TODAY I had a panic attack, or what I like to affectionately refer to as a "full-on breakdown" in the middle of a chaotic Camden market.
I hadn't had a panic attack since I was a stressed-out and overly dramatic A-Level student. I thought my anxious extremities had been left in the past, buried somewhere underneath the revision notes and school reports, but it came back with a vengeance and a delightful hatred of anyone that dared to accidentally look in my general direction.
As a journalist, I realise that suffering from anxiety isn't exactly ideal. I recall my university careers' adviser politely suggesting that I go into advertising instead, or any career, actually, that required as little human interaction as possible.
Anxiety is a complex little buzzword in the sense that is both an adjective and a noun. Many people would describe themselves as "socially anxious" or "awkward," because it's considered quite trendy to do so, mostly so you don't have to feel guilty about spending more time on your phone than you do talking to actual people.
For years, throughout the feelings of nausea when I had to do any form of public speaking, or breathlessness when I was alone in a crowded space, I was told by anyone I believed I could confide in that "everyone gets anxious sometimes." From opinions such as these, I gathered that there were far worse problems in the world than me being unable to sleep at night, and I should shut up and get on with it like everyone else.
Part of the silence around mental health, in general, is this "keep calm and carry on" mentality that stops us from acknowledging when people need help and even admitting to ourselves when we need it.
In commemoration of World Mental Health Day, I was tasked with chasing down passers-by and asking their opinions on the quality of the UK's mental health services, and pretty much no one wanted to speak to me. Maybe I'm just an unapproachable individual or maybe I just caught them on a bad day, but what I do know is that as soon as the topic of mental health was brought up, I was brushed off with excuses like "I wouldn't know anything about it" or "I'm probably not the best person to ask."
As a personal experiment, I asked the same individuals about the obesity crisis, a topic they were much happier to discuss, which just goes to show how much we value physical over mental wellbeing.
It seems to me that even talking about mental health is attached with a certain stigma; as if discussing it means you may as well hold your hands up and admit you have mental health issues, risking forever tarnishing yourself with a brush that immediately makes you a less competent and capable member of civil society.
We still struggle to talk about mental health through fear of being labelled or ill-informed
I'm not sure how many "positively inclined" posters, adverts and charity boxes people need to see until we, as a society, understand mental health- depression and anxiety in particular-as an epidemic. Overworked and striving for perfectionism in aspects of both professional and social life, rates of anxiety and depression among workers alone in the UK have risen by a third in the last four years.
I may have come back from my World Mental Health day endeavours empty-handed, but I did come back with a realisation that liberal London, a community I thought I was proud to be a part of, struggle to talk about mental health through fear of being labelled or ill-informed.
Sitting outside Nando's, as is the typical setting of those contemplating giving up a career in journalism altogether, I did what every grown woman does in times of trouble and called my Mum, who's own battle with anxiety and depression had never seemed as real to me as it did in that moment.
"Is everything okay?" she said, surprised to hear the voice of her self-proclaimed "independent" daughter on a Tuesday afternoon.
"No," I replied, exhaling for what felt like the first time in a while. It felt far more exhausting lying about being fine than actually admitting that everyday something would happen to make me feel like the ground was crumbling beneath my feet.
Of course, there is still such a long way to go until we understand mental health, but whilst I learned nothing about video journalism today, I learned that asking someone if they're okay is as good a place to start as any.