September 21, 2015

Despite such a large number of people experiencing mental health problems there remains an undeniable stigma surrounding mental health, a stigma which I believe stems from a lack of understanding about the experiences of people with mental illness. It seems to be exactly this stigma which has prevented me (and undoubtedly many others) from sharing personal experiences with mental health problems; for fear of an intimate disclosure being met with judgment.

However, in a vicious cycle, it seems as though our reluctance to talk about our own mental health issues might help to fuel this stigma. By not sharing my own experience, I sometimes feel that I may inadvertently be insinuating that having mental health problems is something embarrassing, something to be ashamed of, when it isn't at all.

By sharing our personal encounters with mental health problems, we can encourage more people to get talking about mental health, and the more people talk, the more people will understand mental health and the less mental health will be stigmatised.

I'll begin by sharing my story...

I've struggled with my mental health since age 13 when I developed anorexia. I don't know what brought it about but I know that I was consumed by this obsessive illness for about 2 years. For me, anorexia was a horrible paradox; despite feeling like I was entirely in control of what I ate, in reality the illness was entirely in control of me.

In my second year of university I developed depression and anxiety, sparked by some problems at home, which resulted in me deferring university for a year. I felt like I was in a dark hole that I would never be able to get out of. I started to lose weight and also lost interest in doing everything that I previously enjoyed. I constantly got panic attacks. I spent the vast majority of my days in bed.

Fortunately, I've overcome all my issues with food but I think that depression and anxiety will always come and go throughout my whole life. Although I've been on prescribed medications before, what I found helped the most was being able to talk about my mental health issues. I'm conscious of not generalising mental health and am aware that not everything will work for everyone. However, I do want to stress the vital role communication has always played for me and many others.

I've been so lucky that I've always had that support from my sisters and friends, but I've also experienced people who haven't been so supportive. I don't think it’s because they were bad people, I simply think their lack of an adequate understanding led to their stigmatisation of mental health problems.

I wanted to share my experiences of mental health in the hope that it might encourage other people to share their experiences with mental health; and the more we talk, the more people understand and the less mental health is stigmatised.

So if you have experienced mental health issues (either directly or indirectly) don't be afraid to talk about them! There are very few people who I’ve talked to about my mental health, until now - I know it's scary, but having mental health issues is nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of. It's time to change and it's time to talk!

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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.