The following blog posts are written by people with personal experience of depression. By talking openly, our bloggers hope to increase understanding around mental health, break stereotypes and take the taboo out of something that – like physical health – affects us all.
A couple of years ago I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). When the symptoms and potential causes were described to me it made a lot of sense and in hindsight this is something that has followed me since my childhood.
An unwillingness to seek help due to fear and shame meant I wasn’t diagnosed until I had turned 30, had a few failed suicide attempts under my belt and a history of self-harm and eating disorders.
It took me a while to come to terms with my diagnosis and I continued to keep it secret for a pretty long time. I’d had a lifetime of keeping my issues a secret and it hadn’t got me anywhere. But by opening up to medical professionals I was finally getting some support.
So I decided to try to be more open with other people in my life. But it’s hard opening up; it takes guts to tell someone about the thing you hate most about yourself – so their reaction means everything! At its best opening up can leave you feeling empowered, heard and hopeful, but at its worst it causes real damage.
I try not to focus on the bad experiences, but it’s a struggle not to. When I hit a rough patch a while back and needed some support from a previous employer I had an experience that really scarred me.
I was in the midst of a prolonged period of depression and my anxiety levels were sky high. I spoke to my manager about it as I was getting increasingly worried about my low mood and ability to balance my workload. When my anxiety is at its worst I struggle to make even the simplest of decisions, I agonise over every possible option and outcome and it can make being productive at work impossible.
When I told my manager that I was struggling with depression and anxiety their first response was to make a joke about it: “well, we’d better get you carted off to the loony bin then”. At least I think this was an attempt at a joke, if it was it didn’t land!
This crushed me. I felt stupid and ashamed, but perhaps worst of all I felt like I couldn’t rely on my workplace for support when I needed it. There were countless other occasions where my manager made jokes about my mental health, both when it was just the two of us and in front of my colleagues.
When I requested to work from home on days that I didn’t feel well enough to commute and be surrounded by people all day - but I felt able to work – I was told no, I’d have to take sick days instead.
So, I kept working, I kept ignoring my body and mind when it was on the verge of spiralling, until eventually I ended up at rock bottom. I couldn’t leave my bed, let alone my house. I was consumed with impulsive and harmful thoughts about hurting myself or ending my life. I was signed off from work for six weeks, had a few emergency trips to hospital and was put under the care of my community mental health team.
When I came back to work (because I wouldn’t get sick pay if I was off any longer) I was immediately given a formal disciplinary for being off sick, despite having a letter from my GP.
Shortly after returning to work a new manager started. I thought things might get better, but they became worse. My new manager had a similar approach to dealing with people with mental health problems as the last one. They made jokes and mean remarks, and at one point I was taken aside and told “I heard rumours you’re a self-harmer and tried to kill yourself, if that’s true you need to tell me”.
At the time I was a manager myself, and I still am, and I can’t understand how so many managers could have such a poor understanding of mental health and lack even the ability to treat someone with compassion and understanding. I’m hoping I was just unlucky and that others aren’t getting the same treatment when they tell their employer about their mental health problems, but I imagine I’m not alone.
I have since moved roles and now work somewhere that I can be open about my mental health, work flexible hours so I can make my therapy appointments and take some space when I need it. The best thing is feeling able to talk frankly about how I am feeling without the fear of being stigmatised. Being open is still a work in progress but every day it gets a little easier.
Before I left, I recommended that my employer provide some training for managers on how to manage people who have a mental illness, or just how to compassionately support people when they are having a hard time! I also referred them to the resources on the Time to Change website – I’d like to think that they used this but who knows.
Two years ago, I started to experience mental health difficulties for the first time. What I mean by that is, two years ago I first became conscious of my own mental illness. My close friends will tell you that this all started long before two years ago. They are probably right but my own awareness only began when I was forced to retire from sport with injury in June 2017, aged 20.
Sport was a massive part of my life. It gave me my edge, a place to release my competitiveness, my aggression and my energy in a healthy way. To lose that before I hit my peak broke me. After finishing playing, I started to feel different almost immediately - less in control of my mood and my energy. I was due to go travelling with friends soon after and I used that as my suppression tool. I thought that partying and travelling would bring me back to myself.
I was sure all I needed was something to take my mind off things. Instead, the travelling, drinking and partying made things worse. Panic attacks and anxiety fits took over from fun and excitement. I’m a confident person, I’ve always been successful in academics, sport, my career, but that all felt very far away. Within weeks, I’d gone from an unstoppable person who could achieve anything, to someone who was scared to face the world. Suddenly, anxiety and depression surrounded my every waking moment. All I wanted to do was go home, I wasn’t me. I would wake up scared about having an anxiety attack, tension headache or down day. Sleep was the only relief, which as part of a despairing irony, became harder to come by as the condition continued.
I went to counselling when I returned from my holiday. I thought, “I’ll go for 3-4 sessions and I’ll be good as new, it was just that I was away from home and a bit shook”. I went in hoping for a magic cure for my anxiety and depression, but I quickly realised that this doesn’t exist. Over time it became apparent that this was more serious than I first thought. Over-exercising had allowed me to push down my issues and losing sport was not only a grief in itself but it also meant that I wasn't able to forget anymore, I had to deal with my demons.
I found it very difficult to accept what was happening to me. I was used to being numb to my emotions or at least not letting them get in my way. Now I was dealing with the idea of carrying this label of anxiety and depression everywhere I went. I felt overwhelmed, weak, powerless.
When I first told my dad about my anxiety, he said “What are you anxious about?”, and when I first informed him of my depression a few weeks later he said “I can accept the anxiety but I don’t think you’re depressed son”. It is a difficult enough journey of self-acceptance as it is, never mind feeling judged or unsupported by family or friends.
Most of my friends and family were great - my Mam is a counsellor and my girlfriend is a nurse. They understood what was going on and they talked to me with compassion. They helped me normalise how I was feeling.
To anyone who knows someone struggling with mental illness, don’t let them feel like they are “crazy” or that what they are experiencing isn’t normal. Having someone to speak to without judgement helped me feel safe and like I could actually manage. With their support I decided to challenge my dad to learn more about what was going on with me. I sent him videos, articles and books. Over time he began to accept my journey. He was scared his son might be “broken” and that he let that happen. Sometimes older generations label mental illness as being “broken”. That isn’t even close to the truth. In fact it has been the catalyst for me to open up about my struggles, to share the load and build closer bonds with my parents, friends and girlfriend. Sometimes it takes that.
My illness has encouraged me to analyse my life. Anxiety and depression have been a wakeup call. My lifestyle was burning me out. I worked myself too hard. Whenever I wasn’t working or studying, I was socialising or playing sport. I left no time to check in with myself or to talk to people about issues in my life. I created an environment for myself where personal issues could be hidden behind walls of work and activities. If I didn’t have to think about issues, did they even exist? If they didn’t exist, what was there to talk about?
It’s tough to change that thought pattern. We live in a world where working ludicrously long hours means we are “committed” or a “hard worker”. These are things that employers, teachers, parents and peers all praise. My family instilled an unhealthy work ethic in me, one that would earn me huge success and plaudits in school, sport and career, but one that burnt me out to the point of collapse. Being busy is rarely called out as a negative. It wasn’t until I went to counselling that I was questioned as to why I do so much.
Now, I’m trying to push loving myself to the top of my agenda. It’s difficult because for 90% of my life I’ve hidden from allowing myself to feel exactly what has been going on with my mental state. Be it my parent’s separation, my forced retirement from sport, heartbreaks or deaths, I suppressed it all and used activity as my therapy. Sitting with it is a lot scarier but I’m starting to feel the benefit, I’m starting to heal.
