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“Things start getting better as soon as you start to talk” –a young person’s experience of poor mental health

“Things start getting better as soon as you start to talk” –a young person’s experience of poor mental health
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Insights from a young man in his early career, whose mental health difficulties began in adolescence.

‘Mental Health Difficulties in Children and Young People: A Toolkit for Parents’ includes signposts to information and sources of help for young people themselves, as well as insights from those who’ve been through it.  

Here we share the full story from a contributor in his early career, whose mental health difficulties began in adolescence.

Confusing feelings

“I first noticed I was struggling with my mental health when I was about 14 years old. I had just started my GCSEs, and remember feeling a strange mix of angry and lonely at the same time. It didn’t start overnight, but over the course of a couple of years I lost interest in my work and in socialising. I’d get home from school exhausted, and just want to sleep. Lie-ins at weekends got longer, my mood got worse, and I gradually came to believe ‘I’m just not a happy person’. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was showing early signs of clinical depression.

“Looking back, there we a couple of clear causes. Firstly, I was becoming a perfectionist, and had attached a lot of my self-esteem to my performance at school. I had learned to constantly chase the highest grades, and felt that any dropped marks made me a failure. As the work got harder, perfect marks became less attainable, and even as I performed exceptionally, I felt I was letting people down, or not performing at my best. This made me sensitive – inclined to stroppiness and anger, I pushed away some of my closest friends and spiralled into feeling very isolated and unhappy.

“The second cause was more complex – I was starting to realise that I’m gay. As a teenage boy with mainly male friends, I had internalised a lot of homophobia before realising it applied to me. Changing room ‘banter’ and playground insults made it sound like being gay was an awful thing, and at the time I wasn’t equipped with the tools to challenge that. So as I started to realise my attraction to men, my response was to push this down and deny it. I developed a hard exterior and did everything I could to avoid seeming ‘different’.

Being heard

“It wasn’t until I eventually came out to my parents three years later that I started to realise I was depressed. Coming out, and being accepted for who I am gave me the space to start understanding my emotions, and discuss them with my parents and friends.

“Those conversations with my parents were the main reason that I was eventually able to seek help with my mental health. The most useful thing they did was listen – over the course of many chats they let me talk about my emotions, and listened without judgement. They made it clear they were happy to talk, and tried their best to understand how I felt and what was going on. Fortunately, both were mental health literate – they were able to suggest going to a GP, knowing that they might be able to help me understand my condition more.

“In the end, it was my GP, who diagnosed me with moderate anxiety and depression. That diagnosis was the start of a slow recovery which continues to this day. It gave me the language to communicate how I was feeling and understand my behaviour. It also validated my feelings, and helped me believe that there might be a way to one day feel happier.

Recovery and reflection

“Now five years since my diagnosis, I feel like a whole different person. My recovery has been gradual and inconsistent, but through moving to London for university and since finding a job that I love, the bad days have become less frequent and the good ones more. I’m not in the closet in any aspect of my life, and while I’m still a perfectionist, I depend a lot less on my academic and professional performance for my self-esteem.

“I wish that 14-year-old me knew more about mental wellbeing – giving young people the vocabulary to discuss their emotions is the first and biggest step towards them understanding themselves. Furthermore, I wish I’d known that I didn’t have to hide that I was feeling down and lonely. Rather than burying myself in school work to distract from my feelings, I wish I’d learned to open up sooner. Parents and teachers are far more compassionate and understanding than teenagers like to think!

“The 14-year-old me would be really proud of where I’ve ended up, and I hope that young people going through a similar thing at the moment know: things start getting better as soon as you start to talk.”

Resources

Download  ‘Mental Health Difficulties in Children and Young People: A Toolkit for Parents’