Conversations about Mental Health

Lucy Hargrave | June 11, 2018

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I’m writing this article on the last day of Mental Health Awareness Week, so perhaps appropriately I’m discussing Mental Health, or rather people’s attitudes toward Mental Health.

You see I was diagnosed with depression and social anxiety when I was twenty-two. I was living in the big city (London), had a supposedly excellent graduate job and was finally financially independent from my parents. I was living in a city that nearly all my friends wanted to live in. Yet I was miserable. Worse than miserable, I was depressed. I couldn’t see the point in anything; nothing excited me or made me feel better. I’d phone in to work saying I was ill because I just couldn’t leave my bed and face the world that day.

I didn’t know what was wrong. I’d heard of mental illness, but surely that wasn’t what was happening to me. Right?

I remember talking to my parents about it. They couldn’t understand why I wasn’t happy. They kept telling me all the reasons my life was great. But it didn’t feel great. Then I spoke to one of my colleagues at work after she admitted she suffered from depression.

Suddenly a lightbulb went off. Finally, I had found someone who could understand what I was going through. It gave me the confidence to seek help, talk to a doctor, get a therapist and finally start dealing with my mental health.

I made huge life changes because I realised London, my graduate job and everything that went with it weren’t what was right for me. Trying to lead a supposedly ‘dream life’ was making my depression worse. Of course, that is an incredibly simplified version of the process. Ultimately it led to a complete life change, one that was better for my mental health. Now I’m studying for a Master’s with the aim of doing a PhD. I’ve got my passion for life back. Sure, I still have bad days, but usually, my depression is a distant friend rather than a constant companion.

Having depression and social anxiety isn’t something I’m ashamed of. In fact, I’ll tell almost anyone because I want to talk about it. I don’t want to hide it. However, this has made me notice some of the interesting differences in people’s reactions to mental health.

My parents are amazing. I can tell them anything, and once I was diagnosed, they were willing to support me in any way they could. But they didn’t really understand depression. To them, it just meant feeling a bit sad. In an attempt to understand what I was going through my dad watched a TedTalk on depression. He then emailed me his notes on the talk and sat me down to watch it with him. A well-intentioned, if slightly strange, experience. I’ve had similar experiences when talking about my mental health struggles with other people from that generation (Baby Boomer). It isn’t that they don’t care, but they just aren’t as well versed as my friends and colleagues who are more similar in age.

Yet when I speak to those of my generation they either have had their own experiences with mental illness or know someone who has. I’m lucky to have a great group of friends who not only know about my depression but actually understand it because most of them have experienced it.

I’m not saying that mental illness didn’t exist in my parent’s day, but it wasn’t as openly discussed as it is now. It wasn’t as understood by the general public as it is now.

The only person I have never discussed my mental health with is my Grammy. I love her, but she was born in the 1920s; she grew up in WWII and barely understands how a TV works. If my parents don’t always feel comfortable discussing mental health, I can’t even imagine how my Grammy would react.

When she was born mental health was not well understood and often many people were institutionalised unnecessarily[1]. Yet just three generations later we live in a world that has a whole week dedicated to mental health. Attitudes towards mental health have clearly changed for the better since my Grammy was born. Attitudes towards mental health are clearly changing for the better, with each generation having greater understanding and acceptance than the last.

[1] http://www.hiddenlives.org.uk/blog/2014/04/misunderstanding-mental-health-early-20th-century/


About Lucy

Lucy is currently studying an MSc in Literature and Modernity at the University of Edinburgh, before that she completed an undergraduate degree in English Literature with History of Art at the University of Hull. Her research interests include LGBT and Queer writing and contemporary women’s fiction.

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