Heads Together, and why it's important to discuss mental health
*Image credit: http://www.lambie-nairn.com/case-study/heads-together/
You may have noticed recently that a number of high-profile figures in the UK have been sharing their experiences of mental illness. This is in part due to a new campaign headed by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry and a host of charities including Mind and Calm.
Heads Together believe that tackling the stigma still (weirdly) attached to mental illness is vital to raising awareness for a variety of conditions and ensuring more sufferers get the support they need.
If you're a long-term reader of my blog, or have ever listened to some of my more melancholic tracks, you'll know that I often write, talk, and share my experiences of mental illness. In fact, you're probably wondering why I haven't spoken about this campaign before now. The answer to that is I was mixing "Flown" every night for about six weeks due to my badly recorded vocals.
Anyway, the point is, i'm talking about it now.
Currently, believe it or not, i'm feeling pretty great. The best and most stable i've felt in over ten years. I take medication every day which allows me to be my true self beyond the veil of crippling anxiety, and I still have my down times. As I type this however, i'm feeling pretty fantastic.
Had I never been fortunate enough to be referred to a clinical psychologist by a paediatrician as a teenager, it could have been a much different story. A paediatrician who, at an appointment completely unrelated to my mental health, noticed that I displayed signs of mental illness when I broke down whilst talking about the way I was feeling.
At that moment in time, I was only aware of depression. There was never a single second at school dedicated to mental health awareness, and high-profile celebrity breakdowns occurring at the time were considered entertainment and sources of ridicule rather than causes for concern. I didn't even know what anxiety was, which now seems completely absurd. I had no idea what the newly-acquired tingling in my fingertips, or the strong desire to put a blanket over myself and hide from everyone in class were. In fact, I genuinely thought I had nothing wrong and didn't need to see a mental health professional — a belief i'm sure many sufferers can relate to at some point in their lives. When I received my first diagnosis of 'severe' anxiety, I almost laughed. I thought I was normal, and taking up space that should have been reserved for someone with real problems. The reality was that I had become scared of going to sleep at night, scared of answering the front door or even stepping outside it. And that wasn't normal.
It wasn't even until recently after dropping out (and dropping back in) to treatment that I was diagnosed with OCD, a condition that's true extent is rarely ever discussed in the media and because I don't clean or wash my hands excessively I also didn't know I had. Leaning about my newly-acquired OCD was a life-changing experience for me. Suddenly so many past experiences made sense, and the world wasn't quite as scary anymore once I knew that most of my thoughts didn't actually reflect reality.
Had I been aware of the true extent of my mental illness years before, my life could have taken an astonishingly different path. The amount of pain and fear that I could have avoided is unmeasurable. It's very possible I could have still ended up as an eccentric musician, but the journey here could have been much smoother.
I was lucky, as many others around the world today are. But we shouldn't have to be. It's time for us to accept that mental illness can affect absolutely anyone. It can be simply inherited through genetics, or brought on through traumatic experiences. No one illness is more or less worthy or credible than the other. People across the globe are suffering from a lack of funding or access to vital services, slow and neglected progress in new treatment options and sometimes even worse — judgement and discrimination. Even when support is available, there are harmful misdiagnoses which can lead to setbacks in treatment.
We have come so far over the last decade. There are an unprecedented number of people from all walks of life coming forward to share their stories and encourage others to do so. These are not attention seeking exercises or publicity opportunities, but simply the components of a growing movement which we all — be us sufferers, carers or friends affected by mental illness — have the power to grow.
I encourage you to be fearless and bold. Don't hide your medication from others, openly admit to receiving psychological treatment, honestly describe the way you are feeling. If we are unashamed, then one day others will have no reason to be afraid or confused about mental illness. One day everyone will look out for symptoms and should they exhibit them, seek help or advice in the same way in which they would for any physical illness. One day no one will have to suffer in silence.
Thanks for reading!