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Guest Post: Your Mental Illness Doesn’t Have to Define You

A guest post from Alex Hoyle:

When I was 12, my school psychiatrist suggested to me that I might have mental health issues.

I'd been seeing her in secret after a particularly bad period of teenage angst. Not the regular kind of teenage angst, you understand, the one where you sit in your room all afternoon listening to Slayer, no. The kind where you shun all human contact for months at time, preferring instead to stay inside, playing videogames with the curtains closed, until your skin takes on a kind of translucent sheen. Like a deep-sea fish, but with way sorer thumbs.

When she first said the word 'Depression', I was terrified. Partly because I had no real appreciation of what it actually was, beyond the idea of 'like sadness, but more so', and partly because she might want to tell my parents. I was worried that having a disorder would change the way they looked at me, mark me out as some kind of freak, separate from all the other, normal human beings.

But the thing is, it didn't. There isn't actually anything that unusual about having a mental health issue. In the U.K., 10% of the population, one in every ten people, has a form of depression. And that's not just because of the food. According to the mental health charity Mind, 300 out of every 1000 people in the U.K. will experience mental health problems each a year.

Of those 300, only 230 will visit a doctor.

That might be because, like me, they were scared of what might happen if they did. I was afraid that I'd spend the rest of my life being poked and prodded by people in white coats. (Quite why they would choose me, as opposed to anyone else, I don't know. No-one ever said fears had to be rational.) But that fear was completely unfounded. I think, like most people, I completely underestimated how common experiences of mental illness are, even within my own family.

My mother didn't panic, because she'd had a range of experiences similar to this throughout her life. Her own mother, my grandmother, has taken antidepressant medication for decades now, and my great-grandmother spent part of her early life in an actual sanatorium, being treated for manic-depression. Chances are, your family' is similar (except for the sanatorium part). If you're one of the 300 people, or think you might be, it's not as scary as it seems.

In a way, that's one of the great things about science, and skepticism in general. When you understand something, to explain it, and put a name to it, it suddenly doesn't seem so frightening. You're not a weirdo, you're not a freak. You have a condition. One that's real, testable, and explainable. And you're not the only one to have it.

The fact that I have a mental illness doesn't define me. And it won't define you, either.

Resources:

Survey towards attitudes about mental illness UK 2010

Mind stats about the prevalence of mental illness

—-

Alex Hoyle is a student in the South-West of England. My favourite food is curry, and I used to work as a clown at kid's parties. I also happen to have Depression, as well as a form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder known as 'Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome'.

I fight crime.

(Not really.)

Featured image credit: ~ I P O X s t u d i o s ~

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