All I can say to people going through something similar is - this is scary, there is no denying that. If you can love yourself and completely experience your mental illness then you’ll be OK. Just hang in there.
Leading up to the day I opened up about my mental health I had struggled with anxiety for many years. It affected me in many ways and eventually opened the door for depression to come in, which would then take hold of my life for over a year. Throughout that time trying to deal with my anxiety and depression brought with it a lot of negative habits. The build-up of these bad habits would eventually get me to the point where the thought of doing something I used to enjoy would set off negative feelings about myself and my life. Now because this would repeatedly happen, I became too scared to even try and be happy for such a long time.
I lost all interest in the hobbies I would have enjoyed in the past. And this was because of that internal tug of war that I was having to go through every day. On one side I would know that I had stopped doing what I enjoyed, and it would make me feel so ashamed and angry that I was letting this get the better of me. But on the other end, if I did try to push myself to something, it would be met with immediate anxiety because I knew those feelings of guilt would soon follow.
Either way, I couldn’t win so I would be losing days and weeks due to this internal battle and by the time this had been going on for so long, I had eventually convinced myself that I didn’t deserve to be happy anymore. If I wasn’t at work, I would just spend my time stuck in this tug of war. Never giving myself the time to relax and feel truly happy.
The internal hatred I had for myself had reached what felt like a peak, but somehow still felt like it would continue to get worse. I felt lost, scared and that the potential for me to have a good life was over.
Throughout all of this, I was able to hide it from the people in my life. I would do this because I did not want to push these negative feelings on anyone else because I didn’t think anyone would take it seriously, and they have their own lives to deal with so why care about this.
The day I opened up about my mental illness
However, the day I did find the courage to open up I had not planned on doing it. I was on my way to see a movie with my girlfriend. On the way there the guard I'd had up for so long to hide my internal struggles just crumbled out of the exhaustion of it all and I couldn’t hide it anymore. My girlfriend noticed something was wrong with me and I realised that I had to tell her what was going on, so a little later this is what I did.
It was very scary, and it was one of those times where I just couldn’t find the words to describe how I felt and what had been going on. I’ll admit that the guilt of passing this on to my girlfriend and my parents the next day was there. It was scary, but their incredible understanding and support made me feel safe and comfortable, something I had not felt in such a long time. Opening up to them and then my GP would be a great help for me. I am forever grateful for the overwhelming support they gave and continue to give me.
If I had not expressed how I was feeling I don’t like to think about what could have happened. But they guided me in the right direction to find myself again and experience real happiness again. It’s still a work in progress, I’m not perfect and I will sometimes make the mistakes I would do in the past. But when all is said and done, the gratitude I have for the continued support will always trump those bad days!
Ah depression and anxiety, my two controversial friends that have placed me in a non-consensual three-way relationship which is often very difficult to deal with. I can wake up some days and feel like I’m ready to take on anything. But on one side of the bed, I’ll have my anxiety badgering me about the million and one things that will go wrong today. And on the other side of the bed, my depression will remind me about the social event that I’ll be taking part in later that evening and casually reminding me that no matter how confident I’ll appear to be, that the people I think that love me in fact don’t, they’d rather I not be there, and that I’m weak and eventually push everyone I love away from me. And then I get up and get on with my day, after crying on my pillow, and admitting defeat.
Some would call me over-emotional. Some will tell me, and have told me before, to simply move past my problems and carry on. Some people just don’t understand how you can’t just put the thing that’s worrying you, or dragging you down, in the bin and never look back. Sometimes I am able to do this, and I feel better. But when I can’t, please understand that it’s not that I don’t want to feel happy or stop my brain racing. Believe me, if I could do it all the time, I would. But I am constantly battling my anxiety and depression, and sometimes they win, and it can be hard to control. Imagine playing your favourite video game and you have the controller, but sometimes, the controls will bug out, not work like they should, and it starts ruining your game. That is what my anxiety and depression feel like to me.
