November 20, 2013

AimeeDepression is a word I hear thrown around day-in and day-out nowadays, how is it possible for a word to be so overly used, yet still hold so much stigma and discrimination for its sufferers?

My experience of depression started over 10 years ago when I was 13 years old, I believe that is was my parents’ divorce that triggered an illness that I haven't been able to completely shake ever since.

Any efforts to discuss my mental health (with family, friends and GPs) were greeted with disbelief, shock, horror, shouting, screaming, being told that I should 'snap out of it' and that I was 'attention seeking'.

I'm sure that other people who have suffered from a mental illness will sadly have heard these and many other equally cutting and unhelpful comments at some point in their life.

When I was 18 my mental health once again took a turn for the worse, I could feel myself being dragged deeper into the bleak, cold, black hole that is depression. What followed was undoubtedly the worst experience of my life and I hit my lowest low.

I didn't eat, I barely slept, I struggled to keep up with my college work, I became distant from my friends and family, I was harming myself regularly, I was experiencing extreme anxiety and having heart palpitations and panic attacks and I was thinking about suicide. However, I was still trying to put a brave face on as I was terrified of anyone finding out and telling me what everyone else had done before: that I was stupid, attention seeking and that there was nothing wrong with me.

I eventually plucked up the courage to go and speak to a GP

I eventually plucked up the courage to go and speak to a GP, this turned out to be a huge mistake. The questionnaire he administered stated that I was suffering from severe depression. I was not surprised by this diagnosis and even began to feel relieved that my problem eventually had a name. However, the GP had other ideas. 'I don't believe you have severe depression' he said, 'if you did, you wouldn't have been able to smile at me when I greeted you, you wouldn't have been able to get yourself here and you would have lost large amounts of weight'.

I sat there in absolute disbelief. My reply was to say that greeting him with a smile was simply because I was well mannered and had become very good at hiding my deep despair from others, that it has literally taken me years to bring myself to the GP and, finally, that I had in fact lost a lot of weight in the past four months. To this he replied 'well I’m not sure what you've come here for, I'm not going to just give you pills. I don't believe in prescribing anti-depressants to children (I was 19 at the time) and a lot of people come claiming to have depression just to get some time off work or college'.

I nearly burst into tears. I calmly replied that all I wanted was for someone to understand what I was going through and to tell me that there was something wrong with me and give me some advice on how to deal with it. He basically just told me to visit a website about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and sent me on my way. I couldn't believe that a health professional had treated me in such a callous and frankly cruel way.

It took another three years before I got up the courage to try the GP again

It took another three years before I got up the courage to try the GP again (a different GP this time, obviously!). Finally I found someone who understood, he quickly diagnosed me as having recurrent depressive disorder with anxiety. He prescribed me anti-depressants, which I refused at first but, after some gentle cajoling and logical discussion, I agreed to try. Currently I have never felt better, my illness is being well managed by the correct medication, a healthy lifestyle, an in-depth understanding of my illness and a wonderful support network of my boyfriend, family and friends who are non-judgmental and accept me as I am, even during my bad periods.

Ending the discrimination, stigma and misunderstanding of mental health is so incredibly vital as it is exactly this stigma that prevented me from receiving the right help, support and treatment long ago. I can't help but feel annoyed that I suffered needlessly for so many years and it pains me to think that others are also going through this. It's time to end the stigma and discrimination and to educate people, it's time to talk, it’s time to change.

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