THE BLOG

Being Open About Your Mental Health Can Be Easier Said Than Done

14/08/2014 14:41 BST | Updated 13/10/2014 10:59 BST

Just over three years ago in 2011, at the age of 22, I tried to take my own life.

I still don't know whether I wanted the attempt to succeed or not. Afterwards, in the hospital, I remember the doctor asking me whether I just wanted it all to end, or whether I wanted to die. I couldn't see the difference.

At the time I recall thinking there was no way of knowing whether I had wanted to die. If I'd died, I'd be dead - so how would I know if I was happy with that? I certainly wasn't ready to reflect that it was good to still be around.

This blog post is a small part of my personal story, and I hope that by sharing it I can encourage others to do the same. And I hope that others can see that there is a way through and beyond those feelings of intense despair and suffering.

That said, I have yet to fully come to terms with what I put my family and friends through - and though I feel this part is private, I must say I am privileged to have such a strong support network. I just didn't know it at the time.

But that is mental illness. As I have since tried to explain, "Sometimes your brain just isn't on your side". Had that sense of rational stock-taking perspective been in my employ at the time, I would not have ended up in hospital.

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I feel like as a society we're at least trying to get better at dealing with mental ill health. Part of that is promoting openness about it, and I've personally drawn strength from reading the accounts of people like Alastair Campbell and Ruby Wax.

But, from my experience, we still have a long way to go.

Firstly, though I am a firm believer in, and proponent of, the NHS - not least because of my political affiliations - the care I received was undoubtedly poor.

I know I was left with a stomach full of rapidly digesting sedatives in the A&E waiting room for hours. I know the people I was with had to fight tooth and nail to get me seen. I know they had to deal with me lying on the A&E bathroom floor, unable to control my own limbs, before that happened.

I also can't fully know what they went through that night. One person in particular I can never repay my gratitude for. At the same time I know I can never look them properly in the eye again - the shame is too great. We quickly drifted apart.

The NHS follow-up was also desultory. I was released into the care of my parents. A week later, back home, I made my way to an outpatient appointment, only to be asked by a female mental health practitioner: "You're a good looking girl, you've got a good job, what have you got to be depressed about?" I left. The appointment lasted less than five minutes and I never went back.

I received no further contact. I lived alone, in a new area where I knew few people, yet no alarm bells were rung.

Earlier in my depression, a GP had given me the advice: "What you need is a nice boyfriend". As a firm feminist, my 'sexism radar' is well attuned. But at the time I was so exhausted by sadness, that - and given much of my hurt back then was in no small part due to a profound loss of self esteem and trust at the hands of some horrendous interactions with men - I couldn't even feel angry; it just made me feel all the more devastatingly alone.

I remember feeling totally hopeless: I've done my best, I'm at this appointment, but if I can't trust the professionals to get it, where on earth am I meant to go?

Secondly, some people in my day-to-day life were great and some weren't.

I went back to work quickly, having received no advice to the contrary. A colleague, who I didn't know that well, but had foolishly felt was a friend, sent round gossipy emails about my mental health to the tune of "Oh my god, did you hear...?!" (he accidentally copied me into one) and put in a complaint about my competence to my boss.

The punch in the gut I felt from that can still bring me to tears just recalling it today. This in the type of 'progressive' political environment I still work in. I hope it's not too callous to say I hope they feel ashamed of themselves now.

The biggest message I got at the time was simply that I was a huge inconvenience.

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Even in this spirit of openness, I still feel a deep unease in writing this so publicly today. Whilst my career and life in general is going pretty well now, I know that other people can and do judge more than they'd care to admit.

Put simply: if asked on paper whether they'd be good to someone experiencing mental health problems, most people (particularly in my left wing bubble) would like to say yes. In reality the truth is that when put to the test, for whatever reason, the same people really can be total shits.

Though I know it shouldn't be the case, the thought that someone could read this in the future and question my competence and aptitude for a job still fills me with horror. And, finding myself recently single again, I can't help thinking - what if a potential future partner reads this and thinks I'm too much trouble, a 'bit of a mess', not worth the hassle?

I just hope there is a greater good that makes this worthwhile. I feel that there must be.

We must talk about out mental health, I know this. But I also know this for sure - god knows it isn't always easy. But it's definitely time to change that.

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