By Roopa Mehta.

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and as a person who suffers from mental health problems, this week is very important to me. One of the worst and at the same time best things about having any kind of mental health problem (as compared to a physical health issue) is that no one will know that you have it. This may also be true for someone suffering from bipolar disorder or schizophrenia – no one necessarily has to know. People will say things like: he’s seeing things, or she’s hearing things, or that a person is just REALLY happy or REALLY sad all the time. No one ACTUALLY knows unless you tell them.

In my opinion, this hidden aspect of mental illness is a good thing, mainly because it avoids stupid questions like “are you crazy?” You don’t have to try and explain all the time that your mental health is just a part of you and there’s nothing you can do about it but find a way to manage it and have people who support you.

But there’s a downside to all the secrecy as well. You suffer in silence and alone. You feel ashamed because of the stupid questions and the weird looks – and it could be fatal. I can’t tell you a number of times I’ve felt like I had no one to talk to and it’s lead to me feeling like I wanted to end it all…

Before “falling into the system” as such, that is “getting diagnosed”, you display an assortment of behaviours. People who are, for example, on the autistic spectrum or having extenuating circumstances like childhood trauma and homelessness, or a family member with mental health problems, are almost predisposed to having some kind of mental health illness themselves.

In my experience though, people with mental illness often find their intrinsic intelligence and their ability to problem-solve can be better as compared to average people. So it’s probably not all bad, but remember, no two people are the same. What’s totally acceptable for me to deal with might be a nightmare for somebody else to go through and vice versa.

Anyways, let’s talk about how I got diagnosed? The long and short of it is I told my keyworker that I felt like the only way to cope with my problems was to jump in front of a car or out of a window. That didn’t go down well, believe me! He passed it on to my personal tutor at university, who later took me to A&E, where I talked to a mental health professional who diagnosed me with depression. When I then started seeing a support worker, all the other mental health problems gradually got diagnosed as well. I was told that I needed therapy, but you know what it’s like, I was on a waiting list for 2 years before I actually started therapy. The good news is that so far it’s going well!

There are considerable drawbacks to having mental health problems. People start telling you what you can or can’t do, but don’t let them stop you from finding your feet and doing what you want to do in life! On the other hand, if there’s an event or someone wants you to do something you don’t want to do then you can use your mental health problems as an excuse!

Mental health problems don’t have to be the end of all of your life. They can bring you up just as much as they can tear you down. The important thing to keep in mind is, that you can and will learn to manage it. It may take some time but it is doable.

You want to make sure you notice things within yourself and within others, to help manage mental health problems. If you have suicidal thoughts, if you feel quite low, if you have extreme mood swings or your eating habits suddenly change, then talk to someone. If you notice this in someone else, then ask them honestly: is everything okay? The one thing that anyone with or without mental health problems needs is someone who will support them, unconditionally.