September 5, 2013

Naomi Bentley with a #timetotalk tattooNaomi Bentley is a 31 year old actor from the Midlands. You may recognise her - she has appeared in TV programmes such as Miranda and Great Night Out, along with starring in films and plays. Now, for the first time ever, she shares her experience of what it is like to have mental illness.

I am what mental illness looks like

I am a mother, a daughter, a partner, a professional, a friend.

I am what mental illness looks like.

This is the first time I have spoken openly about my battle with mental illness. I am speaking out because I hope that my doing so will encourage other people to do the same and help tackle the stigma that still surrounds the subject.

I am Nae, I am 31 and you may have seen me on your TV screens. I am an actress.

I am Nae, the mother, the daughter, the lover, the friend - I am Nae and I have Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder also known as Borderline Personality Disorder and I suffer with Clinical Depression.

Unfortunately my disorder and my depression are very resistant to medication, so are proving difficult to manage. Like everyone else I have good days and bad days, on a good day I function fully and am completely well whilst on a bad day I barely function at all.

It is difficult to explain Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder

It is difficult to explain Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder, someone once described it to me as the emotional equivalent to a person with 3rd degree burns being touched. I have severe, irrational and unpredictable shifts in mood and emotion. Strong urges to harm myself, sometimes on a very serious level. Overwhelming feelings of nothingness that leave me paralysed by pain and anxiety. I have difficulty maintaining friendships; can be very impulsive and sometimes delusional.

Depression is as physically debilitating as it is mentally. I fail to meet my most basic needs, it isn't pretty. I can't wash myself, dress myself, and brush my teeth. I have no interest in anything. I lose the capacity to love and be loved. I become reclusive, shut everybody out, avoid phone calls etc. My body completely shuts down, everything hurts. The only place you find comfort is in bed, curtains closed, alone until the darkness shifts.

I was so resistant to accept the diagnosis

I was so resistant to accept the diagnosis that I had mental health disorders because I knew the weight of the label 'mental illness'. I suppose if I'm honest I had my own preconceptions of what 'those' people looked and behaved like and I didn't fit the mould so to speak. Now I realise there is no mould to fit into. I am mental illness. The first hurdle was accepting that. I am mental illness.

Now I make a point of being completely open about my health issues because I want to challenge the misconceptions that people have. The prejudice is so suffocating. It restricts my recovery and isolates me further triggering the darker sides of the illness. I absolutely witness the silence that that honesty provokes, the way people's eyes change; you feel them taking an Emotional and mental step backwards from you. Is it fear? Are they thinking, "If it can affect her it can affect me too?" I don't know, but I can't let their issues affect my values. I have a mental illness and that's ok.

I honestly have no idea how my being open will affect me career wise

I honestly have no idea how my being open will affect me career wise, I have a fear that the phone will stop ringing, that the hard work and dedication will amount to nothing because mental illness isn't marketable. The ever increasing pressure to be perfect in the spotlight that comes with working in the media, mental illness doesn't fit. Also if my illness affects my ability to perform in a extremely high pressure environment, such as an audition, I don't believe this will be overlooked and my career experience be taken onboard instead. In the acting world you're judged at face value and sometimes that's my illness. I hope I am wrong, I suppose time will tell.

I met Lorna from Time to Change a while back and we became friends. Some time later, Lorna started to work for the campaign press team and it was hearing about the work she and others were doing that led me to think 'enough is enough' - I wanted to speak out, to let people know what I was going through, but to also help others to know they are not alone.

It's a silent illness that people don't talk about. It is time to talk.

Mental illness isn't just having a bad day that you can snap out of. It's so irrational and at time completely defies your intelligence and intellect. What's frustrating is that there is no physical manifestation that people can see to understand what is going on. It's a silent illness that people don't talk about and therefore isn't validated by the sufferer or the people supporting the sufferer.

It becomes something shameful, a dark secret, another thing to carry on top of the illness itself. This is why the 'Time to Change' campaign that mental health charities Mind and Rethink are running is so important. Communication is a vital stepping stone along with medication and therapy on the path to recovery. Mental illness does not discriminate, it affects every age, sex, race, religion and can happen at anytime in your life. We owe it to ourselves to start talking about the elephant in the room. It is 'time to talk'.

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Jessica blogs at

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