When I was 10, my parents were brought into my primary school for a ‘talk’. They were told that my teachers were worried about me because I was sad.
I was kept back from assembly time and time again to be asked what was wrong. I’ve heard “Is everything alright at home?” more times than you’ve had hot dinners (if you’ve had seven hot dinners or fewer). During my GCSEs, I was told that I should see the school’s counsellor because once again I was sad. My second year of university was when I started taking the SSRI antidepressant citalopram. It didn’t work for me and I went off it after a few months (turns out when they say don’t go cold turkey, they really mean it). Looking back, as much as I disliked the pills, I think it would have been much harder to get through that time in my life without them.
I only provide this back story because I believe that mental illness has no cause, it’s just something that you’re born with. Outside circumstances can affect it, but it’ll always be there. It’s time we as a society became more open about talking about these things (I found it quite hard to write that first paragraph to be honest), and began to challenge stigma around mental illness. I had a miserable first year of university, and I probably should have sought help sooner, but I was terrified of antidepressants, both for the stigma created by so many tabloid horror stories, and the fact that it would be on my medical record and might affect my future.
Whilst medication didn’t really work too well for me, it makes life easier for so many people, and the fact that people are dissuaded from getting the help they need because of public perceptions of mental illness is heartbreaking. It’s a cliché that it takes courage to admit you need help, but it’s true. It shouldn’t take courage to admit you need help; it should be as natural as going to the doctor for the flu or a broken wrist. Bravery shouldn’t come into it.
Treating mental health still isn’t an exact science, due to the very few physical symptoms, so it will always be a bit of a guessing game. I can tell you from experience that doctors are happy to listen to any reservations you have, and will only prescribe you something you’re comfortable with. While the waiting time for them to kick in is quite long, if they don’t work, it’s a case of finding something that works for you. Sometimes people will take medication for long periods of time; others will just use it for a few months at a time to get through the bad patches, as I did, and may do again. GPs (in my experience) are good at helping you work out what’s right for you.
Most people reading this won’t need me to tell them that there shouldn’t be any stigma around mental illness, but sadly it does still exist. Visiting a doctor can feel like an extreme step, but it doesn’t have to be. If anyone reading this does feel like they want to seek medical help for mental health issues, my advice would be to book an appointment, and write down all the things you want to say, as well as the concerns you have and what you want to achieve from treatment. The whole process is probably less stressful and complicated than you think.