Why is this something I’m scared to write? Why should anyone feel worried about the way people might react to an article about their life? Depression is a real thing, and I shouldn’t have to hide it.
At the age of 16, I hit a pretty rough time in my life. Various issues over a length of time culminated in me finding myself sat across from a doctor. The doctor told me what I had been trying to deny. He told me I had reactive depression. He offered but I refused medication.
This article isn’t meant to be a diary about how I came to suffer from depression. Nor is this going to talk about some of the problems I’ve experienced personally. I don’t claim to have all of the answers, but I do have some pretty important questions on my mind. Why is depression stigmatised? Why should this be such a hard thing to share with other people?
In my view, mental and physical health are two sides of the same coin; we need both to be well if we’re going to function at 100%. The difficult thing about this labelling, however, is that some people take this to mean that mental health issues can be simply cured in the same way as many physical conditions can. People get blamed – both by others and themselves – for not being able to make themselves better in a short time frame.
How, then, can we tackle the stigma around mental illness? The first part is quite simple – talk. Talking openly about the issues that are faced by a quarter of us will start to break down the barriers faced by those who need to speak about their condition in order to get help.
Mental and physical health are two sides of the same coin; we need both to be well if we’re going to function at 100%
Secondly, education. When I first began my own experiences with depression, I didn’t have a clue what it even meant. Over the past three years I’ve heard things such as “I thought you were normal” and “why can’t you just be happier?”. Sorry guys, it’s not all as simple as that – a fact that people should ideally know already.
Schools should prepare their students for life, and unfortunately life can often entail illnesses of all types. Currently the British education system lets its students down. Only at university level does mental health become a topic that is open for conversation, and even then more needs to be done in order to offer better help to those who need it. People are stranded, undiagnosed and made to feel abnormal when they’re already at their most vulnerable.
The reality is that mental health problems are far from abnormal. MIND’s figures show that each year 1 in 4 people in the UK experience a mental health issue. So, let’s think about it like this: if 25% of the population suffered from any type of physical illness annually, funding would be increased in order to reduce that percentage. What about with mental health? Well the King’s Fund stated in 2015 that mental health problems account for 23 per cent of the burden of disease in the United Kingdom, but spending on mental health services consumes only 11 per cent of the NHS budget. Does that seem fair to you?
Lastly, I come to how each of us can help the 1 in 4. In my experience, there are always both good and bad days, and the expectation that you can just apply some kind of plaster to the mind to help somebody at any time simply doesn’t work. I might add that I only speak for myself – in no way can I properly represent the experiences of others, because mental health issues are in their nature very personal.
What you can do, however, is be vocal. Shout and let your voice be heard. Tell people about your experiences. Campaign. Whatever you do, don’t be silent. Whether you’re suffering yourself or are simply somebody who wants to help, by being silent you’re allowing the stigma to continue. And believe me, we’ve got enough on our minds without having to worry about what people think of our conditions.
John Butler is a second year physics student at the University of Warwick. If he’s not trying to tell you about some awesome new discovery, he’s probably sat eating takeaway and writing more articles like this one.