Why I Am Not Ashamed Of My Mental Health, And You Shouldn’t Be Either.

The Mental Health Foundation estimates than 1 in 4 people will suffer with some kind of mental illness in any given year. So why is the stigma surrounding MH still so rife?

Thursday 4th February was Time to Change’s Time to Talk Day – a day to be brave and raise the topic of anxiety over your morning coffee, rather than whether or not it looks like rain; to askhow someone is and really, truly mean it; to recognise that our minds, and their health, are not something to be ashamed of but to embrace – to end the discrimination surrounding mental illness.

The first time a Doctor mentioned the dreaded ‘D’ word to me I did a runner, pretty much literally; I cancelled further appointments and I put Beck’s stupid Depression Inventory in the bin. I was desperate for there to be a physical reason I was feeling so low, lethargic and unmotivated but numerous blood tests and a trip to the JR proved inconclusive. By the time the poking and prodding had subsided, it was Spring time and I had begun to feel better, though exhausted from three months of fatigue and malaise.

I was quite satisfied with the subsequent grasping-at-straws diagnosis of ‘Post Viral Fatigue’ (despite lack of initial virus) because it provided me with a clear answer. But then the same happened the following year. Whilst in Sixth Form I really struggled; with being the new girl, with unexplained feelings of anxiety, tears before school that I hadn’t experienced since I was much younger, with bullying, with the pressure to succeed. Amongst all this, I was actually suffering with Seasonal Affective Disorder, I just didn’t know it yet. My friends tried to be supportive, but they just didn’t get it, they didn’t get why I was always ‘ill’ with no physical symptoms to show for it, and I think in truth they got a little bored of my shit attendance and lack of enthusiasm for life.

Fast forward several years and I finally, finally decided to go and speak to a GP; the clocks had changed and with it so had I. The support I have received from the NHS is outstanding; our health service receives a lot of stick, particularly where emotional wellbeing support is concerned, but right from the start I felt like I was being taken seriously. Several teary appointments in my sweatpants later I was prescribed a dose of anti-depressants that I was somewhat reluctant to take.

It’s that word again. The ‘D’ word. But why is it that when you tell someone you’re going on anti-depressants they look at you as though you’ve suggested you need to drink a litre of vodka for breakfast and then skin a squirrel in order to go about the day?

“Are you sure you want to go down that path?” “You’ll get addicted. It’s like a drug.” “You don’t want to have to take pills in order to feel normal!”

Uhm. Actually, no. Anti-depressants are not addictive, they are a controlled and monitored substance in the same way that an inhaler is for Asthma. They do not change who you are, they simply help you to manage how you feel. Whilst holistic therapies have their place, and I have equally invested time in to Light Therapy, CBT and Meditation, I would not turn my nose up at taking an anti-biotic for Tonsillitis or wearing contact lenses to correct my vision. I am not endorsing or critiquing either method, you do what works for you – whether that is managing day-to-day stress by investing in an adult colouring book (swear word edition highly recommended) and taking 15 minutes time-out to have a cuppa and make the word ‘Arsehole’ look pretty, going for a jog, letting yourself binge out on Netflix on a day off or medicating with Prozac. Just as the health of your body can fluctuate, so can that of your mental wellbeing and they both need looking after.

It’s all the same. If we start respecting and treating our minds in the same way we do our bodies we would all feel a whole lot happier. People have no qualms in announcing their migraine, broken arm or chest infection on Facebook, and even asking for recommended remedies, and so it should be for mental health too. Nobody asked for a stomach bug, and they didn’t ask for anxiety either. It’s deemed okay to take a sick day because you’re feeling as though you’ve been hit by the 341 bus and the chances of puking at your desk are looking pretty up there; it’s also okay to stay in bed because you’re feeling so terrible that you’ll probably cry very publicly the entire journey from Lower Marsh to Aldwych (true story).

Clicking ‘Publish’ on this post is a bit scary. But so is feeling misunderstood and questioning your own sanity. So it’s Time to Talk and time to normalise mental health in conversation; just as we would discuss our raging hangover and the weird colour Blue Curaçao turns our vom (just me?) we should also discuss why an anxiety attack can feel like you might actually be dying or how isolating mental illness can be. The difference is, one is self-inflicted, the other is not. 

Feedback welcome and support available at Mind or Time to Change amongst others. Please be brave and talk to me, to your friends, to your family about your experiences – it’s time to get the nation talking about mental health.

Beth Sandland

This Post was taken from the author’s website BethSandland.co.uk with expressed permission from the author.