Why I don’t care that you know I suffer with mental health issues

In truth, I love it

anxiety coping with depression mental health Open minds cambridge personal personal experience student minds cambridge

Over the next eight weeks I’m going to ambitiously aim to smash the stigma around mental health, make everyone understand the importance of looking after their own mental health and show you how you can get involved to end this suffering.

I will of course fail. This is a titanic task; I don’t kid myself that 800 words every week will solve all problems around this issue. I’m aiming high, but will be happy with any impact I can make. Before tackling the experiences of first time suffers, the spectrum of these issues and why not to be scared of seeking help, I want to tell you about why I’ve decided to wear my own experiences on my sleeves, loud and proud for all to see.

It all starts with my dad walking in on his 16-year-old son, who was sobbing hysterically. In true British fashion, my dad uttered the immortal line "is this something a cup of tea would fix?"

Fast forward two years (we’ll cover the intervening years in another column) to a packed Emma bar ready for JCR hustings, where one term in, I decide to lay bare my battle with depression for the whole college to hear. I may have been nervous about sharing these facts with a group of people I had only known for a month. In retrospect, I can’t remember and it doesn’t matter.

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Shouting from the rooftops: "I'm a bit mad"

Before this moment, I had no idea that anyone else I knew had suffered in the same way I had. Nothing at school, the first few weeks of university or in casual group chats ever suggested I was not alone. A common statics suggest that one in five people are currently suffering with some form of mental health issue, but I think that number is far higher. Numbers mean very little to the individuals, they can never convey personal experience or make us truly understand the state of the world.

Wrapped up in all that is my motivation. A desire to try and stop anyone I can suffering in the same way I did. Another one of my outlandish ventures doomed to fail.

A huge problem in our modern world is the ability to digitally craft a persona which outwardly pushes the idea that we are constantly happy and unfazed by the hurdles of modern life. When everyone does this, coupled our inability to admit anything is wrong in casual conversation, a false notion is created.

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I was actually very happy at this point (Creds. Power Photography)

Letting others know that mental health is universal to everyone, that taking care yourself is important and accepting having issues is a sign of strength and not weakness, goes a long way to dispel the myth. I’m always honest with others when I’ve missed a deadline or a social occasion because of a bad anxiety attack, and not blaming it on a ‘false’ physical aliment such as a cold. These small, everyday interactions are just as important to me than the grand statements I splash over internet. Practising what I preach, re-affirming my beliefs that no-one will ever judge me for my issues and hopefully giving the confidence to others to do the same.

It’s not always that easy. There are many factors can stop people wanting to speak out or even admit what is going on. Fear and stigma are obvious ones, but everything from background, culture, religion or familial opinion affect these difficult decisions. A somewhat over inflated ego and a worrying rejection of authority have played a part in me wanting to blatantly disregard these rules. I don’t know if I’m lucky, brave, foolish or a mixture of all three, but in a world where mental health has historically been a taboo subject I will also try to break down these barriers.

I am proud of what I have been able to achieve with mental health issues. I use ‘with’ instead of ‘despite’ to break this notion that these are barriers to overcome and then forget about. They are part of me whether I like it or not but they don’t define me. During the last 5 years, I have got into Cambridge, set up my own mental health society in the form of Open Minds and lived as fully as I could. Being arrogant about what I have achieved helps me to take stock of what I have to be grateful for. At times, we should all try to be arrogant and proud of our achievements, they remind us we have achieved things even if our lives are blighted with issues. No matter how big or small, they all matter.

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Promise I'm not sponsored by Innocent

There are times when I cry for no reason, others when I can't see properly and more when the world spins as my heart races for all the wrong reasons. The thing that gets me through, knowing that I am surrounded by people who care. People, that, thanks to my openness understand and respect me and my behaviour and at the end of the day are always there ready for a big hug.