I am a daughter, a sister, an auntie, and a friend. I am 19 years old, and for 6 years I have been living with mental illness. This year, just before my birthday, I started seeing a cognitive behavioural therapist.
She was the first therapist that I ever clicked with, and my mental health finally started to improve significantly, to the point where I’m happy to say that I have been cleared of my depression diagnosis and I’m no longer suffocated by anxiety.
For 6 years, I have been unable to take advantage of the support offered by charities due to the lack of service provision in rural areas.
Trains have a habit of occasionally triggering a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach, strangers still make my head spin, and if you stand me in front of a room full of people to speak, my voice will still shake just as much as my hands.
There are days when I can’t find the energy or motivation to leave my bedroom, and I have been known to deactivate my social media accounts because the idea of interaction with anyone made me feel nauseous.
This is the life I live. I am recovering from anxiety and depression.
I am a survivor of suicide attempts, and my left arm and thighs are home to permanent reminders of my time as a self-harmer. I was a patient in Northern Ireland’s only child and adolescent psychiatric inpatient unit for a grand total of 27 days at the age of 16. I have been a victim of relentless bullying in school due to my self-harm, and even now my openness about my mental health is used against me, with people using it as an excuse to question my credibility.
A week before my 17th birthday I was told by a “professional” that I really ought to be “growing out” of self-harm; and despite the fact that Christmas is evidently the worst time of year for my personal mental health, it was around that time that my therapist decided to see me only once every three months despite my illness showing little to no improvement.
After three of my then quarterly appointments, I discharged myself from therapy due to the fact that it was a waste of my time and NHS funding.
Today I am standing up and speaking out. I am sick of seeing people burying their heads in the sand over youth mental health. There are hundreds of young people out there with stories just like mine and hundreds more with stories worse than mine.
Every time a young person’s suicide is publicised, politicians stand up and remark on how sad it is. They then promptly return to arguing amongst themselves about comparatively petty issues.
In fact, last year I watched politicians’ reactions to a suicide, and those on the same side of the political divide of the young person spoke out in sympathy for the family. Those on the opposite side of the divide stayed silent.
Mental health should not be a politically divisive issue – it ought to be everybody’s business regardless of political stance. We all know someone who has experienced depression, anxiety, etc., and a lot of us have experienced it personally, so it’s about time we all started to give it the attention it deserves.
It is due to my belief that we ought to give mental health in young people more attention that I now write about my experiences on a publicly accessible platform every weekday. It’s only logical that the more we talk openly about mental health, the less afraid we’ll become of it, resulting in a dramatic decrease in stigma. I also write to provide hope to others; as someone who has experienced mental illness at a very young age, I know if can feel like you’re all alone, and like you’re the only person in the world who has ever felt this way. I know it can feel as though things will never get any better, but they can and they will. If I can be an example of that then I’m happy to keep telling my story for as long as I live.
We now know that untreated depression is the leading cause of suicide and that men are several times more likely than women to commit suicide. That said, men are less likely than women to be diagnosed with depression. I don’t think it takes much imagination to work out the correlation. We’re living in a world where men are told that to be “real men” they must man up. “Real men don’t cry” is a phrase that I’ve heard time and time again, and it’s simply not true. As for women, well, our emotions are often trivialised and put down to hormonal fluctuations, and whilst hormones can play a big part in our emotional and mental wellbeing, it’s certainly not something to laugh and joke about.
It’s my mission to see the “man up” and “she’s on her period” culture die off in my lifetime. I also want to see adequate service provision for people living in rural areas and live in a world where peoples’ competence is no longer called into question at every turn due to their mental health. If these changes took place, untreated depression would most likely be an issue of the past, resulting in a significant drop in rates of suicide; because stigma would no longer surround us like thick, black smoke.
Obviously, it wouldn’t solve the world’s problems, but I think it’s as good a place as any to make a start. I look forward to better days, and you should too.