I knew for a long time that I had a particularly melancholic attitude towards a variety of things. However, I chose to plod on deliberately ignoring the clear signs and symptoms that pointed towards me suffering from depression. I chose for many years to suffer in silence – but I can say now that I feel better having opened up about my depression and actually seeking support. I hope to explain why here – young men can find it very hard to open up about mental illness, I can vouch for that.
I chose to wear a mask of strength to my friends as I didn’t want anyone to think differently of me
I’d say that my depression started to emerge at the age of sixteen. I wasn’t finding many things pleasurable – anything positive that happened I simply shrugged off and didn’t think much of, but anything negative that came my way my mind chose to focus on intensely. I was trapped in vicious cycles of negative thinking, but chose to wear a mask of strength to my peers and friends as I didn’t want anyone to think differently of me. I built up a reputation as a quiet, academic student and made efforts to isolate myself and deal with my depression alone.
Things started to spiral however once I entered university as a fresher. I made a solid group of friends, and initially thought things were looking up. However, my depression started to rear its head again, but this time much more aggressively than in sixth form. It affected my sleep patterns, leaving me exhausted for a whole semester which simply just intensified the misery I felt; it made it hard for me to focus on work but it also made me lethargic. Deadlines would pass and I would simply sit in my room, turn off the lights and disassociate myself from my surroundings. It led me to withdraw from that university and return to my home in Manchester to recuperate – where I then transferred to a university closer to home – the University of Leeds.
I eventually opened up about how I felt
I spent the summer working and recovering from my time in London, I blamed myself far too much yet still refused to seek any help. Again, I shut myself off, put on my mask and everyone else assumed it was just the same old me – unaware of how much I was suffering as a result of not only my depression but also my deliberate attempts to hide it.
Once I got to Leeds, I made a great group of friends and I was thinking I beat the melancholic feelings I’d been having ever since A-level. However, I was wrong. They came back again and I tried to combat it, stupidly, through self-medication such as alcohol and other approaches which, at one point, saw me hospitalised.
I forced myself into isolation for days on end – but thankfully my friends were there for me. I eventually opened up about how I felt – and I was absolutely terrified that the first person I opened up to would think of me, or treat me, differently. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Mental illness isn’t something we should blame ourselves for
Instead of being shunned, my fears were dispelled and I was pointed in the right direction. The person I first opened up encouraged me to see a GP where I could finally put a name to what I’d been feeling. Although I wasn’t exactly jumping for joy at my diagnosis of depression (that would be quite the oxymoron), I finally knew that I shouldn’t have been blaming myself. Mental illness isn’t something we choose to have, and it’s undoubtedly something we should never blame ourselves for.
Now I’m settling into second year with a marked sense of relief – not only was the huge weight that I was carrying now finally off my shoulders, but its spurred me on to encourage others to do the same. I know from experience that suffering in silence feels like the thing you should be doing –being strong but silent - particularly for young men. But, for me, reaching out made all the difference. I now feel like I have some direction. I know I have to live with my mental health issue, and I know that I may become unwell again, but I will - at the very least - be better equipped to deal with it, and I have support network of friends and an excellent mental health service at university to help me through.
Opening up about my mental illness has made all the difference
The stigma be damned - I find it liberating that I opened up about my battles with depression, and, rather than facing discrimination, I found support. Therefore, I plea to all of those out there who are currently suffering in silence to open up to someone that they trust. Indeed, many were surprised that I had depression when I first opened up, and didn’t have a clue that I suffered from any kind of mental illness. I had to make the conscious decision to open up about it, but it’s made all the difference.