I don’t blame people that don’t understand my anxiety and depression, I really don’t. From an outsider looking in, it may just look like I’m over-reacting, that I’m dramatic and attention seeking. I’m very aware of what it may look like, but I promise it is not that. I take antidepressants to help keep my anxiety and depression on the low-down, but that doesn’t mean that I am ‘cured’. It also doesn’t mean that I am sick, or that I can’t be like anyone else, do things that everyone else can and live a relatively normal life. Because I can. I just occasionally put my training wheels back on when I feel like I need them.
I don’t need you to tell me to ‘stop worrying’ because I will always worry, even if my face and body language says otherwise. I sometimes need that reassurance that everything is ok, that I am loved, and that you won’t leave me when I need you the most, even if in the depths of my brain, my depression is telling me it’s not true. But I also don’t need you to be afraid of me, because underneath the dark cloud that my anxiety and depression form, there’s a normal human being who wants to be loved, is kind, understanding, has a sense of humour (or so I’d like to think) and always tries to put a smile on her face and on other people’s, even if it feels like I’m losing my battle.
Today has been a day where my anxiety and depression defeated me but writing this is my way of taking back control. It is temporary, and I have accepted that, but I’ll bounce back because I always do.
I had never heard of the word anxiety. I had heard of depression but didn’t understand it, and at that point, I never thought it would hit me.
In 2012 I graduated with a 2:1 degree, made amazing friends and I was working for a company I loved. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out where I was working and I decided to leave my job and search for another one. It was a hard decision walking away from the company I loved but I knew I had my education and experience on my side.
In February 2013 I attended a football match, I was the biggest football fan in the world! I watched games from all different leagues regardless of who was playing, but visiting this particular stadium was a big part of my life, it was like a dream. What I didn’t realise was I was gaining anxiety. I was sat in high seats and had an overwhelming feeling, I had no idea what this was - all I knew was that I felt light-headed continuously, which lead to me experiencing my first ’fight-or-flight’ sensation. I ran to the closest tube station and went home confused and emotional.
What does depression look like?
After this episode, things just got worse. I didn’t leave the house, I constantly felt paranoid and emotional, my confidence had completely gone. I become completely unsociable. I was unemployed and applying for at least 10 jobs a day doing anything.
It took someone close to me to see the signs of depression. My idea of depression was an older person who had lost everything, not someone who’s just graduated from university with their whole life ahead of them. This goes to show mental health can impact anyone at any age, at any stage of their life.
I was lucky - I gained medical help and eventually got a local job at the same time. The hardest thing I had to do was tell my new boss I had a mental health issue. There's a lot of negative stigma surrounding mental health, especially in the Asian community, but I was lucky I had an understanding manager and team who helped me gain my confidence back.
I eventually went back to work in the career I loved but I still wasn’t myself. I was quiet, I had no confidence and had to do ‘rituals’ to get me through the day. For example, I would sit and do exercises from my desk to keep my mind occupied and anxiety down.
This is where I believe understanding of mental health in the workplace is severely lacking. Looking back, it also shows how untrained my manager was; advising a colleague ‘try to make her more talkative’ was the wrong approach. Hopefully, in time there will be a movement towards ‘we have a new starter who isn’t settling in too well, let me see how she’s adapting to change’, and more understanding about anxiety and depression.
Opening up about my mental health
Luckily, I met someone who I was able to open up to, and this was the real start of my recovery. I felt comfortable confiding in what I had been through and how I felt. Instead of thinking, “I’m taking a risk and being judged”, I felt I could comfortably be myself again.
The conversations didn’t feel difficult; it felt like a genuine conversation where I could talk about my stress and anxieties. I gained my confidence back and become sociable. Importantly, I become happy again, and I started travelling which I would never have done without having someone to confide my fears in.
The biggest achievement was going back to passion, my football. Never did I think I would ever attend a football match again in my life - and here I was sitting among 90,000 people at Wembley.
