“Trying to hide my mental health difficulties because I felt ashamed of them didn’t make them go away”

I am still only 18 years old but I hope that sharing my story will encourage others to talk about how they are really feeling with someone they trust – however hard this may be.
In 2016, I was in Year 10/11 at a highly regarded girls’ grammar school in Kent. I always felt academic pressure to achieve, but alongside this was the social pressure that ruled my life. As a child and teenager, fitting in was difficult for me. Social media made this a hundred times worse.

In the summer of 2016, just before I started Year 11, I got caught up in a situation that would send my mental health spiralling. It’s still raw and difficult to talk about, but it involved a group of girls, their group chat online, and me being wrongly accused of something I hadn’t done. I had been self-harming since I was about 12, but by this point, it had gone to a whole new level of severity. Towards the end of September 2016, I tried to take my own life. It was after that that I started to receive the help I’d been needing for so long.

First came an emergency mental health assessment at the hospital, where I was referred to CAMHS. Following this came hours of therapy which I resented at the time; but I now know that, without it, I would not be here today. I was diagnosed with Autism (which explained so much of my social difficulties), Depression (which came as no surprise whatsoever) and Generalised Anxiety Disorder. I was also treated for trauma with a special type of therapy known as EMDR, as the things I had experienced through social media and in real life left me with great difficulties. I was having recurring nightmares and often thought I could see people around me when they weren’t really there at all. I was also treated with medication, which I am still taking to this day. The most helpful thing for me though, and the thing that really gave me a second chance at life, was that my family moved me away from all of that to a new part of the country so I could start again. I am thankful every day for that.

I first heard of Heads Together in late 2017 when I was watching TV with my parents, and it sparked a conversation about social pressures and how difficult it is for young people to be themselves these days. It really got me thinking about how the work of an organisation can impact the lives of so many people, and how important it is to have conversations about mental health.

The media coverage of Heads Together has helped me to realise that trying to hide my mental health difficulties because I felt ashamed of them didn’t make them go away.

What stuck with me was when I heard Prince Harry talking about the importance of normalising conversations about mental health to the point where you can say “you know what, I’ve had a really bad day. Can I tell you about it?” This is something that I frequently remind myself of and it has helped me to be open with my family and closest friends. As a result, in my family, we are now openly having conversations about topics that we once found difficult to talk about and I am learning that I can seek help without stigma. I think that it’s so amazing that people with such high profiles as the Royal family are helping to change the way we view mental health. For someone like me who felt I was so different, I now feel so much more connected.

One of my biggest challenges has always been self-acceptance and, at the age of 18, I feel I am now growing ever closer to fully accepting myself for who I am. It has been a difficult journey and one which so, so, so many people go through. That’s why I came up with Øbsydian. I launched this business in late 2018, with the hope of encouraging other people to accept themselves, love themselves and be themselves. I have designed clothing which can be customised to allow people to express their authentic identities, which I believe is an idea I would have loved when I was 15 and struggling. I launched my brand online (www.obsydian.net) and it gives me so much pleasure to see that I am starting to reach people and helping them be themselves.

I want to be able to give people the message that they are not alone, and that all suffering is temporary.

I am making regular donations to Young Minds, the charity which supports young people with mental health problems.

If I could give any advice to people who feel lost or like they have nothing to live for, it would be this:
• Take small steps first. Even things like showering or opening a window can be huge achievements when you’re depressed. Don’t push yourself too hard.
• Talk about how you feel. Having open conversations with family, friends or professionals can really alleviate the build-up of emotions that comes from keeping quiet.
• Identify your triggers and distance yourself from them. I found that following certain people on social media was detrimental to my mental health, so unfollowing them was a big step for me in my recovery.
• Find a healthy outlet like painting, writing or photography. Give yourself something productive to focus on.
• Find something that makes your life purposeful. Having a reason to get up in the morning is so important, even if it’s just taking on the role of feeding a pet- they will love you for it!
• Help others. We’re all in this together. Maybe do something charitable? I shaved my hair off for Cancer Research and donated it to The Little Princess Trust. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
• Accept that you are who you are, and you are wonderful. I love Kurt Cobain’s quotes, in particular, “wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are.”