When is the right time to talk about mental health?

As part of our focus on mental health we have invited our members to discuss their experiences with us, in the hope that it will help others.

Today, our research assistant, Alice Davison bravely talks about her struggle with depression and anxiety.

When is the right time to talk about mental health?

On many an occasion I have been accused of speaking out about my own mental health experiences as an attempt to seek attention; an attempt to make convenience out of my depression in order to receive some form of validation, or to appropriate such circumstances for my own benefit. If there is one thing I have learnt from my own struggles with depression and anxiety it is this: in the moments where I felt as if all chance of prosperity in my life had gone astray, or I felt so alone and under appreciated and lost to the point where I closed myself off from everyone… the last thing on my mind was soothing my own ego. For me that is a reflection of the society in which we live in 2017; when what felt like a small victory in fighting my own demons could be twisted and manipulated and thrown back at me, seen as an attempt to bathe in online validation, it is hardly a surprise that teen suicide rates are soaring year by year.

I’m not going to pretend that I was ever dealt a bad hand in life. I received an amazing upbringing, one that I’m extremely grateful for; it is this that made me realise that no matter how privileged, rich or poor you may be, depression hits hard irrespective of economic background. From my own experience, I believe my main issue has always been loneliness and I feel this is something that a lot of us feel without evening realizing it. I realised very young that most friendships are formed purely based upon geographical convenience, and since then I always, quite tragically, viewed them as merely temporary. In the technology age in which we now live, real communication often comes secondary to speaking via text messages or over social media; what do we do when we feel alone? Often we will reach for our phone, evening posting pictures online just to make ourselves feel appreciated, or noticed. I was always someone who had lots of friends, but my best friend always had a better best friend. I was always someone who would go the extra mile for the friends I cared about, I knew how it felt to feel alone and I never wanted to witness anyone feeling even a fraction of what I did. I never felt like I truly belonged alongside anyone, and most of my attempts at putting my friends’happiness before my own resulted in me being let down. I understand that I can only speak for myself, but personally I believe many of our problems in this generation stem from the lack of ability to create close and unconditional relationships with people. It is often said that in order to heave yourself out of depression you need to remain busy, occupied and productive, but when most of your days are spent alone the battle becomes ever more painstaking. Though I will say, there is one thing that always hurt me more than literally being alone, and that is feeling alone in a room full of people.

The causes of depression and anxiety could be debated until the cows come home. Some say it is a chemical imbalance in the brain, others argue that it is caused purely by environmental stimuli. Whilst the causes are a vital part of prevention, the treatment side of things is something that for me could certainly do with some attention. From personal experience, if you visit your GP and say you’ve felt depressed for the past 2 weeks, you circle some multiple choice questions and you’re likely to be thrown onto a medication you’ve never heard of and told to come back in a month. Now I don’t claim to have any form of medical expertise, but it appears to me that General Practitioners are handing such medications out to teenagers as if they were sweets. Treating an illness that is specific to the individual with a blanket selection of tablets and pills is never going to yield the desired results for everyone. Having been on 20mg then 30mg of Citalopram for a long time I can say with conviction that medication did nothing to help me. If anything I often felt worse. Around 6 months into my medication I decided to try out the counselling service at my university. They gave me a walk-in appointment in which we sat and talked for what felt like forever, but I can honestly say that one session did me better than many months of medication ever did. Sadly, that was the last counselling session I was to have. In true university fashion, the waiting list for an official counsellor was as long as my arm… But hey, I’m sure my hefty student debt will pay off sooner or later.

In hindsight, I realise now that I had spent so long putting other people first and going out of my way to please people, that I had forgotten to take time for myself. For a long time I had this big idea that if I met the right guyI would find some great external happiness that would fill the empty spaces that made me feel incomplete. It might seem far too easy to suggest that just by spending more time with your family, doing the things you love and taking the time to treat yourself can turn your mental illness around, but it worked for me. I like to think I am a realist and I understand fully that I am not out of the woods yet, but I have learnt to take life one day at a time. I still get anxious, I still worry and I still hold people at arms length, but the one thing that keeps me going is the faith that all of this is simply a test; that in the future I will reap the rewards from the strength I have gained; that I won’t fear the unpredictability of people anymore; that I wake up one day and realise the faith I have in myself is enough to guide me through any challenge, and that one day I may help those who feel as lost as I once did.

Alice

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