Mental health problems don't discriminate and neither should we

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Posted on 21/07/2014 by Miranda |

Miranda blogs about her experiences and the need to challenge mental health stigma.

I am one of the one in four people who struggles with their mental health. I have, in fact, been plagued by mental health problems since my early teenage years. I am now 23. I have never been secretive about this. I write a blog where I have shared my troubled past, and have recently spoken publicly in front of a group of strangers about my own experiences and a few issues related to the subject of mental health and stigma.

I’ve recently finished a Nutrition degree, which I hope will lead to a fulfilling and interesting career in the food industry. However, my main aim is to make a significant contribution to eliminating mental health stigma, which sadly still prevails. There are still many misunderstandings about mental illness. Nobody is protected or immune – rich, poor, young, old. I’ve had depression and anxiety for a while now – and this spiralled into an eating disorder in the form of anorexia 4 years ago, which lead to me spending several months in hospital.

I didn’t get depression because I hated maths, have big feet, went to boarding school, didn’t eat my vegetables as a child or don’t like the Beatles. There are still too many myths that surround this disorder. It can happen to anyone: it does not discriminate. Some of my closest friends are the ones that I met in hospital during treatment. Depression and other mental illnesses also came into their lives – affecting them and those around them. We understand each other, listen and reach out when things are tough. We don’t tell each other to “Perk up” or “Pull yourself together” when one of us is having a bad day. Telling someone with depression to “Perk up and get a grip” is as useful as a chocolate teapot.

I encourage you to look around you, wherever you are right now. Look at your immediate and wider family. Look at your close circle of friends. The person with a mental health problem might be sitting right next to you. They might be the joker, the hard worker, your most intelligent colleague, the one you would never suspect to be suffering – because that’s the thing: some of us who have depression, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts and more are so scared of the three in four who are “normal” finding out that we make sure we are brilliant at covering it up. We smile, we say we are fine, we get on with our day as best we can and often suffer in complete silence. What is normal, anyway? Do you want to hear my definition of fine? 

Screwed up, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional.

For the record: I am not pleased or proud to have a mental health problem but I am not going to sit in silence for fear of never getting a job just because I have depression. This is now my job – to help others by speaking up about it and encouraging people to join me.

Recently, The Duke of Cambridge hosted a gala dinner at Windsor Castle in order to raise money for the Royal Marsden Hospital. The great and the good were there, to support and raise money for a hospital and people are only too eager to support it. For the celebrities, it involves a bit of self promotion as well as being aligned to a good cause. As I looked at the photos of the stars, I couldn’t help but think of the NHS establishments rather more in need of help than an A-list hospital. How about a gala dinner for a mental health unit I know that is struggling financially? Will the stars come out for unsexy causes too?

According to the World Health Organisation, by 2020 depression will be the second leading cause of world disability. This indicates the sheer significance of depression in terms of public health, but behind these facts and figures there are individuals who endure this debilitating illness on a daily basis and this is unquestionably more critical. In light of these statistics, I hope more funding goes towards the treatment that many people so desperately need.

I think we need a culture change ourselves too. We need to take much more notice of each other. We also need to learn how to be mindful and listen to our bodies. It is much more than a case of “eating your five a day and exercising regularly” – mental health problems can affect regular juicers and gym goers too. You can be rich, poor, young or old, be happily married, have a highflying job or be a celebrity and still suffer because mental illness doesn't care who you are.

I am one of many of you ready to speak up and stamp out the stigma – there is still a long way to go but I am so confident we can all make it happen.

Miranda.

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