Some young people in West Sussex have worked with the West Sussex Youth Cabinet to provide small blogs about how mental health has affected their lives:
When expressing my emotions was a form of disobedience, I wasn’t allowed to be angry or have any sort of emotion raised in a fear-based home. How, then, does one learn to talk about emotions?
As all things do, it started way before it started—the first paradox of many. In hindsight, I have probably always been mentally ill, just with symptoms of varying intensity and frequency. Unfortunately, not many people look at a young child and see the manifestation of contained anxiety, rather just a sweet, shy little thing. It starts here with phrases such as ‘pleasure to have in the classroom’ and ‘a joy to teach’ These seemingly positive endorsements of my character were just the beginning of years and years of people-pleasing. If things confused or unsettled me, I wouldn’t voice these concerns due to a fear of conflict. I could interact with adults better than my peers. Slowly, but with startling efficiency, I learned to repress things.
9 years of repression. At 11 years old, bright-eyed and eager to please, something had to give. At first, Secondary School was amazing. I flourished under the weight of all the responsibility, after all, compared to my home life, this was nothing. On and on and on it went until suddenly I couldn’t concentrate. The thought of waking up and going to school made my stomach drop. I spent months vomiting every morning and crying on the walk there. Nothing had changed, there were no big arguments or sudden work assignments, but everything felt so much heavier. Soon the tears couldn’t be confined to just the walk there, and I had teachers asking if I was alright. Even when everything felt heavy and suffocating, even when I needed help desperately, still the only words that came from me were of reassurance to others. If in those moments, had I been able to communicate myself, I doubt everything that happened next would have been quite so awful.
No, I will not get out of bed. That became my mantra. I would lie in bed for hours on end, mind drifting and numb, feeling the kind of exhaustion that rattles your chest and makes your eyes sting. School became a thing of the past. The idea of interacting with anybody or talking, or on some days doing literally anything other than breathing, made me feel uptight and tired. Everything began to blur, and my mind was a constant powerhouse of nonsensical whispers. These things have a name now: Dissociation and Intrusive Thoughts. At 12 however, I didn’t know that. It was all so much, and there was nobody I could turn to because I was constantly belittled, so I did the only thing I could think of. I overdosed.
The consequences of that decision were almost as exhausting as the mental illness itself. I couldn’t talk about why I’d done it. I didn’t know for God sake, and I didn’t understand why everyone looked so angry and upset. After all, these were not things I knew how to express. Despite my drastic actions, nobody really seemed to do anything. It reminded me of tabloid gossip. Relevant for a week and then forgotten. Something that people never seem to tell you, unless you specifically go looking for it, is that mental illness is so easy to glamourize. Everybody wants to help the quiet girl shaking because she can’t give her school presentation or laugh at the boy who shouts out in class because his ADHD makes him the Class Clown, but it is so much more than that. I must add that things like what I’ve listed are valid and realistic portrayals, but they are also diluted for what I call ‘easy ingestion.’
Sad though it may be, the moment a mentally ill person displays symptoms which cannot be ignored or easily avoided, ones which spark discomfort and ignorance opposed to sympathy, their support lessens significantly. Eating disorders are not just a skinny girl eating in front of a mirror or weighing themselves while Skinny Love by Birdy plays. They can use hair to grow all over your skin in your body’s desperate attempt to keep warm. Your heart can give out. You can become infertile. Depression is not just feeling sad and crying a lot. The yellowish stains on your teeth will follow you forever because such a task would surely be the death of you. Things that once sparked intense joy are meaningless to you. It’s substance abuse to stop the dull ache. Mental illness is not something to be used as a weapon in your arsenal of ignorance and stupidity.
When I say I have literally not retained most of my memories from 2016-18 and only have pictures for reference, I wish I were kidding. I wish I were immensely skilled at hyperbole and was trying to prove a point. But I’m not. That is my reality. Sometimes being so out of my head that I cannot create solid memories. Remembering the stupid things like which song was playing, and if it was my blue or red converse I was wearing, yet not remembering what I was actually doing. It’s not showering or sleeping properly for 6 days because I thought it had only been two hours. Every day is a battle, and, on most days, it doesn’t seem worth fighting because I know I’ll wake up tired and grieving a form of mental stability that never truly was. I am so drained all the time.
I have done many things as a result of my mental health issues, and whilst I am an extreme, personality disorder and all. The number of young people with issues is rising rapidly. The Education System is not ready or appropriately equipped to deal with even the minor issues, let alone people like me. This is not their fault, but as the evidence nationally will show, it is definitely becoming their problem. It is something that needs to be done now, not later, because as I’ve shown, it always starts way before you think it does.
For anybody that needs to hear it, barring my sarcasm and thinly veiled pessimism, the battle is worth fighting. It always will be. Life, though full of pain, is to be lived. Someone will listen, even if you think they’d rather be watching Netflix, or down the pub, somebody will know you need them, and that’s where the help starts.
The weight of anything is better shared on the shoulders of two than one. You are loved.
Written by anonymous young person
Last year I had a very tough year, the reason being was because I felt really alone and just super insecure I lost friends and myself along the way. This all started with my parents having issues and always, every day arguing. I felt guilty about something that I didn’t do. It got to certain points where one of my parents told me that they would send me to adoption and because of that I felt like they were right, and it had a certain effect on me, and it hurt. It then got to a point where police were involved and social services too. I used to harm myself pretty much 24/7 it was really tough to not do it. I had to go on antidepressants, and I did, and it helped but not too much then near the end of the year I felt like I have been through so much that I am so strong to still be here so to everyone that feels like this please, please talk to someone or even me I would be glad to help anyone so that they don’t have to go through the things I went through it was tough, but I got there, in the end, I still do get those negative thoughts, but I just try and fight it so don’t be afraid to speak up and talk to people about how you are truly feeling.
Written by anonymous young person
Depression seems like a weakness in people still when it is an illness, which stems from experiences and situations whether they are in the past or present (what I’ve experienced from it). I always switched off to the mental health talks and posts. Still, it affects everyone in some way or another, mental illness occurs in every human, in different situations, people exhibit it more, and it can stem from personality traits. But depression can affect anyone at any time, I only realised I had it when I look back and not at the time, I was lucky I had a good circle around me to support me without them even knowing I had it nor myself. It’s about accepting it and knowing it’s an illness, just because it’s not physical doesn’t mean it can’t affect you, so learn about it and educate yourself.
Written by anonymous young person