The Slings And Arrows Of Outrageous Fortune
Depression. More than just a word. A very real, debilitating condition. I was diagnosed with it when I had just turned 16, and in truth knew very little about it. But it was through talking to people about how I was feeling that I came to be in the doctor’s surgery being told that I had depression and referred to a counselling service and that I will enter that very same doctor’s surgery in a few weeks time to hopefully be told I no longer suffer from depression.
Talking about mental health is seen as something to be afraid of, people are afraid of the reactions they might get, but I was in the fortunate position to have good people around me, and a support network that I built up by talking out about my own mental health. It was when I began college that I suffered my most severe bouts of depression, and it was then that I began to explore what it was and how I could bring myself out of this deep dark black hole, a journey which seemed to be an endless spiral into the depths of despair. Soon I concluded that for me to get better, my friends and teachers needed to know what I was going through. Fortunately I was on good terms with my form tutor who appeared sensitive and understanding. Indeed, this proved to be the case when one day I stayed behind to discuss the problems that I had been having. My tutor was happy to listen to me and not only that but encouraged me to seek support by actively inquiring as to what support was available throughout the college. It transpired that the only time I could get counselling was during tutor periods, and having discussed it with my tutor, I was able to take up this opportunity.
The first time I went to the room where counselling was, I walked past a handful of people waiting nearby, sitting on the floor. As I walked past them, I felt the anxiety that had crippled me thus far at college, as if they somehow knew what I was going in for, and were looking disapprovingly at me. Of course they weren’t, how could they possibly have known? They couldn’t have. The trouble is that’s sometimes how people feel as a result of the stigma that manifests itself within of our society today. However, those who mock us, who see mental health issues and mental illness as a weakness, are so very wrong. I am a stronger person for my depression, because I talked about it to people, I managed to find the causes and the triggers and in turn managed to utilise the support I received to educate myself whilst improving my mood.
My experience of stigma has been both direct and indirect, with friends whom I have got to know through support groups but also in the form of people using words such as “schizo” or phrases like “I’m so sad I’m going to cut my wrists” as a sarcastic response to something that has been said to them. This is stigma as much as people telling us to “get over it”. However, I was told that I was a “hater of life in general” by someone who was supposed to be my friend and knew about my depression. Despite this affecting me at the time and making me feel like I was attention seeking or that I should keep my problems to myself I persevered because I knew in my heart that the only way I was going to get better was by talking about it. Today, one of my favourite pieces of writing comes from Hamlet, the play by Shakespeare, with the famous soliloquy ‘to be or not to be’. Hamlet is in a battle with his mind as to whether or not to live anymore. This, I feel documents the feelings many people go through with mental illness and certainly resonates with how I felt. I use it to remind myself that I was right to choose the option to be, to exist. We are all unique, special and contribute to society merely by existing.
Thankfully, we’ve largely moved on from the times where it was unacceptable to be homosexual or to be of any other ethnic origin than white British, but yet with mental health there still remains this ancient attitude that we are somewhat inferior. Why should attitudes towards our health be any different to our race or our sexuality?
“We need folk to sit and listen to what we have to say, to try and understand what we are feeling, you cannot do that by treating the symptoms and ignoring the cause.” This quote sums up my experience with, and views towards the treatment of depression. I reached out to those who were willing to listen and try to understand what I felt, and I will be eternally grateful to those friends who did this.