Most people know the statistics about mental health, especially with celebrities such as Stephen Fry becoming ever more vocal about their own battles, but there’s the general consensus that no one ever thinks it will happen to them until it does. The biggest problem we have is that people will not talk about it. Everyone appears to be ingrained with this stoicism that they can’t talk about their problems, and they must suffer in silence. It is this outlook that fosters an attitude of being a sufferer of a mental health illness as being something taboo. Everyone is affected in different ways, some for a short time, some long term, some directly and some indirectly, but until we start to talk about and share our experiences, nothing is going to change. We as part of Mental Health Matters society are not only personally interested, invested and passionate about this cause, but we are also willing to be that change we want to see. We will be starting a series of blogs to see how different people, from different walks of life around the university are affected in different ways by mental health problems.
My personal journey with mental health began five years ago, when my older brother was diagnosed with depression in his second year of university. At the time I was 16. Being that he lived away from home, and my parents were never overly forthcoming with details, believing (quite rightly) that it was his own choice who and how he told people, I was able to sweep it under the rug and brush it off as a phase. It wasn’t until he moved back from university, that I was forced to confront the idea that this wasn’t going to be a phase, but something that my whole family would have to deal with long term.
Adjusting to life back home was hard for my brother; he would be grumpy and lash out at my little brother, something that would be difficult for me to deal with. I would resent my parents for walking on eggshells around him, not wanting to upset the balance of our usually peaceful house. I didn’t understand why he couldn’t be nicer, why he never wanted to spend time with us, but instead locked himself in his room. Looking back at this time I was selfish because all I could think about was how his illness had affected me. I felt so angry at how he had changed our lives, because I didn’t understand that it wasn’t his fault, he couldn’t just snap out of it. And overall I felt helpless because I couldn’t talk to him because I was scared, scared that I would make him worse. This was a feeling I couldn’t shake for years. I felt guilty that I was able to escape from being at home by coming to Sheffield, leaving my parents and little brother to deal with it alone. I didn’t speak to anyone about my brother’s depression, in denial about how much it had affected me. I never wanted to go home for the weekend; because it was going back to a life away from the carefree existence I had created for myself, to a place that I worked so hard to keep secret from my friends.
Over the summer of my first year of university, however, this all changed. I was looking for a book in my older brother’s room. Whilst I was in there I found a sign that he had written, and put by his mirror. It read; “Today WILL be a good day. I WILL be more positive.” It was at this point that I realised how selfish I had been. All I had thought about for years was how his depression had affected my little brother, my family, and me. Without a second thought to how he felt about how he was affecting people too. I felt sadness that I had been ashamed for so long about something that was no ones fault, and I had spent so long, not trying to understand, but rather trying to avoid it in the hope that it would go away.
It was at this point that I made the choice to stop trying to avoid his depression. I researched it and found people online and read about their experiences living with a sibling that suffers from mental health problems. And most importantly, I spoke to him about it. Realising that you are not alone is something that is invaluable in the battle against an illness that we still don’t fully understand. Despite this, people still aren’t talking about it enough, which is why we have created this blog. The more people share it, the more people see it, the more we might help someone who is feeling isolated and alone. Depression isn’t something that is magically cured, in my family there are still ups and downs, but it is something we all go through together. Since I have accepted that I can’t just ignore it, I have found better ways to cope. Getting involved with Mental Health Matters is therapeutic for me. Though I may not be able to help my brother in his battle, I can spread the word, fundraise and challenge the stigma surrounding mental health. I can’t help him to feel better, so I campaign for something I believe in, in the hope that someone, somewhere is benefiting from what we do.