One in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem at some point in their life.
It may not seem a lot when looking at it written down on here. But when you think about the people in your class, or the people sat at your dinner table, or the amount of people walking around town on a Saturday afternoon. That suddenly becomes a lot of people experiencing mental illness.
There’s also lot of stigma around mental illness. A lot of stigma. And I’d love for that to change.
It took a long time for me to get help for my mental illness. I didn’t even realise I had a mental illness. I just thought I was going insane. I thought I was being dramatic. The first time I had a panic attack I thought I was having a heart attack!
I didn’t say anything because I thought people would judge me, saying I was being a hypocondriac, tell me to stop being so childish and get on with my life.
I thought this because we’re not taught about mental illness.
We’re not taught to recognise the signs of anxiety. We’re not taught that actually, anxiety is a real issue, and there comes a point where the level of anxiety that is being experienced is not normal and it is out of control and you really do need help.
We’re not taught to recognise the signs of depression. We’re not taught that there comes a point where the low mood is not a normal low mood anymore and you need to get help for it.
I can only speak on behalf of anxiety and depression because they’re what I have experienced, but I know we’re not taught about all the other mental illnesses out there that so many other people suffer from.
I finally got help when I’d spent the night in my university flat, crying to the point where no sound was coming out anymore; I was just a mess of tears rushing down my face, my body was shaking, I was hyperventilating and I felt beyond alone.
It was 2 AM, and I thought I’d lost my mind.
When I finally saw a doctor, she listened to me and was sympathetic. I felt relief that I cannot begin to explain. She believed me. She told me that I was not losing my mind, that I was not alone, and that there was help available for me. I went back to my flat and I cried.
That afternoon, I had a meeting with a tutor at the university I was studying at at the time. I got in there, and I admitted my struggle. I admitted that I was not coping very well because of my mental state. I admitted to someone other than my doctor that I had anxiety and depression. It took a lot of courage. So much courage that I’d been outside that tutor's room before going in for ten minutes debating whether to be honest or not. I’d been shaking and panicking before realising that I needed to admit that I needed help.
That tutor laughed at me and said everybody gets anxiety. It was like someone had just punched me. Because yes, everybody experiences anxiety, but not everybody has an anxiety disorder. So naturally, I burst out crying, which made him laugh a little more and joke that he needed tissues in his office for crying students.
In one day, I’d had one person help me, and another one set me back ten paces. I was terrified to tell anybody else that I was struggling with mental illness after this. I was afraid they’d laugh at me. I was afraid they’d judge me. I was afraid I’d be made to feel stupid again. I still struggle to this day, nearly three years later.
I’m currently studying in a different university, on a totally different course, which makes me much happier. I have a boyfriend I love very much who helps me more than I deserve, friends that are supportive and know how to calm me down, parents that listen when I need them to listen. And yet I’m still struggling with my mental health. I finally admitted I need the help that is available to me, and I am currently seeing a counsellor and I’m also on medication.
It’d be lovely, for people to understand that I don’t worry a little bit. I worry a lot. I worry a lot about everything. I worry a lot about things I don’t really need to worry about. I worry a whole lot about the things I actually need to worry about. It’d be nice for people to realise that I’m not lazy. Sometimes I just worry about it so much, it gets to the point where I just can’t do it. Or sometimes, I’m having a day where I have no motivation because I’m experiencing a very low mood.
You can’t see mental illnesses. Looking at me, you maybe wouldn’t think that I suffer with my mental health. I’d probably look pretty "normal," whatever normal is. I talk with my friends. I get on the bus to university. I laugh. I cry. I go to the library on my own and study. I go to Asda and do my grocery shopping. I grab a coffee and joke with the lady at the till. Most of the time, I manage to go about my daily life.
But there’s the whole side of me that people do not see.
They do not see that while I’m talking with my friends, I’m secretly wondering if they actually like me; and I’m actually only half listening because I cannot concentrate as my mind is whirling with different thoughts. They don’t see that while I’m on the bus to university, I’m praying nobody sits near me, praying it doesn’t get busy because my anxiety goes into overload; I have to sit on a seat next to the button to get off so I don’t worry about it for the entire journey. They don’t see that when I laugh, it sometimes doesn’t meet my eyes. They don’t see that sometimes I can’t cry because I feel so numb and empty. They don’t see that when I’m sat in the library studying, I’m not actually always studying, I’m just sat there staring at the screen wondering where my motivation went while panicking that I’m going to fail. They don’t see that when I go to Asda I have tunnel vision nearly the entire time I’m there because I want it to be over with as quick as possible so I can get out of this crowded small space with lots of people. They don’t see that while I grab a coffee and joke with the lady at the till, I’m clenching my fists because they’re shaking, and I rehearsed asking for coffee 10 times in my head before getting the courage to actually ask her for it.
They don’t see the constant internal battle I’m having with myself. All. The. Time.
Mental illness may be the invisible illness. But that does not make it any less of an illness.