Today Abi launched her #SpeakUpSYM blog page. The main focus of her blog is to publish interviews with local individuals about their experiences with changes to their mental health & how they managed this.
Abi's first article is an interview with Christopher, please read & share, it's an honest account which will give hope to others going through the same experience.
Christopher is 18 years old. For almost four years, he’s dealt with periods of depression and insomnia, and is willing to share his story and experience of the counselling system Healthy Minds, Healthy Futures (formerly known as CLD) with me.
At what age did you begin to experience changes to your mental health and what did they consist of?
I was about 15 when I started getting my symptoms. It started with an inability to focus at school, followed by deep depressive moods and moments of mental instability, where it was difficult to form thoughts properly. My grades at school dropped dramatically. My ability to do my work reduced greatly. I started having breakdowns at night which also affected my already bad sleeping pattern. I’m not sure why it happened really. As far as I can tell, I didn’t have any particular trauma, but it had just started seemingly out of nowhere. The lack of sleep was so serious and it got worse as I got older.
What has been your main coping mechanism during these struggles?
I was lucky that I never went into self-harm or anything like that. Mostly I drew, I wrote and then I burned what I’d written or drawn. I’d usually draw very erratic scribbles. Usually of faces that I would deface and destroy with big thick ink lines and I’d tear at the paper. Or it’d be some phrase and I’d deface that instead. I started listening to more music and things like that, usually in the early hours of the morning.
I spoke to my mum a few times. After a bad parents evening, my parents sat me down and I explained what was happening to me and my mum took me to the doctor. My dad tried his best but he didn’t really understand it; he found it difficult to accept that it would affect my work and would get mad when I didn’t function properly. I found that difficult. It strained my relationship with him a bit, made it difficult for me to talk to him about it. It made me scared to show symptoms a bit because he didn’t get it.
How did you get in touch with SYM and how did they help?
My friend works with the organisation and was able to help me. Last year had been very rough for me with my mental health and I got to my lowest point, even getting close to a suicide attempt and their help and website got me a counsellor – something I’d been trying to get for years. The validation and the help that I got from my counsellor helped me get back on track with college and my life in general.
How did you find the overall experience of speaking to someone professionally?
It was good. A lot of the help was stuff I was able to do myself with the stuff I learned from counselling. It helps to understand why I felt how I felt. The counsellor just talked me through my problems. It was nice to have someone just to talk to. I was expecting something a bit more clinical and scary but it was very relaxing. I enjoyed it a lot really, it was so nice to have someone who knew what to do and who really listened and validated the feelings I’d been having.
If you could give advice to anyone experiencing similar problems, or if you could have previously advised yourself, what would you say?
Don’t be ashamed to go and get help. If you don’t get it at first, be persistent. Be loud. Make them understand that you need help. I was ignored twice before SYM (Strong Young Minds) helped me. Don’t accept that. Sometimes people flat out don’t understand what’s wrong with them. It can be scary to be in a position like that and think that you’re alone, that you’re broken. It can be terrifying to not know that you can be helped, to know people care and know. I didn’t know why it was happening to me; I still don’t, but now I at least know it’s because I was ill, not broken.
How do you feel about going forward into the future and what are your plans for the upcoming months?
I’m hopefully heading to university with a plan for my future and people I care about a lot. It’s all stuff I didn’t think was completely possible when I was at my worst. Things have improved a lot since counselling. I started it late into my education; I completely turned around my A levels thanks to the help I got there. I’ve also got myself a part-time job now. Things are a lot better with me, my work and my relationships with people. It’s helped me a lot and I’m a much happier person because of it.
It is estimated that approximately 20% of teenagers will experience depression before they reach adulthood. It is a mental health disorder which impacts on the lives of not only those directly suffering, but on family and friends of the affected individual. There are some valuable networks someone with depression can engage in to improve their symptoms, and potentially fully overcome the disorder.
Chris is unfortunately one example of many, as many teenagers struggle to gain recognition and help for symptoms of depression. However, in the space of just two weeks after contacting the SYM project and filling out a simple form via the website, he was seen by one of CLD’s professional counsellors. http://www.thesymproject.org/ (for self-referral, click ‘Get Help – Young Person’).
The following links for well-known organisations explain depression in more depth and outline treatments and suggest multiple coping mechanisms for those affected: