Five years ago today, I was looking at my garden shed as the location where I would draw my last breath. I stood there filled with a mixture of anxiety, depression and stress, diagnosed 2 years earlier by my Doctor. The only thought on my mind was how to end the harassment and misunderstanding brought on by individuals and organisations which caused me to feel worthless; because they had zero knowledge of mental illness and in particular, how their actions affect individuals, who suffer with mental illnesses.
What would you do, if you saw someone with a broken arm or leg; would you squeeze their broken bone to check its true? What if someone is suffering from the flu; would you suggest they go outside in the cold or would you offer them a hot drink? What about someone suffering from cancer; would you tell them the difference ways they could have contracted cancer and their odds on dying, or would you offer support?
Yet, when it comes to mental illness there seem to be a moment of hesitation, when people think of what they should do or say and too often, they prefer to say a quick few words to allow them to get out of the awkwardness of the situation as quickly as possible because they are fearful of saying the wrong thing, not realising their actions cause more pain for the individual with mental illness.
Mental illness is not difficult to understand and often can be easy to control and even, overcome. In fact sometimes, it's easier to control mental illnesses than the judgement and opinion of people, who don't have the time or compassion listen, understand and support. That's the real problem and the source of the stigma for people with mental illness.
I say this because in the seven years since I was diagnosed with mental illness, I have lost contact with family and friends, who prior to my diagnosis and attempting suicide were in contact either daily or weekly. I did not allow myself to feel sorry for their actions in walking away from me, as I had to focus on my health and in focusing on me, I found new means to control my emotions and not allow my mental illness control my life, such as exercising to lift my overall health, emotions and wellbeing; speaking openly about how I feel, thereby not bottling it inside and allowing the mental illness to control or overwhelm me. Most importantly, not allowing myself to be defined or labelled, when I value myself for the person I know I am and focus on, who I want to become in the future.
The surrounding pressure placed on me, whilst suffering with mental illness brought me to an all-time low in October 2010, when I attempted suicide. Yet, it has also made me see how I can be true to myself in both actions and words, confront my mental illness and fears thus in doing so, I can motivate and inspire people similar to myself to feel good about themselves, plus not allow them to be labelled or stigmatised by people with no understanding of mental illness.
In my opinion, once you get to know and understand yourself, your mental illness and your limitations, you can start to strengthen yourself, see your weaknesses as challenging areas to improve. Let's be honest, no one is perfect; push yourself beyond the limits possibly holding you down and don't focus on being judged by people, who claim never to have been affected by mental illness because, we all have at some point in our lives suffered from mental illness.
When we realise mental illness is not the major problem and that, the major problem is those people scared of mental illness due to their lack of understanding and not realising their judgement or opinion affects those who do suffer from mental illness, then the stigma will start to come to an end.
Take a moment and look around, we live in a society where 50 years ago, cancer had a big stigma, yet more people survive cancer than ever before because more people understand the warning signs, plus every week people raise awareness for a wide variety of cancer charities and research. A society, where there are more mixed race relationships and children than 50 years ago, when mix race couples met in secret because of stigma of mixed race dating. And, 30 years ago, the World was in fear of a HIV / Aids epidemic because of stigmas about homosexuality and now, we have 'legalised' same sex couples and marriages.
The World has progressed and major stigmas of the past have been destroyed due to those individuals and organisations, who promoted the stigmas being found to be discriminating and uneducated in encouraging their own fears onto others without due care of the effect of their actions or words had on people with mental illnesses.
Current statistics show mental illness is on the increase across the UK, though it doesn't take much to start to reduce the stats and it's not a question of throwing sums of money at the problem, but what we do as people. By working together in offering support and listening in a non-judgemental manner, we can start to help those individuals and families suffering with mental illness; we learn more about the causes, individual's experiences and find proactive solutions. Also, in working together we can reduce the most frightening statistic of the last five years, the rise in suicides.
I look at the current statistics on mental health and suicide with a tear in my eye, as I know that I am part of the mental health stats, but I also know how close I was to being part of the suicide stat as well.
Need help? In the UK, call The Samaritans free on 116 123. For more support and advice, visit the website here.