Mental Health - Why Don't We Talk About It?

08/03/2017 12:30 GMT | Updated 09/03/2018 10:12 GMT
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Every winter and every summer, for the past few years, I have walked down the long corridor to the exam hall. Terrified, anxious and fearful faces have greeted me. Their facial expressions are telling. They're a compound of the worries of the exam paper, and the concern that all those months of hard graft could be gone to waste. However, for some, their facial expression tells me nothing. They don't look outwardly worried or stressed. But that doesn't mean they aren't struggling.

It wasn't until my mock exams in my GCSE year that I really took notice and an interest in my mental health. I worked well with, what I understood to be, pressure, and I could handle stress. Such factors made exams more exciting. But what I didn't know was the cut off point; I didn't know when to stop and take breaks. I would get in from school at 4, get my head down to study and not pick it back up again from my desk until 8. I would take an hour out for dinner and family, and then continue going until what was usually 10 or 11. The hours were there, the strategy was not. In the process, I was unknowingly pushing away everything I held dear. I struggled to communicate to anyone that I was struggling. Instead I dedicated myself purely to my studies. I felt cut-off and exhausted. I felt burnt out.

Over a year later, I hope to think that I've learnt from this experience; that I 've adapted by being smarter and more strategic in my preparation and that finally I've got a good social/academic balance going for me. But it is so easy to fall back into the trap.

What I have learnt is that your drive should not compromise your mental health. When you feel your mental health is suffering - in any situation - it's vital that you talk to someone. There's a reason that people find this difficult. From my own observations, people don't want to complain and people don't want to listen to a complainer. It's the same reason why we don't see it on our social media feeds. It's not fun. It's not happy. It's not light. We don't see it or hear it, and as a result we don't see the severity of it.

Kevin Breel, writer, comedian and mental health activist put it like this:

"we live in a world where if you break your arm, everyone runs over to sign your cast, but if you tell people you're depressed, everyone runs the other way".

That's the stigma. We are so accepting of any body part breaking down other than our brains. That's why we don't talk about our mental states, and that's why people deal with their mental illness and fears quietly in the corner of the library, at home in their bedroom and crucially in the exam hall. That exact stigma is why we only recognise a problem when we see something is broken, when we see terrified, anxious and fearful faces or in my case when I finally burnt myself out.

If any of us can intercept that trouble along the way, be it for ourselves or for others, then maybe we will feel more relaxed talking about mental health.

Mental illness and fears are okay. They are an issue and not an identity. It's time we talk about it.

James is part of BBC Learning's The Mind Set campaign. For information, support

and advice on exam stress visit