Wednesday 26 August 2015

Don't suffer in silence

- Andrew Read

A guy is walking down the street when he falls down a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up: “Hey you, can you help me out?”
The doctor writes a prescription, and throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along and again the man shouts up: “Father, I’m down in this hole, is there any chance you can help me out?”
The priest gets down on his knees, says a prayer, and moves on. Then a friend walks by: “Hey Joe, its me, can you help me to get outta this hole I’m in”. The friend jumps in the hole and our guy says: “Are you stupid? Now we’re both stuck down here”. The friend says: Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.”

At Student Minds, we believe its okay to talk. In fact, more than okay. This is the first time I’ve talked about my mental health issues in a public setting, but talking to others in depth seemed to be the only reason I got back on my feet and out of the hole, so its important to me to encourage others to do the same.

Until February of this year, I was an undergraduate at the University of Oxford, four months away from sitting my finals. I hadn’t struggled with mental health issues previously, but over the preceding six months I’d been finding it increasingly more difficult to simply be happy, without really realising it. Shortly after Christmas, following advice from my doctors, I found myself sat at home having walked away from my university life, my degree and my friends. It was all very sudden.

Whilst at university, perhaps unlike many, I was quite open and vocal about my problems, purely because I really needed my friends to help me to be happy. However, when isolated at home, I felt so distant from university life and associated Oxford with the cause of my depressive symptoms. I felt I had to distance myself from the entire place. I found it incredibly difficult to go back to the place that I thought had made me so upset; to even think about going back and seeing my friends whilst they were all still there.  I didn’t find I could effectively explain to people how I felt, why I didn’t want to come back to Oxford to visit them all the time, despite the fact some of them were leaving at the end of the year and I might never see them again. I didn’t feel like anyone really understood how difficult it was for me, I didn’t feel like I understood, and shut everyone out.

One of the hardest things about depression is that you can often feel alone.  It’s a very personal battle: only you can really understand how it affects you, but that doesn’t mean others can’t help. Whilst spending time at home by myself, I convinced myself that everyone at university just thought I had taken the easy way out. I didn’t think they would understand why I had to do what I had to do. It wasn’t until I went back to university for the first time after my friends had finished their exams, and sat down with one of my friends in a park and tried to explain how hard it was to be back, that I began to realise that it doesn’t necessarily matter if people don’t understand what you are going through, as that doesn’t mean they can’t be there to help.

Very few of us understand the molecular basis of cancer, arguably none of us can cure it, but that doesn’t mean if a friend has it we don’t want to help support them through it. Mental illness is another illness, and although nobody can understand what each person goes through personally, that doesn’t mean your friends don’t want to help you through it. Talk to them.

Personally, I feel like a lot of my mental health issues were exacerbated because I shut out my friends and didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone about them. I suffered in silence. When you finally realise that friends don’t have to understand the ins and outs of your struggle, that simply spending time in the company of someone when you are feeling down, and providing messages of support can be as effective as medication and therapy, life can become more manageable. I began by talking to someone who I didn’t even know about my problems as I felt like that would be easier for me. Below are just a few of the multiple lines of support open to us:

HOPELineUK - T:0800 068 41 41, SMS: 07786 209 697, E: (Mon-Fri 10am-10pm, or weekends 2pm-10pm)
NHS 111 - T: 111
Samaritans - T: 08457 90 90 90, E: (24 hours)

When you feel strong enough, take a step and trust in your friends; open up to them. When you feel even stronger, encourage someone who suffers from similar issues to do the same. The only way to make people understand mental health, and a very effective way of dealing with mental health issues, is to talk.

Don’t suffer in silence.