We all like to think we’re special. There’s no other in the world quite like us, no-one’s been through what we have in life. It’s particularly easy to feel like this if you’ve experienced a mental illness with all its mind bending twists and turns. Realistically how many people could possibly relate to a life that – despite being devoid of hallucinogenics, barring kit kats – mimics a permanent bad drugs trip?
The thing is, if – like me – you’ve suffered from depression and anxiety then you’re not actually very special at all.
A 2009 survey reported that 9.7 per cent of the English population was struggling with mixed anxiety and depression. That’s you plus somewhere close to a staggering five million other human beings within a 600 mile radius. Five million other people that might struggle with suicidal thoughts, leaving the house, being on their own for longer than ten minutes, or sleeping without the light on.
Still feeling ‘different’? The stark reality is that one in four people in the UK will experience some kind of mental health problem in the space of a year.
Is it that surprising that my fair island is sinking into the mental illness mire? It’s not just adults trapped under the crippling weight of rising bills, childcare and other responsibilities that are suffering – depression and anxiety are leaving their caustic mark on the young too. A recent study published by Public Health England linked excessive time in front of televisions, computers and other screens to lower self esteem and greater emotional problems in British children. You only have to step onto a train to see this travesty in motion across the ages. With row upon row of travellers favouring smart phones and tablets over eye contact and conversation, it’s no wonder that feeling isolated and anxious is becoming the norm.
However one of the benefits of being ordinary is that you’re very much not alone.
When I opened up about my mental illness experiences it seemed like the entire world, including my old primary school teacher, my friend’s neighbour, my flatmate’s boss, my Mum’s friend’s third cousin eight times removed and my colleague’s gerbil had been going through similar things. Without sounding too sadistic (revelling in the pain of others isn’t a great colour on anyone) I felt incredibly relieved that countless others had lived my nightmare. It encouraged me to speak up about my problems, douse those niggling embers of shame that often threatened to burst into flames and engulf me, and most of all to simply get furious about the fact that so many people were needlessly suffering in silence. I also recognised a chance to do something useful in supporting those that had shared my path.
Nobody needs to suffer in silence. If you’re caught in the jaws of depression and anxiety you may feel like no-one else understands what you’re going through, but you’d be wrong. Talk to your loved ones or find a support group – Depression Alliance run a fantastic network of meetings all over the country – and get connecting with people that can really empathise with your situation. You can probably help them as much as they’ll be able to help you.
Once you reach out to the plethora of fellow depression and anxiety sufferers, you might be glad that you’re not so unique after all.