10th September 2020
Today is world mental health day as well as well suicide prevention day. In honour of this I wanted to write a post about the darker side of mental health that is often hidden, in fear of judgement. I also want to address how the system needs to change in order to help those suffering.
When I was in school, mental health was just beginning to be recognised. People put my abnormal behaviour down to hormones and ‘exam stress’, and I was treated like I was merely a badly-behaved student. 6 years down the line and the problems I faced when I was 14 (although they are easier to deal with now) are problems I still deal with today. Because mental health displays itself in such a variety of ways, and it isn’t visible, it’s not hard to understand why those who suffer from it are judged. And with a wave of mental health problems in younger people (probably due to the lack of support, appalling school system and the general stress of society), people are putting mental health down as a trend. Yes, there are a minority of youngsters jumping on the mental health bandwagon, but even if they are doing it for attention, do you not think there is a reason behind that? Do you not think maybe their exaggeration is a cry for help? Its best to approach mental health without judgement. I admit even as someone who suffers from mental health, I used to meet people who say they suffer the same and I judged them. Are they faking it? That’s always a question I ask myself about people, and really, I shouldn’t (I probably do it out of fear of me opening up about my problems and them not understanding). So, the fact that I am so guarded of my mental health, and the fact I have become distrusting is a product of the judgements of society. My point is, labelling people as ‘mentally ill’ doesn’t mean that everyone who suffers from mental illness is the same. We need to be approaching mental health without judgment, without the preconception that they are exaggerating or faking. Because when I was first suffering, I remember opening up to my tutor about my anxiety and he told me I shouldn’t self-diagnose and brushed off my suffering. It had taken me months to admit to both myself, and my teacher that I was suffering, and the idea that I was self-diagnosing, or exaggerating, or faking was heart wrenching. Being told that I’m not suffering, I’m just the same as every other teenager with raging hormones and just pushing the boundaries completely broke my trust in the system. That’s the moment that I realised the support system I had been told was around me was a lie. Day after day, we had assemblies about exam stress and mental health, yet when I came to face my problems, they were thrown in my face. Even my first appointment with the doctor was horrible. It was like an interrogation. Every detail of my self-harm had to be extracted, every painful emotion I was feeling, and then what? It’s probably hormones. I was sick of that phrase. Anyway, as many of you out there who struggle with mental health probably know, you have to keep going to the doctors to make them listen. Going once is never enough. So, if anyone out there is struggling, and has been told by a ‘professional’ be it teacher or doctor, that its nothing to worry about and you’re just overreacting, don’t listen. If you know you are struggling, keep trying, make them listen, they have to eventually. They will get it wrong, time and time again. Like with me, even after my mental health was acknowledged, the autism assessment was like being back at the doctors for my anxiety all over again. But you will get there I promise, even if it does take you six years like me, it’s worth hanging on to. It gives me hope and a reason to keep working on myself.
