Charlie Evans discusses his experiences with mental health, and why people still need to change their attitudes towards it.
‘Why is everything about mental health all of a sudden? Did people get considerably crazier overnight or is something more sinister going on?’
This is a tweet from a student at this very University. Despite lengthy waiting times at the university’s Wellbeing Centre, despite the statistical evidence that suggests that one-in-four people suffer from a mental health problem, here we have someone who believes that (a) mental health sufferers are crazy. Or (b), even more alarmingly that there is some conspiracy over the mental health epidemic. And tragically, this is still an attitude that a lot of young people have.
The truth is this- there is nothing sinister going on. The mental health epidemic is not like a newly developed disease that wipes out thousands of people at a time. Rather, mental health issues have been with us from the dawn of time. I can answer this particular student’s first question- maybe it is because sufferers are starting to open up more about their problems. Hooray! This is a reason to celebrate, not slander.
Textual analysis complete. Now what about me?
I am one of the people who has made ‘everything about mental health all of a sudden’. I decided to ‘come out’ as having a mental health problem.
The beginning of 2015 for me did not begin with hope, optimism, a new start, nothing like that. Instead it started with crisis, my health anxiety getting completely and utterly out of control, having to vacate my January exams because of the severity of the situation.
Anxiety has been my ugly sister for several years now. It started out as a generalised anxiety problem. It then manifested itself into health anxiety, notably an obsession about my breathing and thoughts about my own death. This then turned into obsessional thoughts, revolved around thinking about harming loved ones. These were frightening experiences. Despite them being thoughts (thoughts in themselves cannot harm you or anyone), they isolate you, they frighten you, they sicken you sometimes and they make you feel uneasy.
It is of relief to me and my family that my anxiety is now under control. No, it’s not gone away, yes, I get the bad days as well as the good days. But it can be controlled. And you know what, that’s fine. From where I was a month or so ago I’ll take that. We’re moving forward in the right direction.
What is bringing about this recovery? A prescribed medication. OH GOD, I can hear some of you scream, HE’S ON HAPPY PILLS. Well, actually they’re bloody good. They have helped me get control and return to university and even launch a gruelling Sabbatical officer campaign. So these poor little tablets need a bit of defending here- they’re great.
What else? A nice bit of therapy. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has allowed me to practice various techniques to help with a long-term recovery, aiming at challenging intrusive thoughts and exposing me to my fears. It’s a pretty tough process but an invaluable one.
These have been good. Having had my focus on a SABB campaign has also helped tremendously. Having goals, targets and drive really is great for mental wellbeing. But what really has kicked off a recovery is opening up. Bottling everything up has to be the worst thing you can possibly do. Why suffer in silence? One-in-four of us suffer from something like this. It could be a relative, a good friend, a next-door neighbour, someone in your intramural football team, it could be your boyfriend or girlfriend. Yet until now (and a lot of us still do) most have pretended to be these unbreakable, invincible characters in which nothing can bring us down. And even if it’s not mental health, if it’s a problem with your relationship; your finances; your house; a bereavement or illness of a relative, there are going to be times where you won’t be able to keep going at a constant rate. But the difference is this, if you get one of these ‘normal’ problems, you will talk to people about them. So what is it about mental health that we find it so hard to talk about?
Attitudes. Perceptions. That’s what makes it so hard. I took so long to open up because of some of the attitudes that can be highlighted in that particular tweet. Well guess what, I am not crazy. In fact I consider myself to be a sane, happy human being most of the time so I will not allow such a label affect me. And what can we do to shatter these false, misguided attitudes and perceptions? By opening up. By doing this, you simultaneously aid your own recovery. Even if you do not have a mental health problem, if you’re just having a bad day, just tell somebody. Don’t bottle it up. I’m not expecting us all to go out and tell the world about all of our fears and problems. But let’s at least begin the process.
The Guild’s Mental Health Week is an opportunity for us all to open up, whether you are suffering from such a problem or not. Just talk to each other about your thoughts and feelings. It is unbelievably powerful for well-being. My attitudes to mental health problems changed because of a mental health problem. So during this week and every other week, let’s change our attitudes and let’s end the stigma because nobody should suffer in silence.
For advice, help and support about any of the issues discussed in this article, contact Voice, Mind Your Head and the Wellbeing centre here.bookmark me