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From March 13th every day for two weeks, we will be posting a new piece of content about people’s first experience of having a conversation about their mental health as part of our campaign #14Conversations.

We are raising money for a local, free mental health service for local people aged 11-25: Off The Record. They’re doing an amazing job but they can’t do it without financial support. Click here to donate!

#Conversation4 comes from Isobel Parker.

Initially, opening up about my mental health wasn’t an issue I thought I would have to deal with. Up until the last six months of my A- levels, I had not previously suffered from mental health problems at all and it was only with the benefit of hindsight that I became aware of how bad it got.

It was no coincidence that these two events were linked to one another. All of my university offers were very high (offering no less than an A* and two A’s). Inevitably, this caused a great deal of anxiety about my upcoming exams, which would determine whether I would get into university. At the start of the Easter holidays, my self-esteem plummeted to the point where I could barely concentrate on anything at all, let alone think about sitting an exam.

The most important advice I can give to others in confronting the struggles created by mental health is to talk.

As the anxiety surrounding this increased, I became more inward looking and therefore less likely to communicate my feelings to others. The question I kept on asking myself was ‘If I can’t understand what’s going on in my head, how on earth am I supposed to explain it to somebody else?’ Not only was articulation a problem, I felt accountable for my constant feelings of unhappiness. It was my choice to pick high entry requirements and therefore I alone had to deal with the consequences.

After I had finished my exams, I assumed that all the pressure surrounding them would be released and I would go on feeling as I did before. However instead of the expected euphoria, I felt a heavy sense of deflation. It was at this point that I knew something wasn’t right. Finally, I was going to talk to someone about how I had been feeling for the past few months. It was a decision that was difficult to make and I found myself questioning a number of times whether this was the right thing to do.

A week after my last exam I went to the doctor to make a routine appointment. This way, if I suddenly felt unable to talk about how I felt I could say that I was suffering from earache or something. I was worried that somehow I was making up the recurring negative thoughts in my head and what I was experiencing couldn’t be proven. However, the moment I started to talk the doctor began to nod their head and reassured me that what I was experiencing was completely normal and not something to be ashamed of.

The issue of mental health is one that is universal

This is what I wish I had been told months ago. I had been deterred from talking about my mental health because I thought it was something people simply did not discuss. I believe this is a huge part of the problem. In bottling up all of your anxieties and negative feelings, you simultaneously give them space to consume you.

The most important advice I can give to others in confronting the struggles created by mental health is to talk. In verbalising your feelings to another person about you are at the same time accepting and acknowledging that you want things to change. In my case, this was fundamental in finding a solution to a problem that had become an all-domineering factor in my life.

Secondly, something that benefited me hugely was the knowledge that I was not alone in experiencing mental health problems. It is estimated that approximately 450 million people worldwide suffer from some form of mental illness. Initially, I was comforted by this fact, that this was an experience shared by many.

However, upon reflection this number appeared freakishly high. While the stigma surrounding mental health has improved in recent years, it seems clear that the negative label attached to it, prevents too many from confiding in others. The fact that this is an issue that is so prominent within daily life, yet so silent particularly struck a chord within me.

I firmly believe that the issue of mental health is one that is universal. We all possess minds, therefore we all experience varying degrees of mental health problems- we must not allow stigma to force us into suffering in silence.

Thank you Isobel for sharing your story. Get involved in the conversation by using #14Conversations on Twitter!

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