As it’s mental health awareness week I wanted to write something about my own experiences with depression. I also want to explain why i think that talking openly about mental health is important.
I’ve been living with depression for almost 4 years now. In the past 6 months it has deteriorated to the point that I’ve had to suspend my studies at University. Looking back, the bullying throughout my time at school resulted in me dissociating (the memories of this part of my life mostly feel like they happened to someone else), this undoubtedly fed into my mental health problems. I wish I had a more positive note to end on, but the reality is that I continue to live with depression. It is entirely possible that this will affect me for the rest of my life.
While I try not to hide my depression, very few people have seen me at my worst. Partly this is because at my worst I am non-functional. It becomes a challenge to get out of bed, to go to the bathroom, to eat. So going out and socialising just isn’t possible when I’m in that place. A few people know, because they are the ones I message when I am struggling to carry on, everyone else just sees less of me. Hiding my illness has also become an automatic response. Putting on a smile, deflecting, and pretending that I’m fine are easier to me than speaking out.
So why do I speak out when it is difficult for me? Because to remain silent is to be complicit in the continued stigmatisation of mental health problems. The more people talk about it, the less likely people are to feel alone, and the more likely people are to seek help.
When I started experiencing depression i was scared and felt more isolated than I ever had before. it took me weeks to admit to anyone that I wasn’t ok. It took months to tell more than 5 friends. It took over 2 years to open up to most of my friends. And v3 years in I finally told my parents. I am now much more open about my mental health, but it is a constant struggle to remain open, despite the benefit of destigmatizing mental illness. The more openly I talk to people about it, the more people open up about their own problems. I have seen the benefits in myself and in others.
I want to take this opportunity to say the things I wish I’d heard more when I was first coming to terms with depression:
- Seeking help from others is not weak.
- Using medication to treat your illness is not weak.
- Your depression isn’t your fault and it doesn’t define you.
- This will not get better by ignoring it.
- You are loved and you are not alone.
- Don’t be afraid to cut out people who don’t support you.
Another reason I want to speak out is the representation of mental illness in the media. Mental health problems are either romanticised or demonised.
The tortured genius narrative is the deeply harmful idea that romanticises mental illness as the only way in which artists or intellectuals can create something brilliant.
The demonisation of mental illness can take different forms, in some cases people with mental health problems are treated as broken or not fully human. In extreme cases it can be used to imply that people with mental health problems are inherently dangerous (for example the attempts to frame mass shootings in the US as primarily a mental health issue).
As a reminder to everyone, mental health is not important for one week a year. It affects people continuously, and we need to get better at talking about it on a more sustained basis.
- Mental health problems are varied, and my experience is limited to my own depression.
- In this piece I have spoken about the need to talk more openly about mental health problems. This comes with the proviso of “when we are ready”. There are parts of my experience which I am still not ready to explicitly talk about. I don’t want to attack anyone who isn’t in a place where they can speak out without jeopardising their own health or livelihood.
- I am not writing this as a cry for help or for attention. I am writing this because I think it might help others.