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‘I foresaw Covid and war in Europe, but doctors said I was paranoid and having a breakdown’

John Sharry: Professional support can give you space to talk through your questions

Question: In June 2019 I had a major mental breakdown. At the time it was so real for me and everything made sense, but I was taken to hospital as the doctors said I was paranoid. I was convinced that there was nuclear danger, that politics meant the red button would be pushed. I was scared for all the planet Earth that we, as humans, don’t do much to prevent Earth from dying, despite having so much technology to make a difference for the future.

I had visions of sickness all around the world and people fighting. There was also very religious aspects to what I was going through – and historical events showing me how the world works now, that I never had been interested in before.

Since then, I have been questioning why the breakdown happened to me. I had lots of stress and family problems before it happened and when I ended up in hospital, I was trying to convince myself that I really had a mental illness.

Now, three years on, all that I have seen in June 2019 has become reality – Covid, the war in Europe, the threat of using nuclear weapons, all those events accelerating the climate changes.

It is not imagination any more.

The messages I have been given were not clear and very challenging for me to understand then, but now it is very clear seeing those events that are real now. I deal with this on my own.

My question is why psychology is dismissing people experiencing things like this and trying to convince you that you are ill.

Maybe there is more to that than we think?

Answer: Thank you for your question. I'm sorry that you had a breakdown in 2019 and I hope you had a good experience of recovery when you went to hospital.

You are right that we are living in challenging and worrying times. With the war in Ukraine, worsening climate change and economic instability on the horizon, there is a lot to worry about. Many people are alarmed and it is having an impact on many people's mental health.

Serious mental illness can happen when these worries take over and become unmanageable. Signs that this is happening include not being to sleep, feeling overstressed and overwhelmed, and finding it hard to work and function daily. Paranoia can be another sign of mental illness and this happens when your fears become exaggerated and out of control when you develop beliefs or conspiracy theories about what is happening that are out of touch with reality. As these beliefs can develop gradually (often at times of stress) it can be very hard to notice when they are taking you over – sometimes family and friends close to you notice what is happening. Unfortunately, once paranoia takes over, it can stop you seeking help as you can become suspicious of the people trying to help you.

I appreciate you contacting me for help and to answer your specific question, I would say that rather than dismissing your experiences, good psychological help should take your concerns seriously and help you understand their meaning in the context of your life. Good psychological help should also help you manage your stress and ensure your worries don’t take over and stop you living a life you enjoy. Going forward, I also make a couple of suggestions below that I hope will help.

Seek social support

Make sure you are in regular contact with family and friends. Don’t try to deal with everything on your own, as isolation and cutting yourself off will only make things worse. You may have one or two friends who are good listeners and with whom you can talk about your experiences. Even if you don’t confide in them, meeting friends and family for social events and activities will make you feel better and help you cope.

Seek therapeutic support

I would also recommend that you avail of counselling and other professional therapeutic support to give you space to talk through your questions and worries in a safe place. You could consider contacting your GP or going back to the services you attended in 2019 – is there a member of the team that you trusted that you could contact now to check in? Alternatively, there are lots of other national counselling services and some are free or low cost – see mymind.ie or turn2me.ie. You may also benefit from availing of peer support with others dealing with similar challenges. There are also lots of national voluntary mental health support services and self-help groups that you can contact. Find out more on grow.ie, shine.ie, aware.ie and mentalhealthireland.com.

Focus on your self care

Whatever you do, take steps to manage your stress. If you are not sleeping or over-stressed your worries will be aggravated and you will not have the calm perspective to make good judgements. Alternatively, if you are relaxed and coping well then you will be in a place to understand and make sense of your experiences.

As a result, make sure to build healthy routines in your day that allow you to exercise, eat well, have time for relaxation as well as work and space for socialising and leisure.

- John Sharry is a social worker an founder of the Parents Plus Charity and an adjunct professor at the UCD School of Psychology. See solutiontalk.ie

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