For men’s mental health awareness month, Cannabis Health speaks to fathers, patients and carers about their experiences, with a focus on what needs to change.
In the second of our series, we meet medical cannabis patient, Lewis Morgan. Lewis has PTSD as well as chronic pain caused by injuries he sustained twelve years ago.
Read the first part of our men and mental health series here
Talking about mental health
Mental health can be a difficult topic for anyone to talk about. However, when it comes to reaching out for help, men seem to struggle more than most. The statistics for men’s health show that it does appear to be more difficult for men to open up about how they are feeling.
In a YouGov poll which surveyed 2111 adults in 2009 before comparing to figures from a survey taken again in 2019. The results revealed that two in five men report feeling low in an increase of 37 per cent since 2009. It also showed that men aged 45 to 49 have the highest age-specific suicide rate.
Men also struggle when accessing help. The same survey from YouGov revealed that 10 per cent of male participants said that they didn’t seek help as they feared being told they had a mental illness. The reasons for not seeking help may be complex such as believing in traditional masculine values such as remaining stoic or being dependable. They may also see discussing mental health issues as a ‘weakness.’
Speaking with Cannabis Health News, Lewis Morgan explains how he came to be diagnosed with Post-Traumatic-Stress Disorder (PTSD). He originally experienced a bleed on the brain but an attack four years later, post-recovery, left him with brain injuries.
“When I was at university, I had a small bleed on my brain which took me a while to get over. It took a while for my concentration and reading to come back. I also had flickers in my vision intermittently. I managed to get through my degree but I did need a year out,” he said.
“I felt like I was starting to recover but then shortly after that, I went to work in a radio station one night then I woke up the next day in the hospital. I had been attacked on a night out where someone knocked me out then stood on my head several times. I had severe facial injuries too.”
Lewis feels that there were not many checks into how he was coping with the mental side of his injuries such as the potential for developing PTSD or depression. Six months later, he had begun to develop a lot of pain and was also diagnosed with PTSD.
“I got sent back to the hospital six months later and they determined then that I had a brain injury. I developed PTSD along with a lot of pain which was not in the injury sites but in locations where it shouldn’t have been. I was eventually diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS).”
He explained: “Later on I started to experience chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and all sorts of seizures. I have a functional neurological disorder that basically causes seizures, pain, psychological problems. My brain translates emotion as physical symptoms which is a nightmare because there is nothing you can do about it.”
Lewis highlighted that his many different diagnoses mean that he doesn’t know what symptoms correlate with different conditions but that PTSD has been constant throughout.
Mental Health and PTSD
PTSD is a mental health condition caused by a traumatic experience. Those with PTSD can often relive the trauma through nightmares and flashbacks and may experience feelings of isolation, irritability or guilt. They may also struggle with insomnia.
He said: “I get these sensations in my chest like spikes of adrenaline. I put the telly on to watch the news then I’m ranting at the telly like a madman. Then I realise I haven’t had any medicine today so I get on the medical cannabis and thankfully that brings me back to being a civilised human being.”
“It’s gone so long untreated and unmedicated that I’ve been keeping myself isolated to avoid making it someone else’s problem. It feels bad enough as it is without extra guilt or anything from erupting when I’m out. I tend to get spikes of rage which is fight or flight from adrenaline surging through my body.”
Lewis explained that the fight or flight mode is a permanent state for him. It helps him to avoid what he described as ‘pure misery’ afterwards.
Often people with PTSD, in particular veterans, find that their stress and anxiety levels are heightened. Over time, this can lead to problems with heart disease or blood pressure.
In a study on veterans, researchers took 14 patients with PTSD and 14 without to determine the effect that it had on the body. They discovered that the patients with PTSD had higher levels of adrenaline and less control over their heart rate due to blood pressure changes.
Lewis outlined how medical cannabis helps him to not just control his PTSD symptoms but to feel happiness.
He said: “Thankfully medical cannabis is helping. If I have it in time then it seems to prevent me from getting into a rut where everything is triggering me. As winters coming, I’m finding a lot of symptoms are getting worse and it’s more of a battle to get control with that.”
He added: “It seems to make me feel happy. Sometimes I get a little chuckle and it’s really sad. I realised the first time that this happened, I felt a sensation and realised this is what happiness feels like. It’s so alien to me even though I’ve been to places since my injuries where I’ve had fun. It dawned on me that I never actually had that feeling of happiness.”
Lewis stressed that there is not much support from a mental health perspective. He has been trying to get help for his PTSD but struggling to access services. He is grateful for the help he has had from cannabis.
“I don’t get much support and I don’t see many people. I’ve been trying to get help with PTSD and not really having any help whatsoever. The only thing I’ve had to turn to has been cannabis. I didn’t realise it would help so much. It’s helped my physical symptoms and the PTSD too,” he said.
“I was struggling not to have a seizure last night because it’s getting damp. I was rigid and spasm a lot but [cannabis] makes it bearable even in those times. It is a shame it has taken so long to access it.”
Cannabis and mental health
Lewis is thankful that Project Twenty21 has made it easier for patients to access cannabis due to subsidising the costs. Now that he has cannabis, he has begun to reduce the number of prescription drugs that he was given as he feels there are negative side effects to some of them.
When it comes to speaking to other male patients or groups, he has found it difficult to stay in touch over the 12 years since he has been injured.
“I’ve been cut off for a really long time because I’ve been ill so long. Even the people that you know quite well, not many of them last twelve years. When you are too ill to be proactive in staying in touch with people then you do lose touch eventually. Then when it comes to meeting new people, it’s hard because you are unable to work and you stay at home,” he said.
Lewis keeps himself entertained by learning the guitar. He is also learning to speak Spanish with the language app, Duolingo.
“If I have enough comfort from my medication then I can do Duolingo. I’ve managed to learn a lot of Spanish there which is surprising because of my injuries. My memory doesn’t really work but I can somehow learn music and play on instinct. I don’t know if it’s because I’m so sensitive and my nerves had been so horrifically activated.”
This time of year is difficult for Lewis as it’s near the anniversary of his injury. He finds that the autumn season can almost trigger an internal remainder of the event. He struggles with physical flashbacks, nightmares and finds that he becomes hyper-vigilant. He doesn’t have any mental health medication from his GP and relies solely on cannabis.
Lewis has recently adopted a dog which helps to keep him company. Biggie, a chihuahua is a rescue pet that Lewis took in to help a local shelter. Originally named Bruiser, he felt that Biggie was a better fit given the small dog’s attempts to fight larger dogs. He highlighted that they are both helping each other to get over their trauma.
“I got him a month ago as a rescue. I think he has got as much trauma as me and my symptoms but I’m trying to keep him calm and I take him out. I took him in to help the charity but I couldn’t let him go after that.”
Read the first part of our series on men’s mental health here
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