Mental Health: Through Their Eyes
Mental health, those two words, carry so much power and yet are so chronically brushed aside by those of us who have never suffered with mental health issues. They carry power for a reason – our entire lives, all our memories, emotions, physical and cognitive abilities are stored up there, within that grey matter resting inside our skulls. To even indulge the thought of conditions impairing these things is undeniably terrifying. Perhaps this is why there’s a lack of understanding and empathy when it comes to mental health, maybe it stems from an innate, fearful denial, rather than any sort of brutish ignorance. Whichever way you look at it, to disregard mental health issues as “a phase”, or telling people they just need to “cheer up” or “snap out of it” is a damaging act.
One in four people in the UK will experience problems with their mental health each year. To put that into perspective, that’s roughly around 16 million people. These are real illnesses. Whilst thinking about this I decided to reach out to those suffering.
*Some names have been changed for anonymity.
Debra, 23 – Anxiety
JP: A lot of people struggle to understand mental health, which leads to a lack of empathy, so from your point of view, what was it like to suffer with Anxiety?
Debra: It was stressful, obviously, and I was away from home in a strange environment, because I was at uni. I felt like no one would understand why I didn’t want to go out and why I was on edge all the time. I told a few of my closest friends at uni because I felt like they could protect me. My anxiety caused me to feel like at any moment I could/would die, I was convinced I had some sort of brain tumour. I stopped going out much and struggled in most of my lectures because I didn’t want people to think I was crazy. I’m quite upbeat and happy in day to day life so having the huge fear on top of me was so out of character. I thought I’d lose everyone and disappoint them.
JP: In a society full of stigma surrounding mental health, how would you like to be treated?
Debra: Just be a little patient but don’t treat us like we’re fragile because then we feel more different and more on the outside!
Lewy, 20 – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
JP: A lot of people fail to understand what it’s like to live with a mental health issue, in your own words, how has it been suffering with PTSD?
Lewy: If I’m honest, horrible. It’s been difficult to sleep on my own. I cannot walk upstairs in my house without the feeling of someone following me up and watching me, I have the feeling of someone standing over me when I’m laid in my own bed. I just wish people would stop romanticising it too – there’s nothing interesting about walking into a room with a dead body in it, at all, it’s not pretty and people who post photos of murdered bodies and stuff – I almost always guarantee have never seen one. There’s nothing worse than winding up in one of your best friend’s living rooms standing over the body of someone you used to see walking around.
Ryan, 19 – Depression
JP: Based on your experience, what is it like to live with Depression?
Ryan: The simplest way I can put it is like you’re playing the game of life on expert difficulty mode while you watch everyone else stroll along through easy mode.
JP: If you could address today’s society on the problem of the stigma surrounding mental health, what would you say?
Ryan: To people with mental health issues: don’t be afraid to be vocal about your problems and let others know what you’re going through, it makes things a lot easier for those who don’t have a first hand understanding. To people without: listen and be conscious of people’s illnesses regardless of whether they’re physical or not but also, it’s nice to be treated as a ‘normal’ person too, make us laugh and forget about our troubles.
Beccii, 20 – Borderline Personality Disorder
JP: A lot of people have a hard time understanding what living with a mental health issue is like, in your own words, can you explain what it’s like to live with Borderline Personality Disorder?
Beccii: It’s basically like living on edge constantly. So one minute you can be your happy self and feel wonderful about life, and the next minute it’s like your whole world is falling apart. You become this unhappy person who doesn’t want to see friends or even leave the house. I can spend days in bed refusing to even leave my room. A lot of people judge you and say oh “it’s just a phase” but it’s not. The good days are so rare that when you have them you make the most of them because it could be a while until they happen again. You also become incredibly distant from people so you lose friends from that. Relationships are incredibly hard to have as you can’t be stable enough and you feel as if you’re a burden on that person.
Emily, 20 – Depression, Anxiety and Borderline Personality Disorder
JP: A lot of the stigma surrounding mental health comes from a lack of understanding, from your point of view, what has it been like to live with these conditions?
Emily: Sometimes it’s really hard as I generally don’t have people I am able to talk too. My social anxiety often plays up so I tend to stay away from some social gatherings – which made my friends distance themselves from me because I wasn’t a party animal anymore. I had abused alcohol in the form of heavy binge drinking and I often take paracetamol, I don’t know why but something in my head says it makes me feel better. I’ve had some relationships where my other half hasn’t been very understanding, told me I was a mess or I wasn’t normal at times – some comments hit my confidence really hard. Now if I really like someone I’m often too scared to pursue it as I’m scared they’ll think I’m a ‘freak’ or that my BPD will make them run a mile. But most of all what makes it really hard to live with my condition is my parent’s old fashioned customs. My dad believes that mental health isn’t a real medical thing and it was made up to make money or to put people into categories. My father told me everyone feels like this and tomorrow I’ll feel better – it kind of felt like a knife had been put in my back. I’m not religious but I often pray at night that one day I’ll be normal and be able to have a relationship and go out like a normal young adult.
JP: I see. What would you say to those who brush mental health aside?
Emily: Funnily enough I often talk about mental health, but when I talk about it I say that people focus on the physical killers like cancer or birth defects – ‘because it’s easier to spot’. But then I ask them, if it was a made up thing why is there a mum burying her teenage son? Or why is there a girl walking down the aisle alone because her father couldn’t cope anymore? Most of all I’d ask this – to the politicians, is all the war, resources, deaths and suffering worth the money we are taking away from helping these people?
MJ, 19 – Depression and Anxiety
JP: Given the lack of understanding of mental health in this country, tell me what it’s like to live with these conditions?
MJ: Depression isn’t about feeling sad or feeling low, it comes with other symptoms that just aren’t recognised and can easily be pushed away. Depression doesn’t just give you a demon to tackle, it brings others along with it. You can find yourself sitting staring at a wall, a window, a TV screen without registering what you’re even doing, and hours can fly by. Depression lands you in a confused state in the early hours of the morning. You cry without realising and your whole body feels like a shell. You are detached from your surroundings, and even more scarily, yourself. You cut yourself not because you want to show your pain, but because you feel you deserve it. The fact that society still looks for the stereotypical symptoms such as sadness or lack of enthusiasm, just means that you feel more repressed in expressing yourself and seeking help – because you’re told to “get on with it”. Anxiety isn’t not being able to do things because you’re scared or worried – it is your body shaking, and I mean literally shaking with adrenaline; forcing your mind into 100mph of thinking.
JP:If you had the chance to speak about mental health stigmatisation in front of the nation, what would you say?
MJ: You don’t call us crazy until we put the word into your mouths – and even then, you turn your back on us and claim to ‘be there’, that is until we shake with fear over walking to a vending machine, or tear at our bodies trying to escape our demons. Our world is on fire, and it is real.
When I appealed for people to talk to me about their mental health issues I was staggered by the number of responses I started getting – all from people who want the world to understand what they’re going through, and it was incredibly insightful to hear about their experiences. I’m hoping this reaches people who don’t have an understanding of mental health, and I’m sincerely hoping it’s given those people a fresh perspective. Mental illness is real. Stop pretending otherwise. We need to work together to help those suffering with all types of illness, mental or physical.