When you smile as much as I do, when you appear so filled with energy and life, laugh and joke around as often as I do, it is difficult not only to tell others, but to admit to yourself when you have a mental health problem.
I'd always been acutely aware of my mental health, but unfortunately, like most things in life, up until October 2010 I'd not really taken it seriously. For me depression and anxiety happened to other people, my life was all rainbows and fairy cakes. I'd gone to university in September 2009 and was, it seemed, managing. I'd adjusted well, made friends and everything was exciting.
Looking back I can see there were 'flashpoints' throughout my childhood, signs that I was not coping mentally or in a constructive manner. If I ever had any problems I ignored and avoided them, doing my best to only address issues when absolutely necessary.
They say that university gets harder in the second year, as it actually counts. I don't know if it was this or the awful student rental I was in, but I cracked. I was working at a nightclub, sweeping the floors at the end of a night, when I suddenly had an image in my head of committing suicide - it was truly terrifying, but went as quickly as it had arrived. But the impact of that image was pretty strong - I felt physically shaken and it seemed as if thick, black clouds were rolling in, choking every sense of happiness from me. I ran to my girlfriend and broke down, telling her what had happened and how scared I was.
At this point my family encouraged me to get help from the doctors. I took medication for four years, with varied side-effects. I was reluctant to seek talking therapies, scared to discuss my feelings too deeply, almost embarrassed. Additionally, I was worried what it actually meant to have a mental health problem - my anxiety levels peaked when I thought about being taken away by 'men in white coats' and I'd frequently check the street outside for vans. Such was my understanding of the mental health system!
Over the years I have learnt to better manage my mental health, I would say I am still depressed, but now I use tools such as playing rugby, blogging or baking to help focus my mind on other things and keep positive. But the clouds are still very much there, hovering on the edge of my mind.
I saw the Time to Change campaign, which is supported by money raised on Comic Relief's Red Nose Day, on TV and found their website. At the time Time to Change was looking for young people to be involved in a new project - Innovation Labs - to develop technological tools for young people's mental well-being. I signed up instantly and a month later went to London and met more than 30 other young people, a majority of whom had a mental health problem. It was the first time that I felt like others truly knew what I was experiencing, and it gave me the confidence to talk more about my depression.
I remember one night standing on my doorstep, a little worse for wear, talking to one of my best friends about what I was going through, and he listened, he took it on board, asked questions and seemed genuinely interested. I've never said it to his face, but I really appreciated the time he took that night to chat and ask how I was. If the stigma around discussing mental health was addressed once and for all then people may know where to turn in a time of crisis without having unrealistic fears.
It is difficult to see if there is anything sinister lurking behind a smile, I know I have lied about how I am previously and smiled when inside I felt like breaking down. Ever since I told people around me that I have depression, people have been supportive, been understanding and, most importantly, open to discuss their mental health too.
I am now in a much better place, I did graduate, and thanks to my experience with the Innovation Labs Project I work in the Third Sector, making grants to some great projects. I will be using this Thursday to #Take5 and start even more conversations around mental wellbeing.
Money raised by Red Nose Day (back this year on Friday 13th March) is helping to support The Time To Change Campaign which today (Thursday, February 5th) is asking the nation to take 5 minutes to have a conversation about mental health. Find out more at: www.rednoseday.com or http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/timetotalkday.
Need help? In the UK, call The Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90. For more support and advice, visit the website here.