By Sarah Harris
Accepting that I needed help for depression was one of the most challenging things I have ever done: I’ve struggled with various mental health problems since the age of 12, and until recently I always dealt with my problems alone for fear that they would be deemed not serious enough to warrant help
I was so worried about being scoffed at by the professionals that I worked myself up to the point that the first time I stepped foot into my doctor’s surgery I walked myself straight back out again. So, believe me when I say that it came as a huge shock when my doctor prescribed me a course of antidepressants.
Throughout the course of my treatment I have shunned the idea of taking medication: I thought that it was just a way to cover up the problem, to pretend it wasn’t there, and if I’m being completely honest, there is still a part of me that stubbornly thinks that I can handle it by myself. In addition, due to a bad experience during the summer, I’m also absolutely terrified that I’ll never be able to come off my tablets, that I’ll never be happy, or even normal, without them again.
I want to make it clear from the offset that I don’t believe that antidepressants are a cure, that when you start taking them and suddenly the world is filled with puppies and rainbows. The medication itself does not help recovery in terms of the underlying causes and triggers which are the root of all mental health problems. However, what it can do is put you in a much better position to begin thinking about addressing these underlying issues. When you’re stuck in a cycle of negative thinking, it can be hard to find the motivation to leave the house, let alone to be proactive in tackling your problems. Medication gave me the shift in attitude necessary to force myself that my illness by no means defines who I am.
As I said, medication is not a quick, one-stop fix: I still have bad days, and even weeks, but the difference is that now I can rationalise and see them for what they are – just bad days. Yes, I am still worried about coming off my medication, but after speaking to my GP I feel assured that they will help me deal with this as and when I feel ready.
Since admitting that I need help and being open with those I know, one of the main things I have come to appreciate is that mental illness is much, much more common than any of us really recognise. When we come to University for the first time, we are completely thrown out of our comfort zones: for many it may even be their first time away from home for any extended period of time. On top of that you have the student lifestyle – excessive drinking and lack of sleep which personally have a major impact on my mental health – and the fact we are expected to work hard and get decent degrees at the same time. All this means that University is a breeding ground for illnesses like depression and anxiety.
Admittedly, I still struggle to talk openly about my problems to all but a few people: I find it incredibly uncomfortable, and regrettably a part of me still feels like it makes me weak, or a failure. This should not be the case. No one should feel ashamed or embarrassed to come forward and admit to their friends, family, or even to themselves, that they are struggling – my biggest regret is not realising this sooner.
Mental illness is a very personal and unique experience for everyone who suffers from it, so while my experience with medication has been a positive one, my word should on no accounts be taken for gospel. It’s taken trial and error to get my medication to suit me and I know many others who are still searching for something that benefits them. Different things work for different people, but if you are struggling with your mental health the main thing to remember is that you are more than your illness – and with that in mind, to know that there is always a way out, even if it does seem a very long way away.