaign.

The aim is that by sharing practical advice, raising awareness and breaking down the barriers people face when talking about their mental health, we can all do our bit to help save lives.

Let's all vow to ask for help when we need it, and listen out for others… You're Not Alone.

If you, or anyone you know, needs help dealing with mental health problems, the following organisations provide support:

  • CALM, www.thecalmzone.net, 0800 585 858
  • Heads Together, www.headstogether.org.uk
  • Mind, www.mind.org.uk, 0300 123 3393
  • Papyrus, www.papyrus-uk.org, 0800 068 41 41
  • Samaritans, www.samaritans.org, 116 123

Why would it be shameful to seek help with symptoms that can floor you?
If I have a migraine, I take prescription medication. When I gave birth, I didn’t cheat because I had an epidural. I got the baby out, didn’t I?

We must rid women of this constant sense of shame around “not measuring up”.

The people who need to stop that negative narrative are women themselves.

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