VP Postgraduate

Vice President Postgraduate

matthew4.johnston@northumbria.ac.uk 

World Mental Health Day 2019: My Mental Health Story

Today is World Mental Health Day. The fact of the matter is that we all have mental health, the same we have physical health. Like our bodies, our minds need to be looked after too. The overall message of today is that if you ever need to talk to anyone about your wellbeing, you definitely should. There are multiple ways you can seek support both inside and outiside of the university: 

  1. If ever you need someone to talk to because you're going through a tough time, the Students' Union has a nightline service ran by volunteers who are there to be that listening ear if ever you need someone to talk to. They never pass anything you say on to anyone and anything you say is kept between yourself and the person answering your call. The service is open 8pm-7am, 7 days a week during term time. The number is 0191 227 3737. 
  2. If you require the university counselling service, you can refer yourself here - https://www.northumbria.ac.uk/study-at-northumbria/support-for-students/counselling-and-mental-health-support/. There is an online form for you to fill out, if you need help filling out this form please do not hesitate to get in touch with the SU and we can see how we can help you. 
  3. Speak to your GP - If you are not registered, you can register with your nearest GP in person. You can find your nearest NHS GP practice here - https://www.nhs.uk/Service-Search/GP/LocationSearch/4 
  4. You can also self-refer for mental health services with the NHS here - https://beta.nhs.uk/find-a-psychological-therapies-service/check. They will ask about your GP location so they can find the best psychological therapies service in that area for you. Also your GP may refer you for psychological therapies. 

It's ok not to be ok. If you need to talk to someone, please do. No one should suffer in silence. If you ever need support, please do come to the sabb office (ground floor of the SU) and we'll happily support you in any way we can.

Now, for my story. At risk of undermining everything I've just said, I do consider myself a bit of a hypocrite when it comes to mental health, particularly when it comes to the topic of male mental health. Whilst more recently, I have been trying to break down my internal barriers to talk more about this stuff (a year ago today I put out a small post saying I wasn't ok) it's still difficult. I'm hoping that this blog is somewhat of a sledgehammer to the whole thing. I'll be honest, as I'm writing this, I am shitting myself. I know my story isn't as bad as others, I'm terrified of being judged and I don't know what the reaction will be like. My hope with this is that it encourages others (I'll be honest, particularly young men) to be more open with their struggles and to seek support if they need it. 

Also, I'm sorry that there's some jokes and sarcasm in here, it's the only way I feel comfortable sharing.

I had a year out before university. This came about after I applied orginally to do a Performance degree after college but had a bit of a panic and an existential crisis about if it was really what I wanted to do with my life. I withdew my application but had no idea of anything else I wanted to do so I decided to take a year out to fully decide what I wanted to do with my life. However, the "gap yahh" to follow wasn't a glamorous trip in the mountains of Tibet or involve a high-flying trip to the Alps. It was a mess of loneliness, uncertainty and depression. 

When September came around and all my friends had gone to university, I felt alone and abandoned. I spent most days in bed not doing anything (although I did watch all of Breaking Bad at one point), I barely ate, I didn't shower a lot, I just kind of... existed. My parents were both working and my brother and sister both had school so I was in the house by myself a lot. I cried... a lot. I did contemplate suicide (although not enough to act on, I don't think my ego could take it). The only time I got out of bed was when I had to go to the job centre to sign on (it was depressing before Universal Credit, I can't imagine what it's like now) and the occasional trip with my dad to Salford, which I assume was a way to get me out of the house more. I had no job, I lost all interest in my hobbies, I had no money and I spent all day in bed. One morning my mum came in asking about if I'd applied for jobs, did I want to get out of bed, that sort of thing. I just broke. I remember just being like "what's the point?" and I started crying (up until this point most of my crying was done away from my parents). My mum sat down on my bed next to me and hugged me, she said, "I think you've got depression."

Now, I'm getting older now. I'm 24 and nowadays "depression" and "anxiety" are quite well-known terms. But when I was 18, only 6 years ago, I had very little idea of what depression entailed. This was at a time when I understood depression as "just being a bit sad innit?". It just so happened that at the time my mum said this, I had to go to the GP about something else anyway so I thought I'd tag my mental health worries onto the end of that (side note: I have since seen a GP specifically about my mental health). After speaking to them they told me that they'd passed on my details to the Talking Therapies team. Couple of weeks later, I recieved a phonecall from someone who asked me a veriaty of questions about my happiness, my family etc. I'll be honest it was one of the most challenging conversations I've ever had, and even to this day it still makes me quite sad. I cried, a lot, again. I was put onto the talking therapies sessions and it consisted of sitting in a room with a bunch of people and listening to someone talk you through what's going on with your mind and things you can do to help yourself. Now at the time I didn't have a great experience because I was mainly frustrated, sitting in a room thinking "yeah, this is great, but when am I going to get better?" But upon reflection, they really did help me, and it was more valuable than I realised at the time, if you do end up on talking therapies, just listen to what they say because it is really valuable.

That became my life, every week I would go to these sessions and hear about mental health and ways in which we can cope. At the end of the sessions, I was asked if I wanted to take part in one-to-one sessions and I said yes. I never made it to those one-to-one sessions. I mean they did take a while to get back to me with a potential appointment. But at the time I was waiting, I started to feel better. I did get a job, I started volunteering, I did join a theatre group and I did start to audition for Drama Schools (although I think this process did fully put me off the idea of pursuing theatre as a life plan). So when the call came through about one-to-one support I did reject it, I didn't feel like I needed it. Later that year, I did apply for university to do History and that set me on the path that led me to where I am now. 

Fast forward 6 years and I'm doing much better. That's not to say I don't have negative mental health experiences, last year I had to go to the GP to talk about my mental health because I couldn't sleep. More recently, during freshers week, I didn't feel great most of the week and at one point I went home early after having a bit of a meltdown in the CEOs office (shoutout to Martyn for looking out for me there). There's times when I just need to be away from it all so I will just go sit somewhere, more often than not the toilets, to just settle down and breathe a bit. But all in all, I'm not bad, but I'm not perfect. But there's times when we're all not. 

One of my main worries when I talk about my mental health or even think about talking about it, is that there's always someone who's going through worse. I feel almost selfish for feeling the way I feel because I feel I have no right to, there has been no major tragedy that has led to me feeling this way. But I know that makes no difference, if you need help you need help. There's a quote by Robert Webb which I quite like that sums it up: 

“Yes of course there's always someone worse off than you. But imagine you're in a doctor's surgery with a broken arm. The person next to you has two broken arms, the person next to him has two broken arms and a broken leg. This is all very well, but the point is that you have a broken arm and it hurts.”

Don't compare yourself to others, as your mental health and wellbeing is important too. Like I say, if you ever need to talk to someone, please do. It doesn't have to be a professional, a friend, a partner, a parent will all be helpful too. Don't bottle things up, it's something I'm still learning so I know it's hard, but it only makes things worse. None of us are invinsible. If someone does come to you wanting to talk, you don't have to be an expert, you're not expected to cure them, just listen. Listening is the most important part. 

If you can't think of anyone, come talk to me, the sabb door is always open.

 

 

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