Taking a different approach
I thought my anxiety and depression were beyond me…but they came back. The difference this time was that I knew what anxiety and depression were, I knew what was going to happen, but most importantly I knew I wanted to fight this.
I did slip down a bad path and my behaviours and actions were not me at all. However, I was open and honest to my friend who helped me through before, and it helped me realise I had motives to continue and get back to being myself.
This is when I decided to become a mental health first aider. Since I've been open about my mental health difficulties, people have been able to open up to me in the same way I was able to open up to my friend. For that reason, all the training I have done has been worth it.
I believe we still have a long way to go for society to understand how to deal with mental health, but there is positive movement towards better mental health awareness.
I’ve struggled with mental health problems for 4 years now. I started my first year at college, being that independent person my parents always wanted me to be, but then everything just came tumbling down. My family and I all went through a very traumatic time and that’s where it all began.
I lost my way a bit. I didn’t want to go to college, I didn’t want go out and socialise like every other teenager would be doing. I locked myself away. Over the following months I found myself rapidly getting worse. I didn’t want to speak to anyone about how I was feeling, especially my family. I always felt like the glue in the family, holding everyone together, so I kept silent with my problems.
At the age of 18 I decided to move out and live on my own. At first I was loving life. Having my own place, my own pets, doing what I wanted when I wanted. Then I slowly realised how lonely I was and how much I was struggling. I was working somewhere where I was getting paid minimum wage so I couldn’t afford anything apart from just about managing to pay the bills. I pushed all my close friends away because I just didn’t want to leave the house. This is when I realised I’d slipped back into depression.
After 3 years of pretending to be this happy, bubbly, energetic character, I just broke. I was tired. Tired of pretending. I pulled myself together and reached out for help. I was finally diagnosed with anxiety, depression and an eating disorder. I felt free in a sense, a massive weight I’d been carrying for 4 years had been lifted off of my shoulders.
Throughout the process of getting the help I needed, I heard typical comments like ‘just be happy then’, ‘stop worrying so much then and you’ll be fine’. But I also heard things like ‘I didn’t realise you were struggling so much, you hid it so well’. That was the issue, I shouldn’t have had to hide it. I wouldn’t have needed to if people had a better understanding about mental health.
I found it so difficult to admit to myself and others around me how much I was struggling. I had and still do have a brilliant support network from my partner, family and a few friends. I knew telling them would be difficult, but I also knew they love me know matter what, which I am so grateful for. It’s the rest of the world that’s scary. The lack of understanding and knowledge that people have towards those with a mental illness. If someone breaks their arm, everyone jumps to them to sign their cast. If someone has a mental health problem, people run because they think we’re unpredictable and strange.
I’ve come across a mental health champion scheme and I’m now making it my task to help people understand and talk more about their mental health. Don’t be ashamed of who you are.
People shouldn’t have to lie about taking medication. People shouldn’t have to lie about doctor or counselling appointments. Those with a mental illness should be accepted and treated the same as anyone with a physical health problem. I’ve learnt that it is ok to be a little different. It’s ok not to say you’re not ok. Everyone needs to learn that not every disability is physical. The happiest person you know in life could be the one who is also struggling the most. Make sure they’re ok. It’s time to talk and it’s time to change.
I was diagnosed with depression during my final year of medical school. Since then it’s been a struggle of relapses and recovery. Sharing my story makes things easier. If I tell you my experience it’s easier for you to share yours.
I remember I wrote a sort of suicide note when I was 12. At that age I self-harmed as well. I didn’t speak to anyone about how I was feeling. What was I going to say?
That was the first time I started feeling something wasn’t right, but I didn’t know what it was. Even at medical school, I still couldn’t figure it out.
I didn’t go to see the doctor out of choice. I was talked into it by my friends. I always think I’m one of the lucky ones - I had friends who knew the signs of depression. A large percentage of Nigerians don’t have access to people who can help them at the early stages of their illness. Most people have to really get in a very bad state to get help.
My diagnosis has helped me to accept what’s going on. All I asked for from my friends was to be treated the same way. I'm not fragile - I didn’t want to be treated like an egg.
In Nigeria we have so many issues with people resorting to spiritual means, cultural practices and traditional mental health healing centres.
When stigma exists, discrimination happens. People don’t want to be associated with anybody that has anything to do with mental health issues.
We try to make people understand when we talk about mental health issues, this spans from depression, which is not even seen in Nigeria as a mental health issue - to schizophrenia, which is seen as a ‘curse’.
Support from family and peers makes recovery possible. Society has the power to help you accept your diagnosis and seek help. If we create environments where people know its fine to talk about mental health, help-seeking becomes easy. People realise they can walk into a psychiatric hospital without being tagged, ‘mad’. Most people who come to a psychiatric specialist travel from far away to avoid being seen by their neighbours.
The stories we were told by our parents and their parents before them affect how we perceive mental health now.
If you want to get married your parents do a lot of research into your partner and their family just to find out if anyone has had mental health issues. If there has been, they’ll call off the wedding. This still happens even in this day and age.
People believe if someone has mental health issues, they have been cursed. Or people say the person is not in tune with their God. Or they’ve done something really evil. Everything is blamed on mental health.
In politics, if someone does something bad, people say, “that person is mad, get him checked out.” Because society says mentally ill people are crazy and they do all the bad things in society, it is hard for someone like me to accept, actually I am mentally ill.
The discussions are increasing, especially among young people. We are seeing a change. We know a lot of young people have issues to deal with and we know they are interested in speaking about it and now they know there’s a community that accepts them.
We’ve had people who’ve called to say they don’t want it on their employment record that they have a mental health issue. They ask us to recommend a psychiatric hospital they can go to which won’t record this. Even if it means they have to pay out of pocket.
We hear from people who have had to deal with it in psychiatric hospitals where even the doctors have stigmatising attitudes. Some therapists tell people, “why don’t you just get better – you’re too young to be mentally ill.” Some psychiatrists let their spirituality influence them. They’ll tell a patient, “I have a pastor who can help you”.
You find more Nigerians in churches and mosques than anywhere else. Especially in rural areas, churches can be very judgemental about mental health. They say, ‘a child of God has no business being depressed’. You end up feeling worse. Now even your church, which is supposed to be a support, doesn’t accept you. You’re told you’ve let the devil in and that’s why you’re coping with the darkness of depression.
Churches and mosques are such important communities. We want to have conversations with these influential people and ask them, do you think mental health is just a spiritual issue? We don’t want to dismiss the spiritual totally because if you do that you won’t get anywhere. We need to see how we can combine both spiritual and medical recommendations to make sure people get help.
Across Africa we have the same sort of issues when it comes to stigma. African parents’ way of raising their children often relies on fear. There is a lack of communication. Children and teenagers are not listened to which makes mental health issues worse.
Children of 10, 11 and 12 have told me their parents are going to take them for deliverance sessions or to the mountain for prayers or exorcism because they think they’re possessed rather than mentally ill. Parents need to be friends with their kids so they can talk about mental health.
At MANI, we know working with young people can help change attitudes towards mental health.
Depression and anxiety is a part of my life. I recognise now that it has been for the majority of my life. But it took a long time for me to realise and accept this. I didn't want to be "ill". The stigma surrounding mental illness was built within me, passed down through generations of people "pulling themselves together". I'd hear some of those close to me talk about victims of suicide, they would reflect on stories they had heard and use words like selfish and crazy. I remember feeling so much empathy and pain at those words. I understood feeling like my family would be better off without me. Like there wasn't going to be a future that I could play a part in. I thought that was my fault, I thought I was “selfish” too.
