Vicki, May 9, 2019

. If someone breaks their arm, everyone jumps to them to sign their cast. If someone has a mental health problem, people run because they think we’re unpredictable and strange.

I’ve struggled with mental health problems for 4 years now. I started my first year at college, being that independent person my parents always wanted me to be, but then everything just came tumbling down. My family and I all went through a very traumatic time and that’s where it all began.

I lost my way a bit. I didn’t want to go to college, I didn’t want go out and socialise like every other teenager would be doing. I locked myself away. Over the following months I found myself rapidly getting worse. I didn’t want to speak to anyone about how I was feeling, especially my family. I always felt like the glue in the family, holding everyone together, so I kept silent with my problems.

At the age of 18 I decided to move out and live on my own. At first I was loving life. Having my own place, my own pets, doing what I wanted when I wanted. Then I slowly realised how lonely I was and how much I was struggling. I was working somewhere where I was getting paid minimum wage so I couldn’t afford anything apart from just about managing to pay the bills. I pushed all my close friends away because I just didn’t want to leave the house. This is when I realised I’d slipped back into depression.

After 3 years of pretending to be this happy, bubbly, energetic character, I just broke. I was tired. Tired of pretending. I pulled myself together and reached out for help. I was finally diagnosed with anxiety, depression and an eating disorder. I felt free in a sense, a massive weight I’d been carrying for 4 years had been lifted off of my shoulders.

Throughout the process of getting the help I needed, I heard typical comments like ‘just be happy then’, ‘stop worrying so much then and you’ll be fine’. But I also heard things like ‘I didn’t realise you were struggling so much, you hid it so well’. That was the issue, I shouldn’t have had to hide it. I wouldn’t have needed to if people had a better understanding about mental health.

I found it so difficult to admit to myself and others around me how much I was struggling. I had and still do have a brilliant support network from my partner, family and a few friends. I knew telling them would be difficult, but I also knew they love me know matter what, which I am so grateful for. It’s the rest of the world that’s scary. The lack of understanding and knowledge that people have towards those with a mental illness. If someone breaks their arm, everyone jumps to them to sign their cast. If someone has a mental health problem, people run because they think we’re unpredictable and strange.

I’ve come across a mental health champion scheme and I’m now making it my task to help people understand and talk more about their mental health. Don’t be ashamed of who you are.

People shouldn’t have to lie about taking medication. People shouldn’t have to lie about doctor or counselling appointments. Those with a mental illness should be accepted and treated the same as anyone with a physical health problem. I’ve learnt that it is ok to be a little different. It’s ok not to say you’re not ok. Everyone needs to learn that not every disability is physical. The happiest person you know in life could be the one who is also struggling the most. Make sure they’re ok. It’s time to talk and it’s time to change.

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Too many people are made to feel ashamed. By sharing your story, you can help spread knowledge and perspective about mental illness that could change the way people think about it.