I’ve been struggling for around 10 years now with anxiety and depression, but although I can see with hindsight there was something wrong with me, I didn’t understand either of these terms and never heard about mental health or mental illnesses at school. This meant that although I was going through problems, I wasn’t able to fully understand my problems and get the support that could have helped me.
At school, I isolated myself from my friends and never went out with them after school. I felt a lot of pressure to fit in as most kids do but while I had friends, I never felt able to go out with them and develop friendships further.
When I left school and went to a different Sixth Form to all my friends, my isolation grew worse as I was able to just stay away from others and not do things outside of lessons. This is something I knew wasn’t good, but I never thought of it as anything different than simply being 'introverted'.
Only until I had a panic attack in my last year at sixth form, did it start to develop more as a problem. Again, I didn’t realise what I was going through at the time, but with hindsight, I wish I had been able to get support and understand what I was going through.
My panic attack led me to run away from an exam I had and therefore fail my A-levels and fail to get into university, which all just added pressure and made me more miserable. It took a big effort from my parents to get me to do an extra year at college, so I could get myself back on track and into university.
Having got myself back on track temporarily at college, I got into university. Starting there was a great triumph for me, but I was still isolating myself from others, not going out and not engaging in university activities.
All I did was go to lectures and seminars (and even then I sometimes missed them because of no motivation), I didn’t talk or engage with other students or do extra activities. When I look back at my lack of extra-curricular activities, I now think it’s no wonder I am unemployed and have so few friends!
My mental health stayed ok for a little bit in the safety of isolation, but then came my dad’s death in 2013, during the start of my 2nd year at university and I spiralled into a deep depression and grief for months.
I thought of giving up university as life seemed pointless and futile, but thanks to encouragement from my personal tutor and mental health services at university I chose to get extensions on my assignments and defer a couple of pieces of coursework until the summer.
When I moved onto post-graduate study at my 2nd university, I felt a deep sense of shame and regret at not doing enough as an undergraduate and so I made a point to try and make friends, go to extra-curricular activities and socialise a little more.
My anxiety levels spiralled as I did this, and although I went out more, eating and drinking with friends and generally socialising outside of classes, I felt anxious constantly before going to lessons and got huge amounts of physical and mental pain from this.
I remember vividly having days when my stomach felt too sick to eat and I would go the whole day without eating anything!
I also remember regular trips to the toilets as my nervousness and anxiety affected my bladder, which didn’t exactly go unnoticed when I was out socialising! This pain also extended to my self-esteem as well, and I often had my inner critic shouting at me and calling me worthless and a failure, during and after socialising with friends.
My inner voice berated me, left me feeling despairing and told me that no matter the progress I was making, I would never be happy and that I wasn’t normal for being anxious and nervous in situations.
As my time went on though, I started to consider therapy and medication and during 2016, I saw the opportunity to join a mental health campaign, Time to Change, which would change my life! I didn’t realise it, but signing up on the last day and pushing myself to go to London on my own for the first time would prove to be the most rewarding and best things for my mental health that I could’ve done.
Joining the campaign as a Young Champion came at a time when I was struggling. Although my postgraduate phase had been better for me socialising and I had completed my dissertation, I was only just beginning to come to terms with starting medication for my mental health and I was still at the beginning of understanding fully my anxiety and depression.
Volunteering at Time to Change, was the kick-start that I really needed to tackle my mental health head-on. By meeting so many amazing mental health champions, both young and old, I have been able to understand my mental health more and how I can use my experiences both past and present to help those going through struggles now.
I have now gone to colleges and attended mental health conferences where I have shared the testimony of my mental health struggles and talk about what I think schools and professionals need to do more to support children.
I have started to take more of a proactive role in my own mental health, as I have taken it upon myself to start medication for depression and undergo CBT for social anxiety, both of which have proven really useful.
I also have support networks out there, and friends who understand me, while also being able to draw upon self-care techniques I have learnt. All of this has come from joining Time to Change and taking an active role in understanding my mental health and knowing I’m not alone, and that I can do things to manage my anxiety and depression on a daily basis.
Thanks to the Time to Change movement, I am now able to say that I am in a better place than I was two years ago, and even though there are difficult times with depression and anxiety, I am better equipped to cope with them and get support.
It's so great to hear that Peter is in a much better place now and that he took charge of his mental health so early and took the steps needed to get on the road to recovery. Can you trace your own mental health struggles to your school days? How did you manage them? Let us know in the comments below.