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In the Thick of it
I’ve written previously about the impact that a well-known person can have in terms of raising awareness of mental health issues, if they’re prepared to go public about a mental health problem that they have had. If a celebrity can be open about what helped them with their problem, then hopefully it becomes easier for the rest of us to be able to talk about our mental health issues. A good start to any mental health promotional campaign or training event is a display of pictures of famous people who’ve had a mental health problem.
Latest in this group is the excellent Rebecca Front. She plays the beleaguered minister, Nicola Murray, in the political satire TV series The Thick of It. Here’s an example of art imitating life, because in the programme she plays a claustrophobic Government minister, surrounded by intolerant political advisers. Rebecca recently revealed in her book Curious that she has suffered panic attacks, and a fear of confined spaces since childhood. Talking openly about this was her way of trying to beat the stigma surrounding mental health conditions.
The Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders describes phobias as an irrational fear of such severity that the sufferer will go to great lengths to avoid it. It is one of the commonest forms of anxiety disorder. It may be a very specific fear, such as fear of spiders (arachnophobia), or may be a very complex and more generalized phobia such as agoraphobia. This isn’t just about fear of open spaces, but a fear of being out of your own home and in a public place, and how you will cope with panic if you feel unable to escape from situations such as supermarkets, or public transport. The fear will bring about some physical symptoms of anxiety, and a sufferer’s life will start to revolve around avoiding the source of the fear. This is one of the key features of mental health problems – the impact they have on a person’s life. Rebecca Front talks about what helped her. She has been supported through Cognitive Behavioural Treatment – a talking therapy that helps people change the way they think about their problem. She also says that just talking about her problem to anyone who will listen - family, friends, or by using social media - has helped her, and she believes it can help others.
The QCS Anxiety Policy and Procedure CC60 includes more information on phobias and the help that can be sought.