I had frightening, visual hallucinations a few times as a small child, then regular auditory ones regularly from about eleven years old until my mid-teens. I knew I was different from most kids from a young age but I didn’t know why. Then I had a breakdown when I was fifteen; my mum saw cuts on my arm. I had no choice but to talk, although it was only really to her. My family didn’t want me to get professional help as they thought it would stigmatize me. They might have felt differently if they’d truly known how bad I felt. They knew about the self harming, the occasional problems with drugs and alcohol, and my eating disorder, but not the constant, exhausting battle with my own mind and my wish to kill myself.
Because of this I had to face my issues by myself, which was really hard, but I somehow did it and I’ve done that ever since. I beat my eating disorder when I was seventeen and I haven’t self harmed since I was about twenty. I still suffer from depression and over the past couple of years I’ve developed issues with anxiety too, but I do pretty well overall, and after going to uni a second time I am now a qualified healthcare professional. Looking I still think I would have been better off getting professional help when I was younger though, as things could have turned out a lot worse. I was always recommended getting help over trying to go through it alone, I just felt I had no other choice.
These days when things aren't so good I make music and spend time with friends. Other people swear by meditation but I haven’t done it much yet. I like walking too. Putting my feelings into songs seems to really help as well and occasionally someone will tell me they've been able to relate to something I've written. Music's always helped me in that way as well, such as Kristin Hersh, Elliott Smith and Joy Division.
Lots of my friends also have mental health issues of one form or another. I’m not part of any groups or forums but we end up finding each other anyway. When I was at school and college back in the nineties, I really couldn't hide these issues anyway, and the reactions I got were uniformly negative. I was made to feel like a freak. Even teachers wouldn’t say anything to me or try to help. It was a very lonely and difficult time. I'm still surprised I actually made it out in one piece.
The uni course I’ve been on the for the past three years tried to stop someone in my class from going on her final year placement because she suffered from anxiety. Then when I was on my placement the head of my department – this is in a hospital – told me that people with anxiety are “weak” and “can’t cope with life”. Things like that don’t exactly make me want to talk about such issues, but I know that it's still very important to do so. We really have nothing to be ashamed of.
We’re told from a young age that men are supposed to be strong and be able to deal with things. The shocking male suicide statistics show that society has got it horribly wrong. I think this stigma definitely stops men from seeking help.
Reach out, don’t be embarrassed or ashamed. Mental health issues can affect anyone. We need to break the stigma regarding this issue. Speaking out will encourage others to do that same, and ultimately, that could save lives.
If you, or anyone you know, are struggling with your mental health, there are people that can help. You can freephone the Samaritans, any time, on 116 123.
The Samaritans website
Nottingham Insight Healthcare website