18/03/2014 07:25 GMT | Updated 14/05/2014 06:59 BST

A Social Taboo Uncovered

Glancing over the hard-pressed ink and clutching at the lose bindings, a familiar sense of woe tightens its grip around my stomach. What once served as a refuge from my torment, is now a reminder of my experience and how far I have come.

Tinged with mixed emotions, I look back at the journey I was about to embark upon. A year ago mental health didn't mean a lot to me, I had heard of conditions like depression but could only hazard a guess for what these terms meant, in all honesty I had no idea.

As I skim the initial lines of my first couple of entries, my struggle becomes paramount once more. Following a traumatic experience in my first year at University, my confidence in social situations had plummeted to minute existence. My situation was so severe that I would experience panic attacks when meeting people for the first time. I would even find it difficult to maintain conversations with friends and family, fearing that I was weird and my character dislikeable.

An intensive course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) along with strong support from a close network of family and friends has helped me regain control of my life. It is clear now that if it were not for the persistent efforts of others, I would not be where I am today.

As I reflect on my experience I can see the stages of my recovery. A positive conversation with one of the ward nurses about my day, seem prolific in later entries. It was pieces of evidence like these, which allowed me to reassess the perception I had of myself as well as others, that have proved massively helpful along the road to recovery.

Ambassador for mental healthy charity Mind, and contemporary British artist, Stuart Semple, tells me about his experience of mental health. Like myself, Semple first encountered difficulties when moving away from home for the first time. "That isolation from my friends and family wasn't a good combination ... when I was 19 I died for a few seconds from an allergy, and nobody could tell me what I was allergic to so I left that experience with a growing list of fears, things I wanted to avoid and scenarios that would trigger anxious episodes."

Figures disclosed in a study conducted by The Health & Social Care Information Centre (2009) show that the number of mixed anxiety and depression conditions in both men and women have increased by 2.2% between 1993-2007. It is also believed that 1.5 million people in the UK have experienced some form of eating disorder. However, many cases of eating disorders remain undiagnosed, meaning that the actual figures are likely to be much higher (Beating Eat Disorders, 2007).

There is no simple way to dealing with a mental health difficulty, as Semple reveals relief can be found from "a combination of things [and] being creative ... exercise has helped an awful lot as has mindfulness meditation and a very good psychologist. I think the answer to healing these etchings is in combination of approaches and each of us [are] so different."

2014-03-12-StuartSemple1.jpgBeing creative has helped Semple along the road to recovery

(Semple, S. S., 2011. False & Inflatable Feeling. Artwork)

Semple also tells me why creative therapy is so instrumental in helping those who need it most. "... Often those suffering find it hard to express their feelings with words, but being creative in a proper therapeutic environment with trained therapists is a very powerful path to healing."

As an ambassador for Mind, Semple tells me how he "designed a temporary tattoo last year for the Time To Change campaign ... to raise awareness around talking about mental health ... I have [also] spoken a lot about my experiences on Mind's behalf at various events and lectures."

Although the medical treatment of mental health is not the same as going to receive an x-ray for a broken leg, this cliché, does not suggest it should be viewed in anyway as less severe. As discussions in Westminster surround making further cuts to mental health services, a recent Freedom of Information request shows that mental health trusts have had their funding cut by more than 2% over the past two years (BBC 2013). This is a problem that needs appropriate attention and will not just go away as highlighted by both Semple's and my account.

I turn to the last few tattered pages of my diary feeling proud not only of my own personal development in the last year, but also of the work of people like Semple. Intent on supporting others affected by mental health, a friend and I have vowed to hitch-hike around mainland Europe in seven days, donating all proceeds to the charity YoungMinds. To support the fundraising event please visit our Virgin Money Giving page.


Keeping a journal helped me gain a sense of perspective when times were difficult.