TW: anxiety, depression, anti-depressants
My relationship with my mental health has always been rocky, to say the least.
When I was eight years old, I started experiencing panic attacks – not that I had a clue what they were at the time. Fast forward to age 16, and a psychotherapist came to my school to talk to us about addiction. Quickly realising this Year 11 group of girls wasn’t really her target audience, she began to speak about mental health. Growing up, mental health wasn’t widely spoken about. Whilst it became abundantly clear that a huge chunk of my secondary school’s students were struggling without the necessary support, no one truly knew what anxiety, depression, or eating disorders were.
At 16, I went to my first counselling session. I worried about ‘what if I run out of things to say’, ‘what if they can’t help me’, or ‘what if I don’t get on with them?’ Admitting you need help is terrifying but it’s also extremely brave, and with each step you take to getting the help you need, it gets easier.
The summer before I joined university in 2018, I had neurosurgery. I was stubborn and refused to delay uni and recovered significantly faster than they anticipated. Upon starting university, I threw myself into it and inevitably burned out. As my mental health declined, it wasn’t just anxiety I was dealing with anymore – I was growing more and more depressed. I cried most days, and eventually started experiencing harmful thoughts. Whilst I felt I wasn’t going to act on them, I started to notice my friends and family were worried. I went for an emergency GP appointment the next day. Admitting I was struggling all over again was terrifying. I didn’t have coping mechanisms for depression.
I was in psychotherapy, and I recovered, but fast forward a year and I went back to therapy again. The big difference this time is I accepted the help of antidepressants from my GP. What I have learnt is recovery isn’t linear, and these are likely things I will have to manage for the rest of my life. When I first went back to therapy I thought I had failed, but an important person in my life reminded me of the same thing I have reminded others, and that is that seeking help isn’t failing at all. Accepting you need help takes courage, and I would be failing myself if I did not recognise that.
When I first started antidepressants at the end of 2020, I worried about what my peers would think. The taboo surrounding mental health, and specifically SSRIs, is a dialogue I think we should all make the effort to normalise. We have all struggled throughout the pandemic. With a significant rise in mental health issues, now more than ever is the time to break the stigma. Why should I hide that I take medication? Why is it perceived any differently to the medication I take for neuropathic pain?
I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by amazingly supportive and compassionate friends who have never made me feel invalidated or a burden, but I know this is extremely fortunate. I urge you to take that first step if you feel you are struggling. Psychotherapists, GPs and mental health nurses are there to support you. I promise you that day by day it gets easier.
Announcing on a public platform the degree to which I have struggled still makes me feel nervous, but the more we dismantle the harmful narrative surrounding mental health, hopefully one day you won’t have to feel worried about what someone will think, or be so scared to accept help.