THE BLOG

Five Things I Wish They Had Told Me About My Mental Illness as a Teenager

18/02/2016 21:06 GMT | Updated 18/02/2017 10:12 GMT

When I was diagnosed with anorexia, anxiety and depression at 14 I had no idea what that meant. Nobody at school or at home had ever spoken about mental health before and despite my relief at finally having a name for what I was going through, I still felt like the Earth was crumbling beneath me.

With no compulsory mental health education on the curriculum, no training for parents and teachers, it was inevitable that that I felt in the dark about my condition as neither my parents nor my friends could tell me the answers I needed to hear.

Ten years later and there has been some progress on addressing mental health in young people. We now have a schools mental health champion Natasha Devon, Nicky Morgan is piloting a peer mentoring scheme with the Department of Education and the Youth Mental Health First Aid course is making its way into British schools.

But if I could rewind time, and alleviate some of my fears, here is what I would like to have heard:

1. You are not alone in this

Mental health was never something we spoke about at school. As a result I felt like I was the only one in my friendship group - perhaps in my whole year group who was struggling with these issues. The reality is that one in every 10 children has a diagnosable mental health problem. But feeling like I was the only one made me ashamed and too uncomfortable to talk about it with my friends, when their support could have really helped me.

2. Counselling is nothing to be ashamed of

While most teenagers my age either stayed in bed or rolled around the local park with a football every Saturday morning, I took an hour long bus journey each way to attend my counselling appointments. It made my weekend stories significantly less interesting than everybody else's. I felt that there was a stigma attached towards needing psychological help so when people asked what I got up over the weekend I just said "Nothing". By the time I got to university I found that most people have needed help at some point in their lives; whether through formal counselling or otherwise.

3. You might need to take these pills for the rest of your life

I first started taking anti-depressants and anti-anxiety pills at 17, and while I have had a few breaks from them during 'good periods' I have been taking them more often than not ever since then. At 24, it still annoys me how some people judge me for needing to take pills to get through the day; I want them to spend a day inside my head and then see if they feel the same way. I am constantly hearing stories of how bad anti-depressants are for you, and have gone cold turkey more than once but the truth is that my life is much more bearable with them. It's incredibly hard to get talking therapy on the NHS and unless something drastic changes, I will probably need to take medication for the rest of my life.

4. It won't go away, it will even get worse, but you are stronger than you think

Since I was 14 I experienced two major relapses into my eating disorder; one of which nearly ended with a second hospitalisation. I have also had three very bad episodes of depression where I was signed off work for weeks at a time and experiencing suicidal thoughts daily. As a teenager, I expected that I would recover from mental illness within a few months and life would carry on as normal. Instead, I now realise that this is something I will have to contend with for the rest of my life and proper self-care, medication and therapy will keep it at bay.

5. This is the start of a passionate journey, where you will meet some of your best friends and have some of your proudest achievements

Although I didn't know it at the time, my experiences as a teenager inspired me to get involved with the mental health services at university, and from that I have gone from volunteer to group leader, founded a campaign group and served as a trustee on the boards of two mental health charities. I have met some of the best friends I will ever have; people who were happy to share their own stories with me and happy to support me with mine.

Had I known some of this at 14 I might have felt less alone and that is why I am supporting the Huffington Post's #YoungMindsMatter campaign; to speak up for the kids who desperately need help with their mental health.