Every day with depression and anxiety can be a monstrously uphill battle. There's sadness, sure, but that's actually just a fraction of it. There are periods of guilt, numbness and loneliness that can slow time to a crawl. There are times when depression manifests in an inexplicably physical way. Your muscles can feel so heavy you literally cannot lift them, with an internal pain so excruciating it can make you audibly moan. Anxiety brings its own set of problems; voids in concentration making it impossible to get anything done, being jittery to the point of being unable to sit still or an overwhelming desire to run away before a panic attack sets in.
There are good days and bad days, of course, but there's little rhyme or reason as to why your mood can change so rapidly. In truth, most days encompass a random selection of the above with any number of other obstacles thrown in for good measure. If I had to sum the experience up in one word, I'd use 'exhausting'. There's seldom chance to rest before the next battle begins, and often no warning signs to let you prepare for it. Through all this, it's immensely important to feel like you're always moving forwards; always trying to fight back and build a suite of tools with which to fight the disease. It's this need for progress that makes the barriers people face to receiving mental health support so dangerously disappointing.
Doctors are willing to provide medication, but little else beyond providing information on support and suggesting talking therapy. Reaching out for help can be such a desperate struggle for those that need it, but finding someone to talk to can be a battle in itself; it takes time, repeated questionnaires or conversations about whether you plan on killing yourself in the next five minutes and a constant feeling of being judged as to whether you're 'sick' enough to deserve help. The last of these is particularly dangerous, as it makes it that much harder for people to continue to reach out and therefore continue to move forwards. Private care is available but it comes at a price. Costing between £50-100 per counselling session, it can quickly become an option that is financially out of reach. Sure, there are free or cheaper services available, but simply not enough to sufficiently support the number of us that need help.
A key tool in battling mental illness can be seeking the support and companionship of those facing a similar struggle, but again, such support can be hard to find. I live in Buckinghamshire, a place with a population of over 750,000 but no regular support group for anxiety and depression at all. Given that one in four of us will experience a mental health problem in any given year, and up to one in five of us will have suicidal thoughts, the lack of support available is simply astonishing.
We all deserve better. Mental health problems affect so many of us. Attitudes are changing, but we need more support, both through improved access to services and the increased funding that is required to pay for them. We need to do more too. We need to be honest enough to accept the scale of the problem and brave enough to talk about it openly. We need to encourage those around us to reach out for support and provide it ourselves in any way we can. Above all, we need to speak up, questioning when support is not available and demand or take action to change that. Only then, slowly but surely, will we be able to move forwards together.
I'm running the Silverstone Half Marathon on March 13th to raise money for Mind, the Mental Health Charity. If you'd like,you can sponsor me here :)