A note on mental health

The issue of the importance of mental health has always been around me, but it wasn’t until a conversation I had yesterday that I realised the need to personally address it.

I have a number of friends who have been grappling with the need to control and improve their mental health, as well as those who have to support those with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. However, mental health is important to us all. It doesn’t have to be diagnosed in an uncomfortable session with a psychiatrist or be affirmed with bottles of pills. It can be anything from autism to something as ‘normal’ as suppressing one’s feelings for ages and suddenly having a nervous breakdown over the phone to your mother. I would strongly advise that one refrains from crying on the phone to one’s mother, or else they’ll fly across the world.

To those of you who have confided in me about mental health issues (yes there’s more than one of you, I’m not trying to cover anything up), I need to apologise to you. Until I started university, I believed that people could get over issues such as depression and anxiety just by being positive and attempting to live a healthy life. I genuinely thought that issues such as bipolar disorder, autism, ADHD and so on were much more important and that sheer positivity could cure depression and anxiety. Sadly, I was wrong, and for that I’m truly sorry.

I flinch at the mention of the word “psychologist” or “psychiatrist”. My past self genuinely thought that there was no point in having them around, people could get over this on their own, all they needed was someone to talk to. It’s all in the mind and all these psychos are doing is bleeding you dry so that you take harmful medication and pay them to diagnose you with new diseases.

This really isn’t true. I can’t believe I thought about mental health in this way and I’m so sorry.

Freak accidents and horror stories have ruined my trust in doctors who are qualified to treat mental health, and it made me mistakenly believe that one could get over serious health issues without medication or what I thought was “useless” consultation.

I very recently heard about a friend who couldn’t complete her exams due to extreme nervous breakdowns, anxiety and depression. She had to take a lot of medication and fly back home just because being at university was too much for her. Now she feels like she’s wasted her potential, and she has a very real fear  of relapsing. I really didn’t think it was possible, she’s so bubbly and happy and full of life. She’s in her final year of university, and despite what she feels is “wasted potential”, which was entirely out of her control, she’s super smart, really caring, extremely funny and makes me feel really loved. I’ve only known her for two months but I know the struggle of waking up every morning and choosing to be happy. The fact that she can face the world after going through so much is truly commendable. At my university, people have a tendency to go “Oh, did you do a summer internship? Where? Where are you applying for grad jobs? Oh my god I can’t believe you couldn’t get in. Haven’t you figured out that you want to kill yourself and work in investment banking or in audit or something? Why would you sign up for a volunteering teaching programme instead??” Dear friend, I’m so sorry that I was one of those people, and I need to apologise to you in person. I truly believe in your struggle and will be there anytime you need to incessantly text me or call me. Whatever you need, buddy 🙂

One of my best friends grew up with an abusive mother. Her mother definitely has bipolar disorder, among others, and would take it out on my friend. Over the course of her life she developed ADHD and a severe anxiety disorder. She didn’t want to be restrained by pills and flushed them down the toilet, but is now back on meds again. For the longest time, I genuinely thought the pills were doing no good and that she needed to change her lifestyle. She really tried. She’s dealt with other people and put up with people for so long, it’s not up to me to tell her how to live her life. She’s having trouble with socialising at university, but who cares? She has us, her school friends, and she’s happy that way. She has an extremely caring boyfriend and she and her dad have patched up. I’m going to be there and be her rock, and I’m not going to judge mental health or psychiatry negatively again.

One of my other best friends experienced a drastic change in her life when she moved to another country for her mother’s job, and then moved back to our hometown. Our school bumped her down to a year below, her parents had serious issues and point-blank didn’t speak to each other for almost a year, and she had to see her best friends graduating without her. She developed severe depression, and even when her parents tried to deny it, she had our friendship group, her brother and even her favourite teachers to support her. She was on medication for the best part of the last academic year, and is now at university studying engineering, and a good university too! She’s still quite vocal about what happens in her life. I remember the turning point in my attitude towards psychiatry being when this amazing friend of mine cried for an hour in front of us because she couldn’t believe she had depression. She had always been that kid who was top of the class, and she genuinely thought she could get into a top-notch university. She was never that child who couldn’t receive any academic achievement she wanted. And here she was, behind everyone else, with depression and with low grades. Things are turning out great for her now. She initially resented going to university that was not of her choice, but grew to really love her course and her friends. She also got to actively pursue her deep-rooted interests in music and Swedish, which is awesome!

And the final depression story I’m going to mention is one that I heard about very recently. I’m doing my best not to give out too many details here, but this friend of mine is living with the knowledge that depression runs in her family.  Her greatest fear is that this form of depression will spread to her loved ones, and she can’t bear to see that happening.

I have a friend dealing with the loss of a close relative and having to bear the brunt of it from other relatives and deal with all the emotional crap being thrown at them. I have a friend who lost all of her university friends, had her heart broken and is struggling to hide it all from everyone she knows.

I’m also coming to terms with a few things, but the strength of my friends and family as well as the assurance that crying is okay is getting me through everything.

Mental health isn’t just the diagnosed medical brain conditions, it isn’t just anxiety and depression. It’s about how stressed you are and how you deal with it. It’s about what it takes to be strong, and you’re a lot stronger if you tell somebody about the problem. There is no harder than hard. If you find something hard, it’s hard. Don’t think about what other people are going through in relation to you, if you feel you can tell these people about the hardship that you’re facing then they’ll listen. Even if you need to see a psychiatrist, that’s perfectly fine.

My point is, no mental health issue is too big or too small, even if it’s a passing phase of stress in one’s life. The important thing to do is talk to someone and do all you can to maintain your mental health. The best thing you can do is be with the person affected and reach out to them. Let them take you on a ride through the ups and downs of their life and be prepared to listen. I’d like to apologise to all the friends that I doubted, and let me assure you that I’m always ready to listen. Whatever you need, buddy 🙂


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