I have severe depression and anxiety. Whenever anyone asked what’s wrong with me I dropped the “severe depression”. Anxiety is easily accepted whilst depression makes it awkward. Everyone has felt anxious before so everyone can relate to that feeling – obviously not to the extremity that people with an anxiety disorder experience – but people can imagine it easier. It might also be easier to talk about because a lot of people have came forward with their struggles with it, therefore, people are more aware of what it is like. With anxiety, you can get physical symptoms like hyperventilating, vomiting and sweating which can prove this illness to other people, which could also contribute to anxiety being less stigmatised. This pin opens a conversation to help end the stigma.
When I went to the doctors, I went for my anxiety as I felt less embarrassed to talk about it and I had physical symptoms to back up what I was saying (they were really the reason I was going – I wanted rid of them). But the doctor was more concerned about low mood and diagnosed me with severe depression. And I would say I suffered a lot more from depression than I do from anxiety, but that’s the illness I keep hidden the most.
It took me a few months before I could say “I have depression” out loud, the first time someone asked me why I had been missing classes so much and I actually responded with “I have depression and anxiety” – it felt bizarre. I teared up and knew this was a turning point in me not being embarrassed of my illness. She reacted so well, hugged me and told me she would send me all the notes I needed. I really appreciated such a warm reaction as that isn’t always the case. This experience cemented that my honesty is appreciated and from that point on, it has really helped me in a variety of ways. With friends, they provide support if I’m not feeling well and they understand if I cancel plans. With family, they understand why I sometimes act the way I do. No longer do I need to invent crazy excuses as to why I can’t do something; it’s so much easier to speak the truth.
Around ten months after my diagnosis, I am no longer embarrassed to admit my diagnosis. If anyone has a problem with it, it’s on them and not on me. Being fearful of a negative reaction used to hinder me silent, but after hearing how many people have told me I have helped them, my worries are insignificant when I think about how I could benefit others. Every time that I bravely raise my voice and speak my truth, other people realise that they are not alone. I am confident that one day mental health issues will be treated like physical ailments, but until then we will need to risk backlash in order to give hope to others suffering.
The only way to remove this stigma is to be honest about mental illness. Putting a face to these struggles makes them seem real and relatable; it also allows people to ask questions and become educated. If everyone hides their problems, mental illness will seem like a myth and the stereotypes around who is affected by this, will remain. Speaking up gives strength to those suffering silently and talking about it encourages healing; so let’s talk. What a wonderful thing it is to hear: