November 13, 2015

The stigma around mental health is a huge problem, and I want to have a role in tackling it. Leigh's blog 

I'm Leigh, I'm 21 and have social anxiety. In September, I went to the doctors as I'd had enough of worrying about social situations: panicking in town at the thought of being around so many people and seeing people I know. I would feel my heart beat in my chest and I'd tremble in the town on a Saturday when it was at its busiest. I'd had enough of the butterflies and dread I'd have on the way to work and crying when being around people got too much. I'd had enough of my own thoughts telling me how much of a failure I am at college and that no one likes me.

But when the doctor addressed anxiety, I felt a sense of shame. The words hit hard and the reality of having a mental health problem hit me when he wrote a prescription for medication and suggested referring me to a psychiatrist. I left the doctors with the words "you have anxiety" running through my mind over and over again.

Why did I feel ashamed?

Why did I feel ashamed? Well, because my immediate thought was that this illness means I am weak, and, if people find out, they're going to fade away. I needed to keep my illness and treatment a secret. Many people associate people with mental health problems as dangerous and unpredictable. I didn't want people to think that about me. All the things that I was thinking about was all the common things that comes with the stigma of mental health. These thoughts I had came from things I'd seen on the media and heard in conversation: this stigma had made me believe these things when I left the doctors that day. I decided to research my condition to get a better understanding and I came across websites campaigning against mental health stigma; I look at these day after day and I was moved by stories I read of people who battle with their own mental health problems and how great it was they were being so open about it. This inspired me. It made me believe that my illness is nothing to be embarrassed about.

Now, I speak out and raise awareness of anxiety and other mental health issues

Mental health is just as important as physical health. As a society, we're so open about our physical problems with no worry of rejection and prejudice. Why isn't it this way with mental health? What makes mental health such a taboo topic to bring up? I have become extremely passionate about tackling stigma and this has made me open about my disorder. I told my friends and family who all supported me and stuck by me. This was the first step and since it went so well, I decided I wanted to speak out more. I wrote on my social media accounts about my illness and the response was incredible. People were so kind and understanding, saying that I have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. And they are absolutely right! It was amazing how open minded people were towards my condition. I now have the confidence to speak out and raise awareness of anxiety and other mental health issues.

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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.