Mental health problems are one of the main causes of the overall disease burden worldwide and can affect people of all ages and from all walks of life. It is estimated that 1 in 4 people in England will experience a mental health problem in any given year.
I had the privilege of speaking to one individual who wanted to use this platform to tell her story. She opened up about her growing up with mental illness and how it has affected her life to date. Please have a read.
I am writing this because I want to help and raise awareness. Mental illness is not a talked about subject which makes it hard for many others and me to deal with. I have suffered with depression, anxiety attacks and very low self esteem.
My depression started really early on when I was 13 due to my father being framed for fraud and as a result of this, he was no longer to practice his job anymore. It broke my family apart. It was a really tough time for me as I didn’t know how to talk about how I was feeling and I didn’t quite understand it at the time myself. I felt I couldn’t talk to my family as it was already a tough time for them but also in my culture to be open with your parents is unheard of. It is very difficult.
"The hardest part of this journey had to be telling my parents what I was going through"
At the time, I relied heavily on my friends at school to talk about it and I tried to act as normal as I could at home so I wouldn’t be seen as weak. Or at least that is what I thought, especially being the eldest child.
And because I didn’t really understand that it was depression, I didn’t really get the help I needed so I used to let all the upset and anger out at school and be ‘normal’ at home.
However, speaking to my friends really did help as they supported me a lot. They told me everything would be okay and that everything will sort itself out. At the end of the day, my parents were the adults and I was the teenager. Their words really did help me cope because I was feeling helpless in the situation.
"I had seriously hit rock bottom, hadn’t left my bed, hadn’t eaten, hadn’t revised, and literally hadn’t done anything. I was at an all-time-low."
Time went on and the issues seemed to resolve themselves, I started to feel better again and completed my studies and went off to university. During the first year the family dynamic began to change as a family member who was extremely dear to me passed away. This had a profound affect on my mental health and I found it very hard to cope again. I didn’t know how to openly grieve and again didn’t want to be seen as weak. University was a struggle and I was getting low mood, anxiety and was feeling very insecure. By about 2015, I got really ill and stopped going to university. I was ill for about two months so I went to see a doctor. I lost my appetite, had horrible rashes all over my body and gradually shut myself off from everybody. I didn’t even go home for the whole of the semester.
I think it was a mixture of a lot of things; past emotions along with a lot going on at the time. I had missed so much university from being ill, falling out with friends who didn’t care to understand that I was going through a tough time and needed space to get back to good health. My stress levels were very high during this time as I ended up arguing with my friends over money that finished what I thought would be a lifelong friendship. On top of all of this, I kept getting paranoid about failing university because I felt so behind. My self-esteem plummeted because I felt so lonely and useless, I had lost all the interest in all the things I loved to do.
"It is so strange to look back and think that at my very lowest I didn’t think I could live anymore. I was having so many suicidal thoughts. But I now know that that is a permanent solution to a temporary situation and things will get better."
It got worse over the summer when I was having loads of panic attacks almost three times a day along with insomnia and loss of weight. I had seriously hit rock bottom, hadn’t left my bed, hadn’t eaten, hadn’t revised, and literally hadn’t done anything. I was at an all-time-low.
But last August after an extremely traumatic experience that made me question whether I could carry on like this, I saw my advisor and doctor, as I couldn’t retake the exam I missed in the summer term and that was when they prescribed me with some anti-depressants. I refused to previously because I saw it as a weakness. Although the anti-depressants have really helped. When I started taking them, I felt my mood improve, not immediately but after a couple of weeks.
I was ready to start doing the little things I loved the most, like dancing and reading. Small things but big things at the time.
"Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It is not you being weak; it is actually you being strong."
However, the hardest part of this journey had to be telling my parents what I was going through. And still to an extent I feel as though even though my parents took time to understand and listen to what I had been through, my extended family don’t really seem to fully support me initially.
During my summer holidays from university, I found it the hardest period because I just didn’t know how to act and my family had completely changed. The dynamics at home weren’t really good. But my university was massively supportive and I was able to surround myself with positivity and good people around me helped drastically.
It is so strange to look back and think that at my very lowest I didn’t think I could live anymore. I was having so many suicidal thoughts. But I now know that that is a permanent solution to a temporary situation and things will get better – even if at the time it doesn’t seem like it – things will always get better because there is always a way. I just wish I had not been so afraid to ask for help, I wish I had done that sooner.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It is not you being weak; it is actually you being strong. Do not ever feel ashamed of feeling low or unable to control certain things. It is okay; some things are out of our control. And never feel the need to apologise for feeling down or low. My friends at university have been truly amazing – each and every one of them stepped up in their own way and guided me and supported me through what I can only describe as the toughest time of my life.
"We are all different; we should stick together, support and love each other."
For those not suffering with mental illness and who would like to help, my advice would be to honestly try and be more understanding. Educate yourself before you sit there and judge. We are all different; we should stick together, support and love each other.
Perhaps schools should introduce mental health into their curriculum. It would be such a beneficial topic for young adults to learn so that they understand it growing up because that’s the age where they are more likely to develop a mental illness. It should give them confidence that whatever is going on in their lives, they are not alone and that there are people out there who will help.
I hope others, like me, seek the help they need.