Life

‘At times I felt close to a breakdown’: Charity campaign vows to end stigma of depression in young adults

By Jessica Phillips

Scrolling through the seemingly endless Facebook updates from my friends while I was at university, I couldn’t count how many times I’d seen the words ‘freshers’, ‘fun’ and ‘time of my life’.

These were words that had no resonation with me.

Over the subsequent eight months I came to learn that my new housemates in Staffordshire were a toxic mix of drug-taking, drug-dealing layabouts who saw university only as a chance to spread as much chaos and harm as possible in a new city.

Summer 2010, with first year complete and a decision made to transfer for the final two years of my history degree, the trauma of the earlier eight months started to take its toll.

I started to suffer physical side effects of anxiety.

What began with pain in the right side of my body eventually made way for severe, chronic stomach cramps and then painful daily headaches for months at a time.

I was convinced there was something seriously wrong.

Doctor after doctor would tell me I had very obvious signs of anxiety and depression but I definitely had a collapsed lung. I definitely had bowl disease. I definitely had a brain tumour.

Shun me as a hypochondriac all you wish but for me it was intensely, terrifyingly serious and I’d work myself into frenzied panic thinking I was living on borrowed time.

With university work quickly deteriorating, my grades started to slip.

Halfway through my final year I missed a deadline and made my first appointment with the university counselling team.

You never want to have to admit to yourself, or anyone else, that you’re suffering with anxiety and depression.

Especially not when you’re supposed to be in the throes of the best years of your life.

According to figures from Manchester-based charity Anxiety UK, one in six adults in the UK have experienced some form of ‘neurotic health problem’, with the most common being anxiety and depressive disorders.

One Manchester student, who wishes to remain anonymous, first experienced mental health problems when he was 13.

After professional help he thought his problems were resolved but the pressure of university, and dealing with exams, dissertation and coursework in his final year brought back familiar feelings.

He said: “At times I felt close to a breakdown, in a way similar to when I was at school and suffering.

“I don’t deal with stress very well, so given it was a period of my life when a lot was at stake, things were made even worse.”

Anxiety and depression can have seriously debilitating effects on the sufferer’s life.

Anxiety UK found a study comparing neurotic illness with angina, asthma and diabetes which concluded that the impact of depression on a person’s functioning was 50% more serious than the impact of any of the physical conditions.

Symptoms for the student included ‘pointlessness’, ‘uselessness’ and ‘self-loathing’.

“I just fell into a deep, irrational unhappiness which was often brought on by absolutely nothing.

“If I woke up feeling incredibly low, even if knew that I had important things I needed to do that day, I would still more often than not just stay in bed for most of the day, sleeping or feeling sorry for myself – basically doing everything I could to avoid social interaction and reality.”

Anxiety UK Chief Executive Nicky Lidbetter said: “Anxiety is a condition that can affect anyone – it doesn’t distinguish between age, background or social group.”

Ms Lidbetter said that this anxiety can be OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), social anxiety and shyness, exam stress, worry or panic attacks.

“Sadly too many young adults continue to suffer in silence, afraid of the stigma attached to mental health issues that only heightens their fears.

“Thankfully, the work being done by many charities including our own is helping to break down those barriers and assuring young adults help is at hand.”

Figures from Anxiety UK show that 28% of sufferers are ashamed of their condition –21% of those slightly and 7% very.

So it seems unsurprising that 57% of sufferers did not seek any kind of help for their condition.

This is something that the student understands having felt he couldn’t talk to anyone.

“I didn’t want to talk to anybody about it because, as I imagine a lot of people who go undiagnosed feel, I just thought that I was making a huge deal out of absolutely nothing and felt that I was wasting other people’s time.

“I didn’t want to bog other people down with issues that I considered to be mine.”

This stigma attached to mental health disorders only makes it more difficult for the sufferer as it can be tough to know where to turn.

“I think that I must be just one of perhaps hundreds of thousands in the UK, maybe even millions, who have gone undiagnosed for problems that clearly affect mental health.

“There still seems to exist a stigma around mental health issues, perhaps more so in the sufferer’s mind than in the eye of the general public.”

Run by the charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, and funded by the Department of Health and Comic Relief, Time-to-Change is working hard to break through that stigma.

You may have seen their television advert this week which shows parents, friends and partners struggling to know to deal with their loved one’s mental health disorder.

Director Sue Baker said: “The misconceptions that still surround those of us with mental health problems make people worry about offending or embarrassing someone, or saying or doing the wrong thing.”

She encourages people to try small gestures, like sending a text, email or invitation to meet up.

She added: “It’s time we encouraged people to talk more openly and for mental health to stop being a part of life people are too ashamed or embarrassed to talk about.”

For more information on the organisations listed or for help and advice visit: www.anxietyuk.org.uk  and www.time-to-change.org.uk

Picture courtesy of Alex E. Proimos, with thanks.

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