One of the most important things Mustard has done is give me structure, purpose and routine. Maybe I don’t feel like getting out of bed one day – but I do, because she needs me.
It was estimated that, in 2013, one in four households had pet dogs. But did you know that one in four people have had problems with their mental health?
My name is Kate and I am a pharmacist working for Hywel Dda Health Board. I am also a Time to Change Wales Champion.
At the end of 2010 I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, a mental health condition that means I can experience extremes of mood. In the past I have had severe episodes of depression, which have been so bad I haven’t been able to get out of bed or take care of myself properly. I have also had times where I have felt euphoric and acted very recklessly, often embarrassing myself or putting myself at risk.
Getting a diagnosis was a step in the right direction for me, as I could be properly treated. However, I had been having symptoms for nearly ten years before this. During this time a lot of damage was done to my relationships with other people. I lost a lot of friends due to my behaviour and fell out with family. I also found it very difficult to maintain a meaningful romantic relationship.
"In 2012 I met my partner. I was open with him from the beginning about my mental health and I was really worried, because a lot of my previous partners had been put off by the stigma of having a relationship with someone with a mental illness"
In 2012 I met my partner. I was open with him from the beginning about my mental health and I was really worried, because a lot of my previous partners had been put off by the stigma of having a relationship with someone with a mental illness. He soon realised that talking was the best way of dealing with everything and was really supportive. By the end of the year we had got involved in a major advertising campaign for Time to Change Wales and were on billboards beermats and posters all over the country! It was a fantastic experience and I can honestly say the only feedback I have had from taking part has been positive.
In 2013 we bought a house together and decided to get a pet. I had always been nervous of dogs but Nathan was allergic to cats and we both felt that the exercise from walking would be good for my mental health. So in November 2013, I brought home a tiny ball of fluff – our new puppy, Mustard.
It wasn’t just the walks that helped me. Having Mustard around has changed my life. She accepts me no matter what mood I’m in – she always greets me with a happy wagging tail. She doesn’t judge me, or care what mistakes I may have made in the past.
One of the most important things Mustard has done is give me structure, purpose and routine. Maybe I don’t feel like getting out of bed one day – but I do, because she needs me. We both get up and go to sleep at similar times every day now – which has had an amazing effect on stabilising my mood.
"It wasn’t just the walks that helped me. Having Mustard around has changed my life. She accepts me no matter what mood I’m in – she always greets me with a happy wagging tail"
Having a dog has also allowed me to make new friends – other dog walkers (and dog fans!) Once we get to know each other well, it's amazing how many people open up and talk about their own experience of mental illness - their own, or that of their friends or family. Another thing that's really striking is loads of people find having a dog really helps them too, and also gets them out of the house and exercising which is good for everyone!
Because of all of these things, this January I have decided to run a photo dog show to raise funds for inpatient mental health units where I work. I have done lots of work in the Health Board telling people about Time to Change Wales and think it's a great opportunity to make people aware of it - they get to see cute dogs and find out more about our work at the same time!
"Having a dog has also allowed me to make new friends – other dog walkers (and dog fans!) Once we get to know each other well, it's amazing how many people open up and talk about their own experience of mental illness"
The competition is not just about raising money, or about appreciating our wonderful pets. It’s about increasing awareness in my local community. So even if you can’t enter this competition, please start talking about mental health. You don’t have to be an expert, and it is just as normal as having a dog!
The photo dog show
Whether your dog is a Handsome Husky, a Dapper Dachshund or anything in between, why not enter our fun photo dog show?
The competition is open to everyone, including Hywel Dda staff, patients, and members of the public.
- Best Puppy (0-12months)
- Gorgeous Grown-up
- Fanciest Dress
- Cutest Cwtcher
- Dog the judge would most like to take home
To enter please donate £2 per category (or £5 for 3) on our JustGiving page and e-mail your photos to Fundraising.HywelDda@wales.nhs.uk. Feel free to enter as many categories as you like - for example if you're entering Gorgeous Grown-up but also have a favourite puppy pic, donate twice and send us both! Make sure that you complete your details as fully as possible and include your category or categories. Competition closes 5pm on 30th January 2015.
100% of all donations will go towards the purchase of activity trolleys for the inpatient mental health wards across Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire. You can find out more on our Facebook and JustGiving pages.
Share your pet story
We’re also asking people to share photos of their pets and stories of how they’ve helped their mental health.
If you would like to write a blog post about your experiences of stigma or related issues, email firstname.lastname@example.org