I was ill through most of secondary school with a condition that doesn't relate to mental health. At that time I could not see the concern and love that my friends and family had for me. I lived each day as it came, stumbling through it. When my mother talked of joining her sister in America I showed no concern for the friends I would leave behind. Friends invited me to things but I knew I was too tired and ill to join them. One day my friends agreed to honestly discuss aspects of one another that frustrated and annoyed us, in a non-judgmental act of attempting to improve ourselves. They asked me to talk to them about my condition so that they could understand it and help me.
Up to that point I had not realised their concern for me, and came to realise just how much they had done for me and put up with over the last few years. Their patience, understanding, unconditional love and friendship did not cure my condition, but it gave me a support that was invaluable in settling back into life. Any condition, physical or mental, requires an aspect of mental self-recovery - healing yourself after the trauma of the condition, and growing from the scars left by it. To know that friends have stuck by you through your worst is the best way to start that recovery, and particularly important at university for those that are struggling with aspects of mental health difficulties.
I have only felt a shadow of the black dog's presence when I came off a particular medication for my illness. I suddenly would find no motivation for life any more, and would burst into tears for no reason into my mother's arms. It was a cycle I had to repeat a number of times, but I came to understand and expect it to happen for a few weeks, and could reassure those around me that it would soon pass. The experience has given me a fleeting glimpse into what life would be like with depression. Even in those few weeks, my life was completely under the control of my lack of emotion and drive. Horrible thoughts would creep into my head, and the idea of social interaction was exhausting. It took over my body and mind as much as my physical illness.
I have since had many friends open up to me about depression, amongst other mental health difficulties. I like to think they've felt able to because I have always tried to talk openly and honestly about my feelings since that day in school. I feel privileged that they have felt able to share those experiences with me, and that they consider me in times when they need support.
From what I've experienced, the most important thing to do for someone with depression is to be patient. Understand that it may be a huge hurdle for them to get up and come out to the peaks with you, go to that friend's birthday party, join you for dinner, or go to that lecture. Don't hold it against them, and never stop inviting them - one day is not necessarily the same as the next. Be there when they need, but don't expect to be able to 'fix it' in a few days, weeks or months. They may not recognise it at first, but slowly those little acts of friendship will creep in, and they will prove to be the initial support that helps them to begin their recovery.
Through the Mental Health Matters society I have met a group of people who have had mental health impact on their life in some way or another and who have felt a need to act on helping others. Their selflessness and complete openness is the driving-force behind the society succeeding in reducing the stigma that surrounds mental health.
Mental health is still poorly understood by many, and rarely talked about by most. By sharing experiences and discussing different aspects of mental health, we hope to support those currently struggling or those trying to support people with mental health difficulties.
Mental Health Matters Sheffield is one of over 30 student societies in the Student Minds network, a UK-wide network of student mental health groups campaigning to break down stigma on campus. For University Mental Health Day (18th February), Student Minds is encouraging students to open up to their friends about their mental health and will be sharing tips and strategies on how to do this, as well as on how to support a friend. For more information about University Mental Health Day, click here.