I was 21 when I was first diagnosed with depression. I’d spent a year in France as part of my degree and found it very difficult; a roller-coaster of ups and downs that ended up taking its toll. Ironically, it was only once I was home again, back with the people I loved, when the depression came. A bleakness that clouded everything and left me feeling like I was carrying a rock on my shoulders. A combination of medication and counselling worked and by the time I finished my degree I was feeling more like myself. I didn’t really understand why it had happened or how to prevent it happening again; all I knew was that I never wanted to go back to that overwhelming feeling of hopelessness and despair.
Unfortunately for me, and my family and friends, I did. Twice more. What I thought was going to be a fourth time turned out to be anxiety instead; rather than the awful feeling of ‘nothingness’, I had panic attacks on my way to work and social events.
I don’t share this because my story is interesting or different to millions of others, rather precisely because it isn’t! I share it because I honestly feel that speaking out is the only way to end the stigma that still surrounds mental health. As Ruby Wax said, “every part of the body gets sick so why not the brain”? Until we get to a point where we’re just as comfortable telling people we have anxiety as we are telling them we have the flu then we need to keep raising awareness. We need organisations and individuals to realise that being mentally unwell is not being ‘weak’, and that people signed off with stress aren’t workshy. In the same way that our physical health has ups and downs so does our mental health; and both need attention.
In an effort to make sure I never again fall into that awful black pit of depression; I’ve done lots of work on understanding mental health. It’s one of the things that led me to practice solution-focused hypnotherapy. Over the years I’ve learnt the importance of spotting the signs that all is not well and doing something about it. This has sometimes been big things, such as leaving jobs that were making me unhappy; or small things like modifying my diet, taking gentle exercise, better communication with my friends and family or just taking a little “me time” to take a moment and recharge my batteries.
So, for anyone who is struggling, know you’re certainly not alone. And for those who wish we’d all stop talking about mental health; it’s something we simply can’t ignore. One in four people will experience a mental health problem this year. If it’s you, I hope you get the understanding and support you deserve; and if that’s not you then that’s great, just remember one of your friends or a member of your family probably wishes they could talk to you. Please remember to take time to be there for them and to help them do something about it.