It has always occurred to me that there are certain 'high risk' times when it comes to maintaining your mental health. When due to outside circumstances you are knocked out of place, forced to reevaluate, and, sometimes unwillingly, move on to a new stage of your life. These are times of transition, and they can prove dangerous without the right support and understanding.
Leaving university at 23 years old I thought life was just beginning. I had put every last drop of energy I had into my degree and was sure it was going to open doors for me. Six months later I had moved back in with my dad after being made redundant from my job, unable to pay for rent. Depression hit me like a ton of bricks. I wasn't prepared for it. I couldn't handle it and worst of all, I didn't even know what it was. Speaking to quite a few other people my age years later, they now admit that they suffered with depression or anxiety after they left university, but most of them didn't even know it at the time. They thought they were being stupid. They saw others around them getting on with their lives, and didn't understand why they were finding it so difficult. As we all know (but tend to forget) images can be deceptive.
The reason I write this now is that I am smack bang in the middle of one of these times of transition, and having been through it already, I can recognise the same feelings arising. I have just returned from a year working overseas, I am sleeping on a friend's mattress, no job, living in a new area with very few family and friends around me. To my vulnerable brain it seems like the whole world has moved on, and I am left with no identity or place. I know that this is a high risk time for me. Luckily I realise this, and because of this I am doing all I can to avoid it (exercise, getting outside a lot, being proactive about jobs) I am also lucky enough that I have people around me that understand this about me that I can talk to. Five years ago this wasn't the case.
In many ways, it makes sense. Mental health and wellbeing has been shown to be inextricably linked to identity and self worth. These are the very things that are called into question when after over 15 years of working towards a full time education, the rug is pulled from under your feet. You stare at a whole world out there and instead of feeling elated, you feel terrified. It's not as easy as you always thought it would be, after the 50th job application with no reply you start to question your worth to the world.
With the highest youth unemployment rate in 20 years, and rising mental illness in under 25 year olds, much more needs to be done to support people when these feelings first arise. This begins with awareness and talking about it with the people around you. If I had known that other people I know felt the same way in the year after leaving university, I would not have felt so alone. If I had talked to them openly about it maybe I wouldn't have felt such a colossal failure. If my dad had understood that it wasn't laziness that made it difficult for me to get out of bed in the morning, that it was more than a bad mood making us argue all the time. If the doctor had realised that I needed more than sleeping tablets, then maybe I would have got some help and moved on with my life a little sooner.
I talk about leaving full time education as a major risk point because it is what I have been through personally. The same can happen when after five years at a company you get made redundant, or after seven years of marriage you get a divorce, or even when after 21 years of being a parent your children fly the nest. In fact any time call into question your place, your purpose, and therefore your self-worth. They are all times when you should be aware and protect yourself as much as possible. For me that means throwing myself into things that I know help bolster my self confidence- exercise, writing, going for long walks outside, being proactive about applying for jobs, and equally avoiding things that erode it - looking at social media ,drinking too much, spending money I don't have. Most importantly it also helps to have people around me that can watch out that I don't get too close to the edge of that hole.
Change is inevitable yes but that doesn't make it easy! One of the main reasons that people let their mental illness develop is because they don't want to talk about it. One of the main reasons they don't want to talk about it is because they don't want to admit there are struggling. Maybe if young people were better prepared by their universities, colleges or job centres, with special sessions on how to maintain their self worth and confidence whilst job searching, we wouldn't have the same crisis of confidence that we are having among young people today. Maybe with a bit more understanding, and a bit less of a 'just get on with it' attitude that us Brits are guilty of, we would see a more self aware generation emerging, a generation of young people who aren't embarrassed to talk about the way they are feeling before it's too late.