So where do I begin?
I've been told since I was 12 that my constant stress, sickness and weakness, and panic attacks were nothing more than attention-seeking behaviour.
I didn't want to make friends, but I didn't want to be alone. I didn't want to leave the house, but I couldn't live with the idea of me being a failure. I didn't want to admit something was wrong, but at some point I had to.
People avoided me because of my panic attacks. I was labelled a "freak". But I didn't fight back because I believed it. My mother refused to admit something was wrong, so for four years I was untreated. And over those four years I got worse.
By the time I was 16 I cancelled social events, lied to my boss, lost all faith in myself, my dreams and my course. I was trapped in a cycle of tension, fear, and borderline paranoid thoughts.
The stigma around my symptoms did nothing but make me more isolated, more alone and more anxious.
Now I'm getting help. But it could have been sorted sooner.
If a child is anxious, afraid and tearful, do NOT ignore it or pass it off as attention-seeking. If a child isn't socialising or is nervous in social situations, do NOT ignore it. Stigma doesn't solve issues, it just makes them worse.
What can you do to help? Talk about it. If you have concerns about someone's mental health, talk to them about it. It can be very reassuring to those who struggle to hear that someone is willing to listen and support them. If they tell you that they are struggling, support them to see their GP. Make sure to support them through counselling, medication or therapy.
By doing these things, you provide them with a sense of hope. You can give them the confidence to keep going. You can support them through the toughest stage of their life.
Let's make a happier world.