It wasn't until I was 18 and at university that I knew it wasn't just "teenage blues" and I wasn't "shy and one day you'll grow out it". I had reached the point in my life where I finally felt some independence. It slowly dawned on me (with the help of a lot of online research, cheers Google), the sweaty, breathy unsuccessful attempts to walk through the door of my uni seminars and the eventual slow tearful walk back to halls, were not just because I was "shy". Neither was my "awkwardness” the reason I would have to ring my friends to come and open their front door, when I arrived at their house, for crippling fear of knocking and not knowing who could be behind it when it opened, having not planned out precisely what I would say and then freeze unable to articulate myself.
I would sleep through the daylight, not eating, not doing anything, just being trapped to the spot and drifting in and out of consciousness. That wasn't because I was "lazy". I wasn't just "heartbroken" because my boyfriend and I broke up. I was depressed and self-sabotaging, misusing substances and driving people away because I felt unworthy and broken.
Some of them did walk away but some stuck around and I'm thankful for both because I know it's difficult to support someone who is unable to admit there is something wrong. The fear of ridicule or claims of "attention seeking" made it feel impossible.
Right now I feel incredibly supported but that hasn't always been the case. It's been about 10 years from my initial realisation and I can see things are shifting slowly (due to campaigns like Time to Change). Mental health is being discussed on the news, people are coming forward with their stories and I no longer feel shame for my struggles but we've still got a lot of work to do.
It took me 10 years to build up the courage and support to get a diagnosis and start on a road to recovery but that wasn't for lack of trying. At times of crisis, I went to those closest to me, I broke down to them to be told to "get a grip" or "just try and be happy".
A couple of hours before I got my diagnosis I was asked by a relative "Are you sure you want to do this? It will be on your medical records, people will make assumptions about you, it might affect your job prospects". I was furious. It had taken so much fight and feelings of guilt to get to a point where I was ready, I’d felt I had the support of my family, that they finally took me seriously.
However, on this occasion, I'm glad they asked me that question because I defied it, it stuck with me and I found strength from within it. Now I talk openly about depression and anxiety. I ask the people around me how they are and then I ask them again. I still see members of my family wince when the neighbour pops over for a cup of tea and asks how I am and what I've been up to. I answer them honestly and await the awkward silence but I also see how proud they are of me for challenging that stigma and for how far I've come. I still dread those kinds of questions some days.
I want the people that have touched on those feelings of nothingness or pain, the people who feel it totally consumes them and the people who blow it off as us being "snowflakes", to know our feelings are legitimate, we all deserve to be listened to and we are all in this together.
I’ve always been rather private when it comes to my mental health. In 2019 I am willing to change that. I really wish mental health wasn’t such a taboo subject and that people did not feel ashamed to speak of their struggles, because it’s not our fault. But that’s the issue with mental illnesses, they cause you to overthink and you end up thinking it is your fault. It’s not.
I owe a lot to my counsellor (who has dealt with me week in and week out for over two years). I think that it’s important to stop antidepressants and counselling being such a taboo topic. People are ashamed to admit that they take these daily, or are ashamed to even ask for them. I have been on antidepressants for five months now and when I was placed on them, I was too scared to even tell some of my closest friends because I was scared of being judged. It’s important to recognise that pills aren’t a magic cure for mental illnesses, but that they can help motivate you to take the steps toward feeling better.
As a society we need a better approach toward mental health and we need to stop making assumptions. For one, mental illness is different for everyone. Not everyone experiences it in the same way. That also means that people’s problems should not be dismissed just because they don’t present them in the typical form that we expect. Someone can have anxiety but go on a stage in front of thousands. They have overcome the fear, but it doesn’t mean that their anxiety doesn’t exist, or it is less important than someone else’s.
Someone can have depression but spend their day laughing and smiling. People with depression can have good days too, and they’re also great at faking a smile for the benefit of those around them.
