When it comes to the need to talk about our mental health, we seem to put all of the responsibility in the court of the person who is already struggling. Sure, nobody can read minds, and people can’t expect specific help without asking for it. But mental health problems can make it harder to talk and ask for help in the first place. The responsibility of reaching out for help has to be matched with our shared responsibility to look out for each other - to provide safe spaces to talk, to listen, and to offer caring responses.
For years I didn’t speak about my mental health issues. They began to aﬀect me seriously when I was about 14 years old. School became challenging, I experienced bouts of paralysing depression, I developed a panic disorder and had real trouble with pretty much everything from work and relationships to food, sleep and self worth. I didn’t think I’d make it to 30. It just didn’t seem feasible.
Having a mood disorder doesn’t make you a bad person, or someone incapable of living a full and meaningful life. I was diagnosed with Bipolar 1 Disorder at the age of 25, after a long and painful process of navigating the mental health system. Since then I have had people ask me if I am violent, if I might ‘lose the plot’ and attack them, and if I am too vulnerable to do my job. I have always been open and honest about my illness, it doesn’t define me as a person and I don’t feel the need to apologise for it.
I was diagnosed with anxiety when I was 15 and it’s something I still struggle with today in my twenties. For a while now it seems like it’s all I’ve known, and a big portion of my life has been either trying to hide it or desperately trying to find people that I can open up to that will be kind and give me the support I need. I dare say I’ve found those people.
People often say that a problem shared is a problem halved. Unfortunately I’ve learnt first hand that this is sometimes easier said than done when it comes to mental health. Having been diagnosed with Bipolar and Anxiety Disorder when I was 19, I spent 10 years never really talking about my mental health.
I have always been open about my diagnosis but when it came to really talking about it, discussing what it meant, how it felt and most importantly how to deal with it, that was a conversation that only ever happened internally.