One of the things I haven’t talked openly about is my self-harm and suicidal thoughts. Out of all the things, this is probably the thing I’m most ashamed and embarrassed to talk about. It’s still met with awkwardness and suspicion. It’s not something people want to talk about. It’s a hard subject because you know that by putting this info out there, you might be encouraging someone, or putting that thought into someone’s head. Again, it’s another thing people have though is a trend and that its ‘cool’ to self-harm. But I’ve never felt that it was, it was always something that I hid and I imagine it was the same for many others. It’s also met with the idea that people do it for attention. Again, it’s not, and even if people are doing it for attention, its most likely a cry for help. I started when I was 14, and eventually stopped probably when I went to uni. But it’s still something I do every now and then when things get too hard. I try to find other things instead of self-harm because it’s never something I want to do. When I first started, I didn’t have the knowledge nor the tools to know how to stoop harming, but now I do. Yes, I slip up every now and then, but it’s better than before. I do have scars on my left wrist that probably aren’t noticeable, because they are from years ago, but I can see them very clearly, probably because I know they are there. Some are hidden under my butterfly tattoo. When I got that tattoo the tattoo artist asked if I wanted to cover the scars. I covered some on my arm, but I still didn’t want it over my one of my bigger scars (mostly because I was very particular about the place I wanted my tattoo, it would have looked weird in the middle of my arm, plus I was thinking about getting smaller ones underneath. That was a bit of a tangent…Anyway, people gave me lots of methods to help me stop, like pinging an elastic band, but they never really worked for me. When I needed release, I just went straight to self-harm. Now I don’t have a high pain tolerance, I’m really a wimp with needles, and I cried when I got my blood taken for hormone testing a few years back, so it was surprising even for me that I relied on self-harm. I think that just demonstrates how serious self-harm is, how hard it is to stop and how bad you have to feel to be doing that to yourself. For me, although I don’t like pain, it was a punishment for myself, I hated myself so much that I just had to take my anger out on myself. When I was at Uni I would sometimes bang my head against walls because I was trying not to cut. But either way its still self-harm. What I would say is that to address the self-harm, you really need to address your emotions, so that you no longer need to rely on it. There are also lots of techniques people recommend that are simple. It’s about getting your energy and anger, or just general emotions out in other ways that aren’t harmful, like running, scribbling, screaming, punching a bag or pillow. I would suggest meditation or relaxation, but I know you have be pretty in control to do those things, even I don’t use those things in the middle of meltdowns. When you are feeling that stressed it’s hard to refocus, so my advice is get it all out in whichever way you can. And actually, getting my tattoos meant I didn’t want to ruin my skin anymore so that also did help.
Another thing that I experienced was suicidal thoughts. I hate this because it sounds bad to everyone, it makes everyone who cares about me cry. When it comes to people opinions of suicide, many think that those who are suicidal are selfish, they don’t care about anyone and they are just willing to leave everyone behind. That’s not the case. You also get the opposite, normally of the family of people who are suicidal, who blame themselves for not looking hard enough or thinking it’s their fault they aren’t good enough for their loved one. Both are wrong to be thinking. As someone who has been suicidal, the thought process is normally this: I don’t feel anything anymore, I feel sad all the time, there’s nothing good in my future, what’s the point of living, I don’t have the energy to go on, my friends and family would be better off without me, if I was gone they wouldn’t have to worry about me anymore, I’m a disappointment. So, no, it’s not that people don’t care, it’s that they don’t see a way out. I’m not afraid to admit I have been walking back from school (or walking back when I should have been at school- I bunked extremely frequently) and I have crossed a railway bridge and thought you know what, wouldn’t it just be easier than living. Yes, I felt like that but the thing that stops me every time is my family because they are more than worth living for and it would break their heart if they even knew I was contemplating it. But I’m lucky that I have that. Some people don’t, and they don’t find the energy to push on. I’m lucky that I did have the will to live, and that I was never lost and low enough to completely give up, because imagine how awful it must have been for those who did live like that, and who did give up. So first of all, I would like to say, if you have lived through suicidal stages, then don’t give up yet, you lived through that stage, you are strong to have lived through that, and if you can live through that then you really can live through anything. Being suicidal is like as low as it goes, so surviving that means you can do it, even if you don’t think you can. Secondly, if you are currently feeling suicidal, it seems like an endless pit of emptiness, I know, but dying means you never get the chance to find out if it can get better. There was a story I read on Facebook about a man who jumped of a bridge and survived. He said as soon as he jumped her regretted it, but he couldn’t change it. He now spends his life helping others who went through what he did, and he is living proof that it gets better. If you are struggling, keep pushing and talk to someone, no matter how embarrassing it is, they will care even if you think they won’t, even if they are a complete stranger.
To anyone out there who thinks they know someone who is feeling this way, just reach out to see how they are doing, let them know you care. It goes a long way just speaking to someone and it can even save lives. There are also services out there to help:
- Samaritans- 116 123- a helpline open 24 hrs
- Stay Alive App
- A&E- they will provide a crisis team for you