Time to Talk – being open about your mental health

Time to talk animation

Original animation by Ed Clews

It’s national Time to Talk Day – 24 hours dedicated to being open about our mental health. I know this may not be breaking news, but talking about this stuff really is important. Not only does it help you to deal with your problems, but it also makes others feel more comfortable in talking about theirs and reduces the stigma associated with it. So, in the spirit of avoiding hypocrisy (and maybe as a form of personal therapy), I’m going to recount my own mental health journey.

In 2016, I was diagnosed with “severe depression” after going through a particularly difficult period of my life. As is often the case, my relationship with the illness began with bullying, of which I was a victim for around six years at my all-boys Catholic high school. This culminated in finding two Facebook hate groups dedicated to me (each with membership including the majority of my 120-strong year group) and receiving a voicemail from two guys I had counted as friends asking me to switch schools. Mix in a difficult relationship with my dad following my parents’ divorce, and thus my fear of rejection and failure, along with low self-esteem, were born. I still wrestle with these issues today, though it may not be obvious on the surface.

As is sadly so often the case, my solution to these problems was to bottle up my emotions (because men aren’t allowed to feel) and ignore what was going on, making sure to never tell a soul about it. I know – healthy. Then came the insomnia, which had me lying awake every night for at least three hours as my mind tried and failed to process everything. Sleeping pills didn’t help.

At uni, things got better. I started my first relationship with a real-life human and I even had friends. Three years of blissful ignorance of both my illness and my degree ensued, and the insomnia was no longer a staple in my life.

Then 2016 came along and beat the s*** out of me.

I had taken a job as a lettings agent in London so I could move in with my then-girlfriend and, partially because I sucked at that job, it turned out to be a 60-hour-a-week, minimum wage, micro-managed torture chamber. The insomnia returned and my depression began to get the better of me, even though I still wasn’t actually aware of its existence at that time. Inevitably, my relationship was affected and, subsequently, I was dumped, quit my job and moved back to the family home in Newcastle – all in one day.

The following summer passed in a nightmarish haze of despondency. In the end, I sought medical advice after the thought of ending it became dangerously appealing and hard to resist. With that came the diagnosis, a referral to counselling, and a prescription of anti-depressants (whose side effects included lucid dreams that only made things worse). Worryingly, it took nine months before I finally received any counselling – an illustration of the critical state of our NHS.

All in all, I spent around two years recovering at home. During that time, I received Universal Credit which, while necessary, actually compounded my problems due to its well-documented shortcomings. Now, after emerging into the light at the end of the tunnel, I can see how incredibly lucky I was to have a support system that allowed me to focus on dealing with my depression instead of being forced back into the “real world” before I could handle it. Many aren’t so fortunate.

So, why did I just inflict that cheery tale upon you? Well, because it matters. We all have baggage of varying size; some who read this will think I’ve had a hard run, and some will think I’ve had it quite easy. But that’s not important. What’s important is that we aren’t afraid to talk when we need help. Even now, as I sit here at my desk and type this out, I’m constantly minimising the document to hide this truth from my colleagues – a blatant contradiction of the principle behind the article. The thought of them (or anyone) reading this is terrifying. But it shouldn’t be, and that’s why I feel compelled to share my story.

None of us should be embarrassed about mental health problems. If anything, we should be proud if we’ve managed to overcome those challenges and feel supported if we’re still fighting. As a society, we need to work to permanently sever the stigmatic link between mental health problems and weakness, because it doesn’t really exist. We can do that by simply communicating. So it’s time to act. It’s Time to Talk.

If you feel like you need someone to talk to, here are a couple of numbers you can call:

Samaritans – 116 123

Mind – 0300 123 3393

Or visit the NHS website for more.

Posted on 7th February 2019 in Community
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