I find it absolutely bizarre when I hear about people refusing to believe that mental health problems are a real issue, and not just a name for a teenage, dark fringed fan of My Chemical Romance. I don’t mean to say that all 15 year old ‘emos’ believe they have mental health problems, nor do I mean to say that none of them do. I’m just baffled by the proportion of people who will assume that if, and only if, you fit this stereotype will you be bound to suffer from mental health issues.
To me it’s almost as strange as people who’ve never stumbled across mental illness in themselves, or their friends. I’ve suffered from depression on some level previously. But thanks to being in a friendship group that’s very open with their feelings, I knew that I was far from being alone. I’d guesstimate that coming up to 50% of close friends I know have suffered from some form of mental health issue at some point in their lives, ranging from bipolar disorder and depression, to anorexia and anxiety, to someone getting committed into a psychiatric unit at one stage as they’d become delusional.
I refuse to believe that I act as some sort of magnet for people with mental health issues. And the stats hasten to agree with this. Did you know 1 in 4 people will suffer from some kind of mental health issue over the course of a year? Not even their life – a year! And I think people not realising that ‘being depressed’ or whatever doesn’t have to be a permanent lifelong state is perhaps half the reason why people are skeptical of it. If you see someone claim to be depressed a few months later seem happy as Larry, then I believe people are prone to writing off the depressed phase as an over reaction.
I’m currently pretty happy with my life. I’m working well, I have a good friendship circle, a relationship that’s still in the happy honeymoon period, and as a whole, I’m really enjoying uni life. However, if you’d have talked to me a few years ago you would have got a completely different impression. You’d have seen me crying at frequent intervals for absolutely no discernable reason that you could make out from the situation, or even that I could tell you. Half the time I had nothing to attribute my tears to, other than an encompassing feeling of unhappiness. You’d have noticed I’d lost a decent amount of weight, and that I claimed to feel nauseous when I was faced by my concerned parents with meals. I’d have been a lot quieter, a lot less confident, and a lot less engaged by anything we were supposedly doing together. Hell, a lot of the time my close friends spent with me at that time was spent in absolute silence because I had nothing to say. You might have noticed, should you have for whatever reason been allowed to see them, that I had fresh scars stretched around my thighs that made me flinch when I leant against something. My extended family expressed concerns to my parents that they thought I becoming a drug addict. In reality I was just incredibly unhappy.
It didn’t last too long. Not really. Five months or so. But I worry that for a person at the moment to say ‘I’m depressed’, leaves people thinking that it’s a lifelong sentence. It’s not. I mean people can suffer from depression all of their lives, but it’s not a necessity to being depressed. According to mentalhealth.org, 50% of people who experience a mental health problem, will no longer be experiencing it after 18 months. My friends know that although I can be prone to being down, it’s not a constant state of mind for me. However, this needs to become a more widespread fact. People are still unwilling to acknowledge mental illness, or talk about their problems with it. And so it’s still regarded as a novel thing for someone to admit they have a mental health problem. And believe me it’s not an abnormal thing to have. Mental illness is an incredibly common occurrence that absolutely anyone can suffer from – Rich, poor, black, white, boy, girl, it doesn’t matter. It’s also common enough that you’re incredibly likely to encounter it at some point in your life, be it through yourself or a friend suffering. The scarier thought is that you’ll encounter it and either you or whoever else will not feel confident talking about it. Because so many people remain silent about their experiences. Because bottling up and suffering alone surely has to be the worst thing.
And so I’m hoping these blogs will make it easier to avoid that. I’m hoping that seeing other people – other students – write about their experiences with mental health will make it easier for others to do the same. I can’t see any other way than being completely open about mental health problems to fully get rid of any stigma still lingering around the problem. The uncomfortable silence surrounding mental health experiences needs to be broken.