It is only until fairly recently that we as a society have begun to speak up about mental health. Mental health was very much a taboo subject resulting in averagely little knowledge and understanding across the nation. The lack of awareness could assume the reason why people might feel reluctant to opening up and getting help when it is needed.
I have always suffered from mental health problems, in particular depression and anxiety, which began when I was just 15. At the time, I was unaware of mental health – what it was, who it affected and how it was treated. I wasn’t even aware that you should visit your GP so I kept quiet in hope that my issues might pass, not to mention that I was too embarrassed and ashamed to tell anyone as I thought I’d be wasting their time. I soon came to realise that this wasn’t just a bad mood or a teenage crisis – I couldn’t cope. I couldn’t remember the last time I smiled, laughed, or did anything with my friends; I became extremely isolated and cried every single day. As it got progressively worse, I was engaging in some alarming behaviours such as self induced vomiting, which in hindsight could have been a first indicator for my later diagnosed eating disorder. When I finally told my mum she sent me to see the GP where I had to fill out a questionnaire marking my symptoms on a scale of ‘not at all – all the time.’ At the time and even to this day, I find it incredibly difficult to mark my symptoms according to a scale. Symptoms change from day to day, or in my experience hour to hour, not to mention that you are most likely not analysing yourself on a daily basis thinking where do I belong on the scale. It seems that GP’s aren’t as aware on mental health than they are with any physical illness and understandably so as there is nothing tangible to make a judgment. Due to my shame and caution of upsetting my family, I wasn’t fully honest and played down the severity of my problems; particularly when it came to ticking the box about suicidal thoughts.
Age doesn’t matter
Adults would tell me “you don’t know what stressed means at your age.” But I did – I was stressed all the time because I was experiencing something very scary and had no control over the awful feelings and dark thoughts. A large part of my shame evolved from the belief that I was too young to have mental health problems. This is where mental health in children and teenagers is overlooked as we assume they are either too young or hold no responsibilities so therefore, there is no reason to worry. Likewise, their issues may be interpreted as a phase, especially if those problems are apparent in teenage years as the assumption is it’s due to hormones. Shockingly, up to 25% of children show signs of mental health problems with the majority continuing through adulthood. Much like everyone, there doesn’t have to be a reason for developing a mental illness. There doesn’t have to be a traumatic event, added stress or a family history of mental health and this applies to all ages, backgrounds and cultures.
We should begin to enforce the teaching of mental health and well-being to the next generation and more importantly, how it is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. Reiterating the importance of dealing with mental health during the early stages could have the potential to improve recovery rates – early intervention is key. Early intervention could put a stop to a mental illness deteriorating and prevent further relapse as it teaches the correct coping mechanisms at a stage which feels manageable. In hindsight, if I had received the appropriate help at the age of 15 then my eating disorder may not have manifested to the extent it did as I would have had the tools to cope in difficult and stress provoking situations. Since I was not truthful in the first instances of depression as a teen, as a result of the stigma around mental health, significant treatment could not be offered. I was not able to learn helpful coping mechanisms back then however, I am grateful to now get treatment for my eating disorder as fast as I did and I am now learning the skills I need.
Don’t hesitate to seek support
Thankfully, support for mental health is widely available when the individual will solicit recovery. Facing the reality, funding for mental health care is suffering. Supposedly, one in five people suffer from mental health problems at some point in their lives and not everyone can receive the appropriate treatment due to lack of funding. There is this decline due to inflation and a rise in the size of workforce since 2007. Therefore, supporting and educating young people on reaching out for help in the early stages of a mental illness may not only benefit their recovery but also improve the situation of the economy. Mental health issues can be treated with rapid intervention before reaching a critical stage which would stand for intensive and expensive treatment programmes.
I have always been quite open about my eating disorder duly to my beliefs on defying the stigma. Since beginning my blog and writing articles, I have increasingly become more vocal in sharing my problems and experiences in recovery. By owning my eating disorder and accepting it for what it is has given me power to make something positive come of it. My aim is to share my experiences which could hopefully inspire and encourage others to speak up. With such a high percentage of the population experiencing mental health issues, it seems bizarre that there is such shame in talking about it. There is a need for someone to be honest and open about psychological illnesses, such as anorexia, to inform and educate what it is truly about and not trust the media’s portrayal as a representation that is often glamorised or stereotyped. Mental illness can cause feelings of loneliness causing a person to isolate themselves. In my recovery, I met other girls going through the same thing. The support, sense of solidarity and the fact that others could relate made me feel less embarrassed and ‘alien’ to the world outside my eating disorder and this was the moment when things began to change. I knew I wasn’t alone.