Today is Mental health day. However, just today I was being told I just have to look at the positives and not overthink. I have clinical depression, PTSD, a social anxiety disorder & OCD. I am very open about my past but have never wrote publicly like this. I wanted to write this to be able to express some of the things that I think about when I am reading, listening to or reading anything to do with mental health.
First, here's a little bit of my story
I had seen school nurses through high school, suffered with self-harm & trichotillomania but had been overall well. But last year, almost a year ago now, I had to suspend* my university course. I felt like I was losing my mind, I couldn't cope with anything & I couldn't get things from my past out of my head. When I returned home, I spent months unable to do almost anything; I wasn't allowed to be alone as I was too much of a risk to myself so I couldn't sleep in my room alone, I wasn’t allowed to lock my bathroom door and my mum had to work from home. I was back & forth to the psychiatrist ward, I was at my GP at least two times a week while seeing a CPN weekly as well.
Those 5 months changed my whole life view and has made me so much more conscious of what I say to, or think about other people. I lost a lot of friends. During my time off I wasn't exactly chatty or able to go out and many people just made assumptions about why I hadn't been talking to them, and just ditched me. Lots of people didn't believe that I was feeling so bad. The thoughts in my head were distressing- they were vivid suicidal ideations- but I was told not to be so dramatic. I had no energy, my body was physically in pain constantly but my boyfriend at the time made me feel terrible for not wanting to have sex with him.
I am doing so much better now; I am on antidepressants and anxiety medication. I have been through months of trauma therapy and CBT. I've also been lucky in having parents who are in health professions and so they knew that once I had my diagnosis, it meant something. My University also has amazing mental health support. Some people are not so lucky.
I am not writing of this to get pity or anything like that. I feel like some background is helpful for people to understand what I would like to say next.
It's hard to understand having a mental illness until you experience it yourself the same way you don't know how it feels to have a disease when you have never had it. So this Mental Health day please remember:
- Everyone has mental health, the same way everyone has physical health. But not everyone has mental illness e.g. depression or PTSD the exact same way not everyone has physical illness e.g. arthritis or a heart condition.
- People seem to think they can self-diagnose themselves; especially with mental illnesses. You should never self-diagnose mental illness the same way you should never self-diagnose a physical illness. Self-diagnosis messes with people's idea of what an illness is, it causes stigma and stops people genuinely suffering from getting the information and the help they need.
- Depression is treated like a bad attitude; anxiety is looked at as just being shy or overcautious and boring and OCD is thrown around by people talking about how they like pens being in a satisfying colour order. These things are utterly incorrect, so don't use terms like OCD just when something looks satisfying because OCD for me is having to do things repeatedly until they feel 'right' before I can even think about sleeping. It's having to close all the doors in the house, so I feel safe. It's having to have the volume on the TV at certain numbers. Not doing these things (keep in mind, they're different for every individual) can cause extreme distress for someone with OCD, it's not just liking Smarties' sorted into colours and using the term OCD belittles the pain that OCD sufferers face.
- Someone with a mental illness may be doing okay one day but the next day they could be struggling. This is the same as someone with arthritis having one day where they're feeling little to no pain and they are able to do more but the next day, they're just in more pain and need a bit more rest. Just because days differ, it doesn't mean someone isn't ill or that they're fixed or all better.
- Mental illnesses are really just a sub-section of physical illness. Mental illness is caused by imbalances of chemicals and other things that aren't working quite right in your brain. It runs in families. People can have the “best” lives and still suffer from mental illness; the same way the “healthiest” person can still get cancer.
I'm not a doctor, I'm at 18-year-old studying at the University of Strathclyde. Always look to the NHS and other verified health organisations for information. They have so much information on mental illnesses, ways to look after your general mental health and what to do if you think you might have a mental illness. Don't let stigma or anything stop you from getting help if you think you might need it. But also don't over-react to normal emotions, everyone has down times, everyone has times where life feels out of control but it shouldn't be presumed that it's a mental illness, low mood can be caused by a lot of things, hence why when you go to your GP they have to do blood tests before even looking into the mental illness routes. Mental Health Day is about making sure the people that really need mental illness treatment are getting it, as well as helping everyone learn how to look after their mental health without taking resources from the people who are truly ill.
Thank you for reading. This is definitely not my best piece of writing because it is a hard thing to put into words but I hope my message has come across. Everyone has different opinions, different views and different experiences. You may not understand or agree with everything I have written but I hope you can appreciate where I am coming from.
Thank you xoxo
*My university has an amazing suspension program where a student can apply to suspend for a year, a semester or however long you need. It is designed for students who would be perfectly capable of succeeding in their studies if it wasn’t for certain circumstances.