Mental Health Awareness Week- What is Normal? Certainly not me!


Mental health diagnoses are common and 1 in 4 of us will experience depression in our lifetime, but people experiencing mental difficulties can often feel isolated and uncertain about their future. It’s completely possible to live a successful and fulfilling life if you have a mental illness and this has never been truer at a time when social and legal stigma is being challenged. 

To the end of reinforcing the idea amongst students that their prospects are not defined by their mental illness and that it’s  important as individuals and a society to talk about mental health, Wessex Scene and SUSU have invited academics and staff doing important work at Southampton University to share their experiences. Here, iSolutions worker Debbie Smith speaks:

What is Normal? Certainly not me!

My name is Debbie Smith; I am 53 years old and have worked for the University of Southampton for 11 years.  I love working here and am proud to be working for this University.  In this article I will be writing about mental health issues in general, I will then be sharing with you my own personal experiences of living with bipolar, and how I have learned to manage my condition so that I can mostly live a ‘normal’ life.

What constitutes a Mental Health issue?

According to the MIND leaflet ‘Understanding Mental Health Issues’ (1), the most common issues are:

Condition Famous people who have the condition
Depression Emma Thompson, Halle Berry, Jim Carrey (2)
Anxiety Alanis Morisette, Anthony Hopkins, David Bowie (3)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder Leonardo DiCaprio, Jessica Alba, Justin Timberlake (4)
Phobias Pamela Anderson, Kelly Osbourne, Orlando Bloom (5)
Bipolar disorder Spike Milligan, Axl Rose, Frank Bruno (6)
Schizophrenia John Nash (Mathematician), Tom Harrell (Jazz Musician), Will Elliot (Author) (7)
Eating Disorders Too many to list, please see link. (8)


These issues can affect the normal functions of daily living, however they can be managed and the person can live a happy and productive life.  The most common forms of treatment on the NHS are talking treatments and medication.  Personally I have used a combination of the two and have benefitted greatly from them.

I have been having mental health issues for most of my life but did not get my diagnosis until five years ago.  I was then diagnosed as having Bipolar.  At first it was a relief that these monsters had a name and the medication worked almost immediately.  But as time went by I started to deny it to myself as I did not want to be labelled or stigmatised as being a ‘loony’ or some other such word used by the uninitiated.

It took a long time to accept my condition and learn how to manage it.  However, I eventually decided to accept it and ‘come out’ about it several years ago and as a result all my colleagues, friends and family know all about it and can therefore support me when I need it.  The only person who finds it difficult to deal with is my husband! I believe that is because he does not and will not understand, however he does his best to support me in times of crisis.

I am very committed to ‘normalising’ mental health issues.  I am happy to explain what it is like to anyone who is curious.  I do not believe in being ashamed of having mental health issues, it’s just another illness and should be acknowledged as such.  I believe that one way to achieve this is to educate people about what mental distress really means and also how prevalent it is.  People tend to be afraid of what they do not understand, so we need to facilitate that learning process.  I see it as my duty to be an ambassador for my condition, or ‘to come out’.

Managing my condition has developed over time, this involved learning what my triggers are, as I mostly have depressive episodes they are quite easy to spot. I get very down, the world starts looking very dark and depressing and my husband (poor thing!) begins to irritate me….  I actually tend to look ‘ill’ when a depressive phase starts and I know to get home and put myself into isolation as soon as possible.  This is because I have this great fear that I will somehow ‘infect’ anyone who gets near me with my depression. The symptoms are quite scary, I hear voices, see things that are not there and feel suffocated if there is too much noise and/or too many people in my vicinity.  These are things that would not normally bother me, but it is very real when I am entering a depressive phase.  I can understand why those who have never seen mental health distress at close quarters before do not understand how to react.  This probably sounds terrible, but I assure you it is a great improvement on the symptoms I used to have before I was diagnosed.

My mental health issues have never stopped me leading a productive life, I have worked in various professions for all of my working life, I was a nurse for 13 years then I moved into administration then finally into IT here at the University.  Living with a mental health issue can sometimes be difficult, as just like ‘normal’ people (whatever that may mean), you will still have your bad phases, but just keep hold of the fact that they will pass.  Ensure you have a good support network around you, be honest with yourself and others, accept yourself and learn to manage your condition, do not let it manage you!

Kind Regards,

Debbie Smith


1     are accessed: 04/10/2012

2     accessed 04/10/2012

3     accessed 04/10/2012

4     accessed 04/10/2012

5     accessed 04/10/2012

6     accessed 04/10/2012

7           accessed 04/10/2012

8     accessed 04/10/2012

Other helpful links:



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