By Debbie​​​​​

I’ve struggled with various mental health diagnoses over the last ten years; this includes having an eating disorder, anxiety, depression, borderline personality and complex PTSD. I struggle with panic attacks, self-harm and have attempted to take my own life several times in the last few years. I have experience with a few different services, points of contact, therapies and treatments but I am yet to find something that has been helpful for my recovery. People may think that I’m in a good place at the moment, for I volunteer with three mental health charities, am a member of a football and two netball teams, and I recently moved house and set up my own business. Sadly, the reality is that I still struggle, a lot.

The more I talk about myself and my experiences, the more normalised I hope it will become for other people - I will shout it from the rooftops if it helps just one person or helps to drive much-needed change. Receiving some of my diagnoses has brought a lot of relief, but on the other hand a lot of people have used it as a stick to beat me with.

One of the hardest things is not knowing what will help when I am feeling particularly low. Exercise has been a good coping strategy for me and one or two people have taken the time and energy to really try and be there for me. To be allowed to feel what I feel, without judgement or consequences, without being made to feel that I’m broken or a monster, has been invaluable.

There has to be a better way for people to know what help is out there and what exists in terms of services. This includes medical professionals. Everyone knowing what is out there would help so many people. It also needs to be understood that when someone is very poorly, it is impossible for them to reach out for help. People have to be willing to step in and help when the brain gets so foggy. But if people don’t know what help is available, where do they even begin?

The impact of the people that you interact with on your mental health journey is so vitally important too. I have had some incredibly kind, supportive and encouraging people handling me at times, but I have also been patronised and looked down upon, judged and stigmatised, and received really hurtful comments.

There needs to be more mental health knowledge and suicide prevention training, and it needs to be happening now. Things are better than they used to be, but there is still such a long way to go. Mental health is still so far behind physical health in how it is viewed and I don’t know how to fix that. So many people are still so ignorant. It is great to see employers training people in mental health first aid, but this needs to become even more commonplace. This is one of my main motivators for volunteering, upskilling myself and helping others; as someone with lived experience, I can listen and understand far better than a lot of people, which can be incredibly comforting, but I also want to work towards systemic change, so people receive the kindness and compassion they deserve during their darkest times. I think it should be mandatory for certain people within companies and organisations to have proof of the mental health training they have received, because the harm that ill-informed comments can cause is so detrimental. The reason I stayed in my last job as long as I did was because I wanted to change how things were handled for those who came after me, but when I realised I couldn’t I was forced to step away.

This for me represents an attempt at healing, I guess. I was paying for private therapy but after ten months of painstakingly vulnerable work they explained that they didn’t think they were best placed to help me anymore. That’s when my whole world fell apart. I’m on a waiting list for DBT through the NHS.The only referral they received, was mine.

I don’t understand what more I can do to help people understand. I know it must be hard, to grasp how someone can feel so low they no longer want to live, but in my opinion those people who can’t understand should just feel grateful that they haven’t experienced it. You do not need to understand to empathise and be kind. To listen, without judgement, and hold space for a person to be their true self. So many people need to do better, and be better. This is why training that raises awareness of mental health issues is so vitally important. But equally, people just need to remember that we are human beings. I do not expect anyone to fix me or for anyone to have the answers to all of my problems, but I remember how people made me feel. It isn’t about what people say, but how they say it, for I understand that people are scared of saying the wrong thing, but if it is said with the best intentions, with love and integrity and kindness, then I guarantee it will make a huge difference.

The problem is getting, and is only going to get, worse. More and more people are going to struggle, and clearly there aren’t enough resources. I appreciate that organisations and services have thresholds, which is why it is so important that information is shared openly and widely about what services exist and what help is available. It could save lives, and if there is one thing that gets me up in the morning, it is knowing that my story and my volunteer work has the potential to save another person’s life. I will do everything in my power to use my story for good, so other people do not have to experience what I have. I hope that sharing my story can help others to feel less alone. I hope it helps them to feel seen and heard. Because as lonely as mental illness is, we are simply not alone.