An Open Letter to the UK Parliament,

RE: Introduction of Mental Health Education in schools.

To whom it may concern,

I’m writing to you to tell you why the introduction of Mental Health Education is not only a good idea, I’m writing to tell you why it’s absolutely necessary.

A little about me… I’m a 24-year-old journalist. I enjoy going to music concerts, hanging out with my friends and going on long country adventures – well… that’s until my severe anxiety hits, the panic attacks succumb and I find it difficult to speak to my family and friends, let alone leave the house. My anxiety makes the job I love unbearable; most of all, a lot of the time it makes living unbearable.

A lot of the time I feel like the walls are closing in and there’s no light at the end of the tunnel – I’ve felt this way for a while now.

I lost my dad on my first day of secondary school. I was an 11 year old that hadn’t grasped the ‘convential’ death – let alone why someone would choose to die. I didn’t know what alcoholism was, I barely knew anything about drugs, anxiety, hallucinations or that people were ‘mentally unwell’. Although the teaching staff were incredibly helpful – I can’t help but feel like the education system let me down. I was a year 7 pupil, grasping the idea of big school and fighting this battle of losing a parent. I didn’t know who to talk to, who to contact, why my Dad had decided to leave me. My peers had never really come across mental illness before and instead they shied away from asking about him. They never understood. That’s not their fault. They’d never been educated – I had never been educated.

I developed mental health issues at the tender age of 11. Although the majority of the time unsaid, panic attacks, feelings of worthlessness and anxiety have dominated my life since.

This is the first time I’ve admitted it – but for a very brief time at university, I even turned to self-harm. That was a very very very dark time.

During my time at school, there was noone around me to tell me that feeling down was normal, there was no real talk of what depression and anxiety was – instead I felt incredibly alone. My teenage years were my definitely my loneliest – trying to piece together loss, mental health and just the general obstacles of life – that was difficult.

Everyday since I’ve suffered under the hands of mental illness. It’s always been relatively controllable – so controllable that I’ve been able to hide it from the majority of my friends and sometimes, even family members.

However, over the last few years I’ve seen my mental illness take control of my everyday life. I’ve never been good at change. Therefore when my whole world started to change just over 5 years ago, my mind couldn’t take much more.

Over the last 5 years I’ve seen my family unit completely disintegrate. I’ve seen my mother’s health deteriorate, get better and then fall down like a sack of shit again. We lost our home of 20 years because of some selfish actions. I’ve failed and succeeded at university. I lost the very man that took me under his wing and brought me up as his own. All the while – I lost my self worth in the process.

Admitting you have a mental health issue is incredibly difficult. I’ve banged on about how important it is to reach out to people, to speak to them, to listen – but when it comes down to my own mental health issues, I’ve hidden them away, thrown them into my little glass bottle brain, closed the lid and thrown them out to my sea of thoughts. I’ve kept my own issues bottled up for so long, reaching out for help is just near enough impossible for me.

It all comes down to stigma. Stigma still exists. People will still think you’re crazy or ‘talking shit’. People will think you’re unstable. That you’re broken or that you’re just shouting out for attention. Either that, or people will feel uncomfortable and never question you ever again.

I’ve seen stigma first hand. I’ve had friends shy away from ever asking about my Dad just because of the way I lost him. I’ve had boyfriends that have broken up with me because ‘I’m damaged’ and that my past holds too many issues for people to deal with. I’ve had people turn around and say that my father was weak, selfish, stupid, unstable, psychopathic etc. I’ve had people shy away from family discussions because of him. Hell, I’ve even had some family members laugh at the fact he’s dead.

My reasoning for not reaching out? Being tainted with the stigma brush does not sit lightly with me. Stigma will always exist unless we sit down and learn about it.

You’re taught about how important it is to keep healthy, to eat your five a day, to exercise – what we’re not taught about it how we should look after our brains too. How to feel confident. Feel worthy. How anxiety works. What suicide is. What struggle is.

I can’t help but think that as children, we’re painted this pristine picture of how great everything is – how happy the world is. It’s not like that and as kids its okay for us to know how shit the world can be.

I can’t help but think if the education was put in place – people like my dad, people like me would not be suffering silently everyday.

Best,

Sammy

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