I wonder how much stigma is all in our minds.
I say that with love, because I know how mental illness can make us think the worst of every situation. Goodness knows, I’m guilty of that.
But after months and months of depression – depression that had encompassed hospital admissions, severe self-harm and four significant suicide attempts – I decided to come clean.
I’d spent 18 months taking my children to school and standing on my own in the most distant corner of the playground, too unwell to even contemplate talking to anyone.
I had been hospitalised four times after attempting to end my life, and needed treatment many more times for my self-inflicted wounds.
I was so, so ashamed.
I’m not entirely sure what prompted me to come clean. A few very near and dear friends knew how I was feeling, and had been amazingly, unfailingly supportive, even turning up to hold my hand in hospital – but to the wider world, I was still under wraps.
But I’d been blogging my way through mental illness, and for some reason, one day, I decided I’d had enough of trying to hide my depression. I posted a link to my blog on Facebook.
I went to bed as soon as I’d shared the link, afraid to see what the fallout would be. But when I checked in the following morning, I had 75 comments on my post.
Some of them were commending my honesty and bravery (not that I felt brave). Some were confessing that they were struggling with mental health problems too. Every single one of them was positive.
That didn’t seem a lot like stigma to me.
Since I opened up about my illness, the vast majority of people have been so very kind. I’ve had messages of support, offers to meet up for coffee and cake, unexpected gifts to try to put a smile on my face.
It has made depression so much easier to bear.
It’s also helped immensely to know that even if people don’t understand completely, they at least know why I am the way I am. I’ve struggled enormously with the thought that people must think that I’m aloof, stuck up, rude; now they know that it’s not that I don’t want to talk to them, or to join in with nights out, but because I can’t.
Over the past month or so, I’ve felt a lot better than I have for a long time. I can’t say it’s entirely because I spoke out about being unwell; I think a change of medication can claim most of the credit. But putting down the burden of secrecy, and receiving so much support and encouragement from so many people, has most certainly played a part.
I realise now that I wasn’t keeping quiet about my depression because I thought people would judge me, but because I was judging myself. I was ashamed to admit to being unwell.
Maybe when we can stop stigmatising ourselves, we’ll discover that actually, the world is more sympathetic to mental illness than we ever realised. I hope that one day everyone will have such understanding towards people with mental health problems, as I now know the impact it can have.