During my final year at university, I was aged 20, and finally asked for help from my GP. In the words of my younger brother, I’ve always been a bit ‘quirky’. I have a hard time processing emotion sometimes, and I’ve plummeted from inescapable lows to strange highs in a matter of days since my teenage years. I’d spend hours obsessing over the idea that people were laughing at me, worrying about my weight, my appearance, feeling uncomfortable in my own skin. But I remember continuously telling myself, this is how every teenager feels, right? Turns out, not everyone does. I assumed my erratic emotions were the norm, and that my deep, dark moods were simply ‘hormones’ figuring themselves out.
University gave me highs and lows much like in my previous years at home, but my final year it all became too much. I received differing opinions from GPs and mental health, where words like depression, bipolar, anxiety were all being thrown in the mix. This should have made me feel relieved, and at first it did, until I realised what that meant in the eyes of friends. I had and still have a hugely supportive group of friends, close friends that surround me. However, not everybody reacts well to a friend or housemate getting a diagnosis of a mental health condition.
Whilst trying to come to terms with my own mental health, a few close members of my friendship group too struggled with coming to grips with my new diagnosis and where it fit into their own lives. Living with me concerned them, confused a few of them, and ultimately led to irreparable differences. They used words such as ‘dangerous’, and convinced me that self harm was the first step to being able to harm somebody else. Whether they truly believed this or really just didn’t like me very much is something I’ll never really figure out, but a year later I still struggle with the stigma they attached to me that month in my final year, where everything seemed to be spiralling. This eventually lead to me ending up in a hospital bed, plagued with guilt explaining to my family how and why my mind had lead me to such dark places.
Stigma and discrimination for mental health is subtle in many places in the UK, but it is there, lingering and can be really damaging when perhaps a person need’s is support and guidance. Now, I know myself not to be a dangerous person, but it took me a long time to distinguish where my mental illness ended and where I, the person began. Now I have come to realise it is a part of me, and it isn’t going away any time soon. But that’s okay. What isn’t okay, is that both men and women being diagnosed with mental health issues are being spoken to as they are in some way less of a person, less of a productive citizen because of illnesses they can’t control, or don’t know how to. My biggest advice to anybody with a friend or family member with a mental health problem is just listen.
Student environments full of gossip, deadlines and social pressures can be really tough, let alone with a mental illness chucked into the mix. I am now just taking life day by day, am currently off medication and working constantly to keep an optimistic mind-set. I know firsthand how much a reassuring support system can do on those particularly dark and confusing days. I hope to one day be able to take openly about my mental illness with others without worrying about how their image of me will change, but for now, a blog will do just fine.