At school, while I had a few friends, I often struggled to connect with people. This was mainly down to my parents disapproving of my friends, which led to me isolating myself. I started to sink into deep depression. I didn’t understand how I felt at the time and I did not feel able to talk about my battles with depression and anxiety, so I put my problems down to general school worries and teenage hormones.
This view was reinforced by my teachers and my family. Rather than confronting my issues, they believed I was a miserable person who just needed to “stop worrying and cheer up” and it was all part of being a teenager. This made me believe that my problems didn’t need to be taken seriously and that eventually they would go away, if I just tried a bit harder.
Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. They didn’t go away, and in fact things started to get even worse as I left school, lost previous friendships and felt no support from my sixth form. I put most of this down to the view that I was a cold person, who couldn’t make friends. So I ended up blaming myself for my own depression.
With nowhere to turn during sixth-form, my time there was miserable. I failed to make friends and it culminated in a panic attack/nervous breakdown as I walked away from a maths exam. Due to the stigma surrounding mental health, I hid what I had experienced during the examination period, and felt a deep sense of shame towards myself for not being able to overcome my anxieties.
Eventually I managed to scrape through college, completing an additional year and then getting into university. I began to understand my mental health more at university but this only really started when my dad passed away during my 2nd year. This forced me to think more about my mental health as I went through the process of grief and, through speaking with my personal tutor and counsellor, I began to open up more about my feelings. However, this was only related to the grief and I still didn’t talk about my previous history of depression, anxiety and of issues such as depersonalisation disorder.
After starting a Master’s course, I gradually pushed myself to meet new people and began to make a few more friendships, which helped me to talk more about my mental health issues. The more I talked the better I felt and I discovered that the people I was talking too had similar issues and similar histories and didn’t express any stigma towards me or my mental health struggles.
This encouraged me to take on a more proactive role towards my mental health. This include writing about it in my dissertation. I came to realise there were so many therapies and support networks available at university and outside for people with depression and anxiety. I had never even thought of anxiety as something that deserved treatment, but after talking to a councillor and discussing my past and going on a weekly basis to discuss how I was feeling, I began to understand that I did deserve help and my issues were real.
However, I have also become more aware of stigma, and how negative media portrayals can affect both myself and others. Most noticeably, I am resistant to getting labelled as ”depressed” or “bipolar” by the doctor or to be given medication. And I’ve definitely been viewed differently since I began talking more about my mental health. I’ve been pitied, talked down to and viewed as different. But I’ve also been hugely supported within the last year, and felt more courage to talk about my issues, get help for them and learn how to manage them better.
I am hoping that others won’t have to go through the lack of support that I had when I was in school and that people, not just students but staff as well, understand mental health issues better and understand the power that stigma has to affect youngsters. If there had been better education and understanding at my schools towards mental health, then I would have felt more able to talk about these issues with people rather than hiding them away. For me, education and understanding is key to helping those who are struggling. I hope in the future, other students won’t have to go through what I did.