Why I Speak About My Mental Health
Our ambassador, Radio 1 and CBBC presenter Katie Thistleton shares why she talks about her mental health and experiences with anxiety and depression.
I didn't used to speak about mental health or really know what it was. When I was a child I used to complain to my parents that I was struggling to take deep breaths. 'It feels like I'm breathing but it's not going in, like something isn't opening up?' I'd say. I had asthma tests and mum even stopped me from eating smarties (much to my dismay) thinking it was a food colouring or sweet allergy. It was only in adulthood that a doctor diagnosed me with panic disorder. I realised that so many of the symptoms over the years I'd battled, and been baffled with, were being caused by what was going on in my mind.
I went on to ignore my anxiety and not stop doing the things that made me feel worse - working too much, putting pressure on myself, comparing myself to others, etc, and a few years ago I became very depressed. I had counselling and medication from my doctor and nowadays I'm happier than I've ever been, but I know I still need to look after my emotional wellbeing or I could easily take a tumble again. I can feel my fragility, especially as I'm in a line of work which can play havoc with your self-esteem and sense of security.
I talk about mental health particularly with young people, because I think if we focused on looking after our minds as much as we often do with our bodies, we could stop lots of young people from becoming as down as I was, or we could at least educate them to get the support they need sooner than I did.
I talk about mental health because I think it's ridiculous that we will go into school or uni or work and tell everyone that we have cystitis or a problem with our bowels but won't admit we are struggling with our emotions. (I recently told everyone in my team at CBBC that a change in diet meant I hadn't been 'to the toilet' for a week and a half, and even joked about it on live radio) but will I go in and tell everyone that I'm actually struggling to work today because I feel I am worthless? Or admit I was awake all night because of crippling fear about something which might never happen? Probably not. I try now to admit to people if I'm having a bad day because even just saying 'do you know what, I'm really struggling with life today' takes a pressure off you. It's ok not to be ok.
I also speak about mental health to fight the stigma that anyone can experience it just like anyone can get a disease - it does not discriminate. I'm well aware that to the outside world my life looks pretty rosy, as many lives do these days on social media. I remember when singer Frankie Bridge spoke about her depression and it made me feel so much better because I'd idolised her and thought she was perfect and had nothing to worry about. Knowing it can happen to anyone shows you you're not weird, you're just human.
When I was depressed I read Matt Haig's 'Reasons to Stay Alive' and thought: 'get lost Matt!' when he told the reader that it's possible to feel happiness again after depression. I didn't think I'd ever feel happy again. So if you're reading this feeling depressed know that you CAN and WILL get better. You can say 'get lost Katie' if you like, I won't be offended, as long as you promise me you'll seek the help you deserve.
If you need someone to talk to, visit our Need To Talk guide, with websites and helplines where you can find a listening ear.