I was 14 when I was first admitted into an adolescent psychiatric unit. When I was sitting in hospital I finally realised that there was something seriously wrong. It was only the week before the suicide attempt that the thought that I may be depressed crossed my mind.
I was probably about seven or eight when the idea of suicide started to enter my head. There would be periods when I would constantly think about what it would be like to not be here. In these times I would often refuse to go to school, because I felt too unwell and anxious to see other people. There would also be physical symptoms that accompanied these low periods which I still get occasionally now, stomach aches, headaches, vomiting - I think this was my way of creating a physical representation of how I was feeling on the inside.
When I was seven I drew a picture of myself attached to a boulder which I explained at the time was what it was like - there was this big heavy thing that followed me wherever I went, sometimes it would be lighter and at other times I wasn't able to move. It took me a long time to realise that boulder was my depression. To this day I still feel as though there is this 'thing' that I have to drag around with me.
Up until that day when I was admitted to hospital I thought this was all 'normal', I thought this was how life worked. Mental illnesses weren't something that happened to 'normal' people, and they most certainly weren't something to be spoken about. I still sometimes question whether or not I have depression because to me it's so familiar, it's something I have to fight every day, even when I am at my best.
From the ages of 9 to 16 there have been many times where I have attempted suicide and two have resulted in hospitalisation. I had a total of three admissions into an adolescent psychiatric unit which spanned a total of nine months. Not that this is something people would guess just by looking at me. In fact most people wouldn't think that I suffer from acute and debilitating depression, even those who know me well, because you cannot fit those who have or have had mental illnesses into a box. There is no formula or rhyme and reason as to who will get one, but it can affect anyone. Some of the 'happiest' people I know are actually the saddest.
When I was 16 I set up the 'It's OK Campaign' in an effort to encourage young people to be open and talk about mental illnesses. I had realised that it is so important to talk about things with others and discuss some of the feelings that I'd been coping with alone. When I was younger there wasn't a resource which I had access to that would let me know that I was not alone, and it wasn't until I was admitted into an adolescent psychiatric unit that I realised that there were others like me. When I first set up my campaign I was terrified of the online abuse I was subjecting myself to, and for the first few months I ran it anonymously. My mum was also petrified of me setting up something so public and sharing my story to those who didn't know me. However after some arguments she agreed that it was something that I needed to do and has supported me the whole way. Since setting up the 'It's OK Campaign' I have received nothing but kindness and compassion from others. Being open online gave me the confidence to be open offline and my family and most of my friends accepted me with open arms.
In hindsight I wish that more conversations about mental health had surrounded me growing up, at home and especially in school. I wish that I had known what signs to look out for and I wish that my parents and teachers had too. They put down my change in mood as being a 'hormonal teenager' and it was that avoidance that meant I didn't get the help I needed until I was very close to death. It's important to talk about mental health, it's OK to talk about mental health. So take five minutes out of your day to talk about how you feel, start the conversation.
Money raised by Red Nose Day (back this year on Friday 13th March) is helping to support The Time To Change Campaign which on February 5th is asking the nation to take 5 minutes to have a conversation about mental health. Find out more at: www.rednoseday.com or http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/timetotalkday
Need help? In the UK, call The Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90. For more support and advice, visit the website here.