Mental health issues have always been present, especially in young people as we try to figure out who we are and what our purpose is. Although, until now it was mostly an illness suffered in silence, sufferers were assumed to be weak-minded and told that they should ‘just get over it’ or ‘be more positive’.
However, so far, 2017 has been the year of awareness regarding everything related to mental health, with celebrities like Stormzy and Cara Delevingne admitting their struggles with it. Even in my own group of friends it’s become an accepted thing to talk about mental health and our feelings. In fact, it turns out that I wasn’t the only one to be going through issues with mental health.
The thing about mental illnesses is that there are so many different types affecting people in so many varied ways that it’s hard to understand. It’s not a typical illness, which can be treated in a straight-forward fashion, like how we treat a broken leg with a cast or diabetes with insulin. From severe depression, to anxiety and dysthymia (long-term, mild depression) everyone is facing his or her own struggle.
With the government threatening to cut mental health funding even more it’s normal that young people are feeling more and more angry. Over the last four years funding to mental health trusts has been cut by £150BN. This anger arises because the issue of mental health isn’t just about being worried about doing things or just ‘feeling sad’ or tired, but about having so many hopes and dreams and the desire to do well, but not being able to do so because you feel like your own mind is holding you back.
After years of struggling with mental health issues myself, I had eventually come to the conclusion that being emotional with severe highs and lows was just my personality. I always felt like an outcast and that I was missing out on opportunities to build relationships and advance myself because I was unable to control my own emotions. As is the norm with mental health I didn’t think of it being severe enough to go see a doctor, because other people had ‘real problems’, physical injuries that were more life threatening. I felt that the NHS was strained enough as it was that I didn’t want to bother anyone with what I considered my ‘petty’ problems.
2017, however, has been different, after (nigh on 10) years of suffering and not knowing what was wrong with me I cracked and with a lot of encouragement from a close friend, I booked myself in with the doctors to talk about ‘mental health’. It was genuinely life changing. But it wasn’t easy; I sat in the doctor’s office not knowing where to start.
‘When was the last time you felt happy?’ she asked, ‘I don’t know, I can’t remember’ I answered. After some further exchanges, and trying to figure things out, the doctor seemed shocked that I’d never tried to seek help before. In my case what I was struggling with was ‘dysthymia’, which can also be refereed to as high-functioning and long-term depression. This meant that I could get through life, go to university, make friends, and hold down a job as the illness ate at me bit by bit. I would be ok for a bit and then subsequently break down and lose interest in everything that was going right for me. I would feel empty inside and as I stopped caring about my progress, the only way I was able to make myself feel was by being self-destructive and purposely ruining things around me (i.e.: pushing back work deadlines, creating arguments with my friends or even drinking to excess).
I couldn’t help thinking will I ever get better? Will I ever be ‘normal’? Since finding out was wrong with me, and I’m sure the same applies to many people out there, I’ve been on a mission to help myself, to engage on a journey to self-love and understanding. I stopped beating myself up every time something went wrong and blaming myself for being a failure, and started to treat myself like I would my best friend. Mental illness can take you to a very lonely place; you can be surrounded by people but still feel like you’re drowning. Having a support system around you can really make a difference.
Obviously it’s a lot easier said than done, which is exactly why I’m here to tell you, that now you no longer have to feel ashamed or alone, because there is a light at the end of the tunnel and because even if you never get to this perfect, ideal state of recovery you can most certainly learn to live with it a lot better.
It’s the little things that really make a difference, recovery is different for everyone but I can advise on what worked for me. Becoming more aware of myself, and the way my mind dealt with things really helped. I read books and researched articles. I started to figure out the things that triggered what I’d come to refer to as ‘an episode’. I could then attempt to control it better and not sink as deep. By becoming more aware I’ve started caring more about myself and everyone around me.
When I was depressive I would try and appreciate the little things around me, I would list the things that I could do that I knew made me happy and I would make myself do them, however much I just wanted to stay in bed and feel sorry for myself.
Before, I never believed stories about mental health and self-love being a journey. It took me a very long time to admit that I needed help for a whole host of reasons. I still don’t feel anywhere near where I want to be, but at least I’ve taken a step forward. I believe that everyone can start this journey and learn to live and enjoy life. This April I’m getting involved with MIND the mental health charity to show my support, it’s a great resource regarding everything to do with mental health and the support out there that is available.
I want everyone to read this article, look at themselves and open up conversations. Remember, you’re never as alone as you think. In 2017 please (if you need it) reach for help, talk to a friend, see a therapist, because together we can overcome the horrible stigma that mental illness has. Together we can begin to see our friends, our family and ourselves get the help and support we need and deserve. Together, we no longer need to be afraid of mental illness.
Text by Maite Owens
Picture research by Donna Darafshian; featured image taken by Jon Espiritu.