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MHAW2016 - My experience with depression and anxiety

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This is an important week to help raise awareness for the 1 in 4 people who will be affected by a mental health problem, people like me. Suffering with social phobia, anxiety and depression for 8 years, I wanted to shed some light on the signs to watch for, not only on these but others which are common so you can help your friends, or yourself.

This is more than ‘just being sad’, it’s more of a case of extended levels of exhaustion and lack of interest in things which at one time may have made a person excited. Low moods are a key symptom of depression but there are others to consider – feelings such as: emptiness, restless, agitated, lack of sexual interest and isolation. Someone suffering with depression doesn’t need to have all the symptoms, it’s rare that you’ll have them all, just elements of feelings which may shift or change. Behaviour and thoughts may also change, not getting as much sleep but also possibly sleeping more than usual, in the same respects a lack of appetite or a larger appetite and also more interest in any vices which were casual like alcohol, cigarettes or drugs.

Much like depression, the manifestation of anxiety is extremely common and just because someone may experience anxiety, doesn’t mean they have a diagnosable case. There are physical and psychological manifestations of anxiety, some of the physical ones can be: nausea, hot flushes, heart palpitations and pins and needles – whereas a few examples of psychological ones are: feeling on edge/tense/nervous, thinking someone can see that you’re anxious, dwelling on negative experiences, numbness or agitation. If you think someone’s having an anxiety/panic attack, ask them what you need to do, some things may make them worse. For example, I don’t like to be hugged when I’m having a panic attack because it makes me claustrophobic, but some people might find that extremely comforting.

Most of the time, I like to just be left to deal with an anxiety attack without much fuss, carrying on wherever I am, but I’ll be quieter and distance myself slightly to calm down. I used to find going out to restaurants an extremely uncomfortable situation to be in because I used to have an issue eating in front of large groups of people which made me feel nauseas, the mixture of feeling like I was going to vomit with food wasn’t always great! However, I’ve grown out of this fear now, and enjoy going out for dinner, I’d suggest to others just putting your fears to the back of your head if you can. One thing which still puts me on edge is being trapped somewhere, and not being able to leave, which used to make school a bit uneasy and public transport. However, I’ve learnt to not apologise for accommodating for my anxiety, so if I ever felt as though I had to leave anywhere, I would and then explain to people after why.

When I wanted help, I went to my GP and was then referred through a few mental health services in my area until we found one which was most appropriate for me to undergo some therapy. But if going to the doctors is completely out the question, then there are some other options: some mental health services will allow you to self-refer so do some research and see if you can contact any directly. If you’re in student halls, then the people who work at reception will always be extremely helpful, they’re not your parents so they won’t judge you and they’re professionals who can help you help yourself. Outside of professionals, I cannot stress enough how important friends are if you’re struggling with your mental health. If you feel safe enough, tell them what you’re going through and they can help you too – I have a tendency to isolate myself, and even someone asking to go for coffee or come over and watch films is an act of kindness which I really appreciated.

It doesn’t have to be lavish plans or day trips, just something simple which you’ll enjoy together! While I was struggling the most with my anxiety and depression, I didn’t realise how my friends noticed the difference in me, I was so focussed on myself and my issues. Last year I had a chat with one of my friends about mental health issues, and he explained to me how worried he was at the time that I wouldn’t get better, and that he was so proud of how far I’d come. I was shocked that he’d noticed how much I changed when I was struggling, and how much I’ve changed since getting to grips with everything I’d dealt with. I’m now not ashamed of my mental health problems, all my friends are aware of them and know that sometimes I might need a bit more convincing to going out, and they understand that I also need time alone.

One of the main things to remember is that if you are suffering from some kind of mental health condition, you are not alone and don’t be afraid to speak out.

Emily Best lives in Liberty Works, Sheffield. She is studying English and is in her 1st year at Sheffield Hallam University.

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