It's no secret that the public perception of mental illness is unfortunately still pretty negative.
A person who has previously suffered with an episode of mental illness can be seen as 'delicate' or 'unstable', even after they have recovered. This perception can prevent them from getting jobs, promotions, and change relationships with colleagues, friends, family and partners. This bothers me.
Despite the painful impact at the time, I believe that experiencing, and overcoming, mental illness leaves you with some very important gifts.
1) A greater self awareness.
Suffering from anxiety or depression causes a person to gradually turn inward questioning aspects of their personality, and the way they live their lives. Although this can be incredibly painful at the time, once you can see clearly again, you emerge with a better understanding of yourself. You see more clearly what makes you happy, and equally, you can recognise what you should avoid.
2) Appreciation of the good times
When you feel at your lowest you don't believe anything will ever get better. When it eventually does , you have a greater appreciation for simple happiness than you ever had before. You don't take feeling good for granted, knowing that you can feel so much worse. This is nothing to do with circumstance,or how good your life is, but how you feel inside.
3) The ability to help others
From my own experience the most helpful people when I was suffering from my illness were people who had experienced the same. They could show a compassion and understanding that others couldn't. Since recovering I have in turn helped friends through their own struggles, recognising patterns from my own experience and being able to relate. There is no quick fix solution but sometimes just speaking to someone who understands can help more than you realise.
4) A deeper life perspective
Those who suffer from mental illness tend to be those that think quite deeply about life. These ruminating thoughts can become exhausting which leads to the apathy that we describe as depression.
Although these thoughts can be dangerous, they are also a sign of high intelligence. Many studies have shown a link between high IQ, creativity and mental illness. Throughout time the greatest artists, writers, and thinkers have suffered with this disease they call 'melancholia', and some of the world's most famous art has been produced by sufferers.
5) An early warning system.
When you first experience mental illness it can often seem to come out of nowhere. This is because you don't know the warning signs. Whether it is losing sleep, repetitive thoughts, or withdrawal from your friends and family, these stages can only be recognised in hindsight.
Between 50 and 60% of people who have suffered one major depressive episode will suffer another one, but at least if you can recognise the signs then you can do something about it. Whether that means asking for help, or removing certain factors from your life, you have a greater chance to stop yourself from slipping when you know the warning signs.