You may think someone is “fine” because they’re posting on social media, but social media is fake. It’s usually a presentation of the best parts of our lives and very rarely includes the worst parts.
We also need to stop saying things such as “it could be worse”, “you’re overreacting”, “get over it” or “snap out of it”. These are the kinds of statements which tick over and over in people’s minds and can lead them to think that they shouldn’t speak up. People are afraid of judgement. Don’t make people feel as though they are being judged.
We need to stop saying that people are “attention seeking”, because speaking about your struggles is something that most people find very difficult to do. As someone who struggles a lot with anxiety issues, I often feel I am being judged when in retrospect it may have been a harmless comment. It is so important to be kind to anyone, at any chance you get, because you have no idea how much your words and actions can impact a person’s mental state. This goes for both positive and negative acts or comments, they can both have a lasting impact.
Oh and PLEASE, if you notice someone has scars or wounds which you believe may have been caused by self-harm, do not ask them about it in public. By all means, ask if they’re doing okay, but do it in a one on one situation. Asking someone about this topic when they’re with a group of people is likely to make them clam up, not start a conversation about it which could help them get the help they need.
If you think someone is struggling mentally, just check they’re okay, let them know they matter to you. And to anyone struggling, it is OKAY to want to be alone, alone time can be great , but being in a comfortable environment with friends and family can do a lot of good as well.
A simple “how are you doing?” can go a long way, to let someone know that you are thinking of them. You don’t have to understand what they’re going through, you just need to be there for them.
And if someone tries to open up to you, let them. Sometimes they don’t even need you to say anything, they just need to feel like someone is listening and they care.
I hope that everyone, and I mean everyone, not just my close friends, knows that I am here. I know it is an overused statement but I truly mean it. I admit I’m not always great at giving advice but I take myself for a great listener. Don’t be afraid to speak up.
To describe what living with depression and anxiety is like to anyone who doesn't understand or hasn't experienced it before is to imagine a weight pulling your body down, so heavy that every day you have to summon up the strength to push against it and to lighten the impact. Some days I'm just about able to ease it off a little and get on with the things I need to; there's still a strain there but it's manageable and I can stave it off for a little while if I’m distracted.
However, other times I just don't have the strength and energy to push against it and I feel powerless, completely worn down and unable to move forward. That's what it feels like for me, so intense and so unavoidable.
Of course you can't actually 'see' depression and anxiety the way you might do a physical ailment on the body. On the surface, I smile and talk about the normal things you're supposed to talk about with others and answer 'how are you?' with the expected 'fine thank you, and yourself?'. It can feel like to tell someone you're struggling is to place a massive burden on them, to make them feel uncomfortable, or even worse, there's the fear that it will make them walk away from you.
And whilst if the tables were turned and a friend was telling me they were struggling I wouldn't think any of those things, depression and anxiety can make you second-guess everything and feel unworthy of compassion and understanding from others. What people don't see are the days when leaving the house seems like an impossible feat, when just the process of getting dressed is exhausting and distressing, the days where I can't seem to stop crying, when sleeping is the only way to get away from my thoughts, or alternatively when I feel numb.
Being depressed isn't something that anyone chooses or something that can be solved just by thinking positively (as nice as that would be!). The reality is that you can be a positive person but be consumed by mental illness; you can be seemingly 'fine' on the surface but may have spent hours and hours trying to work up the courage to face another human, even if that’s just going to the corner shop or the post office.
It’s debilitating and complex and no one experience is the same, but we're trying really really hard. There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to treatment either. Medication becomes a game of trial and error and quite often the combination of meds and talking therapy is more beneficial; I’ve found that it’s a process of figuring out what works for you.
Because of my personal experiences, like many others, supporting campaigns such as Time to Change are so important to me. For a long time I’ve worked hard to conceal my struggles from the people around me, but being passionate about wanting there to be more understanding and empathy around mental health issues, writing this feels like a small step in the right direction.