Let’s talk about mental health. Let’s talk about your mental health.

Mental health has become critical to every one of us over the last few years.

Everyone one of us has been impacted in some way; we have had lockdowns, we’ve had our liberties taken from us and been forced to stay at home, we can’t go out and see friends and family. It has been challenging. There has been no escape and no escapism from the world we live in. There has been no way to indulge in the usual things that have relieved the stress from our typical working day. You had to go home from work, and no stopping at the pub for a quick pint! And that’s if you could even GO to work! For years, it’s been getting up, going to work, finishing work, driving home, being the parent, the carer and then bed and repeat.  

This shift has been difficult to cope with for some, if not all of us. Many people have increased their alcohol intake - not just drinking more at night when they come home but drinking on more evenings or earlier in the day. Others have turned to smoking more weed or taking more cocaine—anything to escape and relieve the pressures of the current world.

So, what happens when you think your mental health is taking a hit?

Knowing Yourself

Likely, you will probably be the last person to recognise that your mental health is not doing too well. Yeah, you may be feeling a bit different. Sleep patterns are all out. You may be overly tired all the time or so hyper that you bounce off the ceiling. 

Is this normal behaviour to you? Have you been sniffing too much coke? Smoking too much weed?

Usually, someone close to you would spot a change in your behaviours. Maybe your partner noticed that you’re not yourself anymore; perhaps you’ve lost your concentration. Maybe they point out that you come home, and instead of making the dinner or fixing the shelves, you’ve just become lethargic and like to crack open a beer, pour that glass of wine or roll a joint and just veg out. Maybe your temper is short. You have little outbursts and arguments with people close to you over the smallest of things. Perhaps it’s your boss that has noticed a difference in you, and your work ethic has dropped. You’ve given upon on shaving, and you’ve let your hygiene go. You may even be making simple mistakes at work, and your colleagues have noticed.

Reaching Out

I know it’s not easy, having to open up and tell someone that you think your head’s not working as it should. There is no shame in reaching out to a friend, partner, or family member or calling your local support line. Look at it this way - if you have a broken leg, everyone can see and offer support. They will ask how you’re doing, how’s the leg? 

But people can’t see if your head’s a little broken. People don’t know if you don’t tell them. We can be very good at covering things up, putting that mask on for the world and showing the world that “I’m OK” when actually, your head feels like a committee meeting is going on, that when you watch the TV or listen to music, you well up with emotions that come from God only knows where. 

The tears are real, yet you don’t know why. You find yourself hiding from the world, avoiding places and people, so you don’t have to talk, or lie that “yeah, I’m good, thanks mate, how are you”? Maybe you tell people, “Yeah, I’m OK, just a bit tired”. When you get help with your mental health `at a clinic, you will be more than likely be given what’s called a “Dual Diagnosis”. A dual diagnosis is not as scary as it sounds. It just means that you have mental health problems and use substances. These substances might be alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, heroin, or prescription pills.

So, let’s go through the process of knowing that something is not right.

Alcohol Intake

As we have discussed before, alcohol is classed as a depressant drug. Just because it’s called a depressant doesn’t necessarily make us feel depressed - what it refers to is its effect on our Central Nervous System (CNS). Depressant substances will reduce the arousal and stimulation that we would naturally feel. This can be our concentration levels and coordination. Alcohol is used by many to self-manage anxiety and depression. And in small doses, alcohol can make us feel happy, reduce inhibitions and give us that relaxed feeling.

Drinking alcohol excessively is likely to make the feeling you have a lot more intense. So, you need to know how much you are drinking. You might need to keep a record of this and think, “has it increased?” Are you drinking two bottles of wine, not one? Are you now sinking eight pints, not your usual three or four? Write it down, keep a diary of your daily intake. Do this over a one- or two-week period.

Look at your drinking levels first before you do anything. DO NOT JUST STOP DRINKING, as this can also cause problems. You can also write down your current mood when you drink: Happy? Sad? Depressed? Emotional?

This will also give you an indication of how you feel by the end of the night. Once you have this information, it is easier to understand how alcohol makes you feel and worsen your symptoms. If it aggravates your symptoms, we need to reduce it, I know it’s not easy, but we can get it down to less harmful levels with a few simple tricks.

Reducing alcohol: 

  • Try to start by giving yourself a limit. i.e. 1 x bottle instead of two.
  • Try to start drinking later in the evening
  • Change to a lower alcohol content drink
  • Drink a soft drink or water in between each alcoholic drink

NEVER STOP DRINKING suddenly. If you stop at once, you risk it causing more harm and even death. Yes, if you are a heavy or dependent drinker, it could kill you if you stop too quickly. If you notice any of the following, then please be cautious in how you reduce your alcohol and talk to your GP;

  • Delirium Tremens - the shakes, hand tremors
  • Fits or seizures
  • Excessive sweating
  • Hallucinating (seeing things that are not there)
  • Increased depression
  • Difficulty sleeping

Cocaine Intake

The party drug, the drug that many people take to heighten our enjoyment, have a buzz. But is it the high that’s all giving and all-conquering? I would say no! Honestly; cocaine has a massive impact on our mental wellbeing. Anyone who has used it knows about the comedown, the nights awake looking at the ceiling, thoughts running wild, flashbacks from the night you’ve had, the conversations that took place. Questioning yourself and the life choices you have made, does this sound familiar?

Cocaine is a drug that plays with the head, fact! And some of the ways that it can manifest are paranoia, delusions, and suicidal thoughts.

The use of cocaine will increase the release of dopamine. Dopamine is the “reward” hormone, which gives us the pleasurable feeling, the high. The problem with releasing all this dopamine into our brains is that some are good, but more isn’t better. It can give us the total opposite of what we are looking for. The reward and pleasure turn to negative feelings and emotions. Increased levels of dopamine can increase our levels of aggression and anger. It can cause delusions and hallucinations.

An increase in norepinephrine also increases our heart rate and blood pressure, giving you that feeling of lying in bed, and you can hear your heart beating so hard it’s like it is trying to escape your body.

  • Paranoia can last a few hours and affects up to 84% of users
  • Psychosis that includes delusional thoughts and hallucinations is reported by 53% of users
  • Suicide is a significant comedown issue affecting nearly 22% of users

All of this combined with alcohol use is undoubtedly a recipe for disaster. 

But we use cocaine and alcohol to have a good time, on a Friday and Saturday night! We all know that when the coke high starts to dissipate, we just re-dose, look for that 15 mins of euphoria, that 20 mins of sexual arousal. But to coin a gambling phrase, “when the fun stops, STOP.” Really!

Stay safe. Recognise within yourself when things are going a bit wrong. Coke is a party drug. It’s not a drug to help you cope with the day. If you’re having negative thoughts, dark thoughts, thoughts that make you want to end your life, IT’S NOT THE DRUG FOR YOU.

If you feel that you are chasing the high, you may be suffering from overuse. You are using alone, or when your drink, you need that coke high, and then you get on the phone and get the delivery quicker than your pizza. I think you need to look at what you’re getting from the cocaine. When the negatives outweigh the positives from getting high, I think it’s time to look at what you want or expect from the buzz?

Help is out there, either from your GP, your local drug services or private treatment. Just ask.

It’s OK to be not OK.