A lot of people call me brave for speaking out about the things I am passionate about: feminism, politics, my hate for David Cameron and my love for good left wing social policy. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that though. I have faced rape threats, abuse and arguments I really would rather not have over Facebook, but I have never faced stigma. I think stigma is the hardest thing to conquer when you want to talk about something for a lot of people, including me.
See, I’m surrounded by people who think feminism rocks and the Tories suck, so it makes it a lot easier. However, I don’t know who carries round mental health stigma. And I might go so far as to say that, unfortunately, we all do, at least a little bit. Each and every one of us probably has at least a little thought about people with depression and anxiety which is a tad prejudiced. It’s difficult to eradicate because sometimes, those things are true, but more than often they are not. And when those things are true, they are often presented in a skewed, distorted light.
By hiding my experiences with mental health, I have come to realise that I am only contributing to the stigma I so desperately want to end, for the sake of every single one of us who has ever suffered at the hands of mental health issues. This is by no means intended to belittle anyone who is not open about mental health, especially considering it’s taken me half a decade.
I was 14 when I first threw up before leaving the house. I was 15 when I first thought about suicide and when I begged my parents to let me not go into school. I was 16 when I stopped attending school regularly. I was 17 when I first took a razor to my legs. I was 18 when I started skipping lectures and tutorials for more than just a hangover. I’m 19 now.
I’m 19 and it has taken me five years to realise just how much I have internalised mental health stigma. And I’d like to take the time to say to every friend who made me feel ashamed, every person I loved who made me feel broken, every teacher who made me feel humiliated, every person close to me who got angry at me; I forgive you. I forgive you without your apologies because I know that you, like me, are just another victim of mental health stigma.
But as much as those are things I forgive, they have had a significant impact on the way I think about myself in relation to my own mental health. Believing that friends will think of me differently if I ‘out’ myself at a Labour event. Believing that people will label me because of things I have struggled with and things I have done. Believing that people will not want to be friends, let alone have romantic involvement with someone who could sometimes function a bit better as a human being. These are all things I have been taught to believe about myself by a society that tells us it’s not ok to not be ok.
I don’t often feel brave, but if this makes it past a word document on my laptop, even if it’s filtered to only certain people on my social media, then I think I will feel that. I really do believe that speaking about your own experience holds more power than you think. Imagine if one in four people you met told you they had had a panic attack or struggled to get out of bed or had compulsions that weren’t just habits. We would be normalising something a lot of people currently see as a little bit terrifying, confusing or even embarrassing. I think it is really important that people in positions of power do this as well, so that mental health issues are seen to be things people often carry around with them, without the knowledge of others, and that people with mental health issues can succeed just as much as able bodied people.
I am no more or less capable of forming a human relationship with you and I am worth no more or less than you.
My journey has been long and laborious to say the least, but I am finally at a stage in my life where I think I can say my mental health is OK.
I hope that maybe this post will break down just one tiny wall of stigma for one person at the least.
Finally, I’m ready to start trying not to be part of the stigma anymore.