“Dear qmunicate…

Originally published in the Heroes Issue, March 2016

I was recently diagnosed with clinical depression, and have started taking antidepressants. I’ve pretty much kept it to myself though, only telling one close friend from home, and so none of my mates at uni know what I’m going through. I know that if they were going through the same, I’d want to know so I could offer them support, but I don’t know how to open up about it, or decide whom I should tell. How can I become more comfortable with being open about my depression?” Depressed and Distressed

Despite being pitched to us as the ‘best years of our lives’, university is a breeding ground for mental health problems, with thousands of students every year battling with mental health problems. Yet, whilst government, charities and universities are beginning to acknowledge the great prevalence of mental health problems amongst students, it is still largely seen as a great taboo, something that should be kept to yourself and dealt with privately, lest you burden anyone else with your troubles. To think that so many students with mental health problems will feel this way and aren’t receiving the proper support, from either their peers or a professional, as a result, is nothing less than heart breaking.

So in regard to that, the first thing that’s worth saying here is well done for speaking to your doctor and getting help – acknowledging depression and seeking help for it is often the most difficult part of beating it, and in doing so you’ve already shown that you’re capable of handling this, despite how you may be feeling just now. However, the next big step is opening up to others about it, as depression is not something that can be fought off with a one-man army. This is easier said than done, though, as I’m sure you will know.

To try and make the process seem less daunting, it’s important to remember that your mental health does not define you. Yes, it is a part of your life, for now, but it does not define who you are as a person. At times, depression can make you feel like you are nothing but a Depressed Person, but it’s important to try and remember that this is not the case. By making your depression just one facet of your identity, rather than seeing it as having taken over every aspect of it, you may find it easier to talk about openly and honestly. Because, just as someone who wears glasses is more than just A Person With Bad Eyesight, someone on antidepressants is more than just their depression.

Another important thing to consider it just how common mental health problems are amongst students – it’s estimated that approximately 8 out of 10 university students have experienced at least one mental health issue within the last year, with more than half of those not seeking support for it. So, whilst it can feel like the most isolating thing in the world, it is more than likely that some of your friends will have gone through a similar experience, or will know someone who has, and will understand what you’re going through.

It is, of course, up to you the extent to which you open up to people about your depression, but a good place to start is with those you live with. By opening up to a flatmate (or a family member, if you live at home), they can help make sure that you’re looking after yourself by reminding you to eat, shower, keep your room clean, take your medication and get the right amount of sleep, as these are often some of the most difficult things to manage with depression. They’ll also be able to keep an eye out for you on days you’re not feeling your best, offering someone to talk to or a shoulder to cry on. As mentioned before, depression is not something that can be fought on your own, and sometimes all you need is someone to be there for you.

The QMU’s own mental health campaign Elephant In The Room aims to spread awareness of mental health issues and provide links between students and support services, so if you are finding it difficult to open up to others about your depression, or are struggling in other ways, they can point you in the right direction for support and self-help, and may be able to help you build up the confidence to speak openly about your mental health.

If there’s one thing that’s going to help beat the stigma surrounding mental illness, and help us tackle the crisis of mental health problems in universities, it’s speaking about it in open and honest terms. It’s not easy, but it’s one of the biggest steps towards recovery, and as the old saying goes: a problem shared is a problem halved.

[Hannah Burke – @hannahcburke_]

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