Twenty-five-year old Jacqueline talks about her own experience of anxiety and panic attacks – and why we need to ensure we’re personalising mental health treatment to the individual.
I’ve been dealing with anxiety and panic attacks since I was a teenager – but it wasn’t until I was older that I really understood what I was going through and that this was something I could get help with.
My mental health problems flared up just after I finished university. I was working in a supermarket and I didn’t have a great relationship with my manager, which caused me a lot of stress at work and had this constant fear that I would be stuck in that situation forever.
At times, I’d barely be able to lift myself out of bed to go to work and I was having panic attacks on a regular basis. I’d be on the shop floor and the attack would hit me – I wouldn’t be able to breathe, my chest would start hurting and my vision would get blurry.
When my anxiety is bad I’ll focus on the worst possible situation that could happen and then get negative thoughts that just go around and around in my head until I work myself into a panic. It’s extremely difficult for me to get out of that loop, and often I can’t tell when it’s coming.
I tried to hide my mental health problems from my family in the beginning. I’m from a Ghanaian family, and mental illness is something that’s often not talked about so I wasn’t sure how to. I had it in my head that somehow I just needed to snap out of it, but I know now that this isn’t how mental illness works. As I began to open up my mum took it quite hard, but has got a lot better at understanding what I go through. My friends have been really supportive, and although I’ve had difficulty opening up they’ve been patient and understanding.
At the time I was working in the supermarket, the one person I did feel comfortable opening up to was my partner who was having a similar experience – he was the one who suggested I needed to go and speak to my GP about it. I told my doctor that I thought I had a problem with anxiety but unfortunately, without asking me many questions, he suggested I take medication and offered some wishy-washy advice.
Not satisfied, I went home and self-referred to the NHS’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme (IAPT).
I had to wait six months to get my first appointment, but the sessions were really, really helpful. I was able to breakdown where the worries came from and given tools to manage them on my own.
I was supposed to get six weeks of sessions – but my therapist extended it to about 13 as I needed extra help. I have always had problems with opening up, and if it hadn’t have been extended I think my anxiety could have got worse. It could have been really dangerous having my treatment cut off while I was starting to allow myself to be vulnerable.
After finishing those 13 weeks, I started doing my blog – An Anxious Mind – which really helped me cope. Having people thank me for sharing my story and explaining that they’d been through the same made me feel like I wasn’t alone.
On the one hand, IAPT is great as it provides effective therapy sessions for people who can’t afford to do it privately. People of all walks of life need help with their mental health and IAPT is accessible for anyone that needs it.
But on the other hand, there’s still huge waiting times to get see a therapist and at the moment it’s not tailored to the individual. People have needs based on their mental illness, personality, race, sexuality, and many other factors – it needs to be personalised otherwise it doesn’t work.
The project MQ is funding to create an algorithm which could predict which type and level of therapy would be best for someone using IAPT could genuinely help. I’ve heard from people who have had bad experiences using the service because they haven’t been given the right treatment for them. Being able to target treatment to people’s individual experiences could turn that around.
For me, I think I’ll always have some level of anxiety but I hope that one day I’ll be able to make it work in my favour. I love to write and would like to do it for a living – sometimes I feel my anxiety is holding me back, but I hope one day I’ll be able to overcome it.
Last updated: 27 July 2018