Published on August 8th, 2013 |
by Eve Stanger
Image © Damoiselle 2012
A Diary of a Depressed Student
‘After battling with this for most, if not all of the night, I wake up exhausted and broken. On the really bad days, I will stare at the ceiling all day. I won’t even get out of bed to eat or drink. I just stare, feeling like there is no glimmer of hope. I feel alone. I think about how my life has lead up to feeling like this; I wonder if I feel worse or better than the last time this happened; I try to tell myself to get up and get out of the room. I tell myself this isn’t normal, and that I am wasting a day of my life. That usually upsets me – the idea that I have lost another day… another day I will never reclaim.’ – ’Charlie Brown’
80% of those suffering from mental illness are not comfortable seeing their doctor to seek help. Though depression affects a huge percent of the population a year, there’s still a lack of awareness about mental health and even a stigma around the mentally ill. A student from the University of Warwick wants this to change. Going only by the pseudonym, Charlie Brown, we interviewed Charlie about their experiences with depression and about the campaign to encourage sharing rather than shaming.
Hey Charlie, how are you today?
Today I’m calm. I’ve been trying to be a bit more aggressive with my depression lately, so I’ve recently worked myself out of a bad episode.
Your blog means a lot to many students across Warwick and the country. Why did you decide to start it, did anything in particular spark this decision?
I started the blog really because I needed to. When I started it, one of my closest friends had said that she could never look at someone the same way if she knew they’d had depression. And I had also been threatened with expulsion from Warwick, which the university later apologized for. I just felt very isolated and I was pretending that I was fine, so I needed this persona because it allowed me to be honest
What are the aims of your blog? What have you achieved so far and has it helped you?
I couldn’t believe that, despite going through the horrible diagnosis process, the university could still ignore all the notes on my student file and threaten to expel me over attendance. This ended up happening twice and both times everyone was ‘very sorry’. But I just thought: what if I’d been a more unstable person? What if I had been so depressed that the threat pushed me to do serious harm to myself? I know depressed people who would have been so distressed that they would have attempted suicide.
So I wanted to make sure people knew that Warwick wasn’t paying attention. And I also did some research and realised that there were meant to be 1 in 4 people with depression and other mental illnesses. And I questioned where we all were. I was really upset by the idea that so many people could feel so bad but that we were in hiding, so I started publicly speaking about depression.
I honestly don’t know if its helped. I don’t actually think it has, because although the readership is still big people have essentially gone “wow, how awful!” But then have proceeded to not change their attitudes.
That’s why yesterday I set up the Openly Depressed page. I’m hoping to push that as a campaign and get people to stop being ashamed. There are huge issues surrounding mental illness yet to be addressed.
Without a doubt it has helped people who have faced the same issues. Do you get a lot of messages from people experiencing mental illness? How do you respond to these?
I get quite a few. Some people seem to genuinely just want to talk to me, others are very roused by the blog, some people send me their stories. It’s hard to know what to say because people are pouring themselves into these messages a lot. I always try to maintain the most altruistic attitude possible and say the appropriate thing. But I have got it wrong – Hannah Wheatley, whose story I posted, was furious that I’d commented upon her story and character. I felt awful, but I understand that this is all quite painful for people. Some stories I haven’t known what to say, because they’re just so awful. In those cases I just have to thank people for their honesty and express my hope that they’re going to be okay. I wish I could literally help people on a personal level sometimes.
Could you tell us a little more about the campaign you’ve started, ‘Openly Depressed?’
Openly Depressed is a simple idea really. People need to come ‘out of the closet’ about their mental health issues. It’s a bit absurd – you don’t get ‘openly black’ or ‘openly chinese’ people because it’s integral to their identity. We shouldn’t actually need to be ‘openly’ anything, but for now too many people with mental illness stay silent. Around 80% of sufferers won’t seek medical advice because they’re too scared or ashamed. People need to take a stand and say “we think it’s important that mental illness is out in the open”. It’s a campaign to encourage sharing, not shaming
Why do you think it is that there is such a stigma around mental illness and a fear of sharing?
Many reasons. I think people don’t understand depression because it’s not a condition you can see obviously. It’s not like having a cold even – you aren’t pale and coughing all the time. And yet it’s widely considered to be one of the most debilitating conditions you can suffer from. In fact the World Health Organization estimates it’ll be the number one cause of disability worldwide by about 2030 at current rates. It’s currently fourth!
People are also afraid of mental illness because they don’t ‘get’ it. It’s hard to explain to someone what it’s like to want to kill yourself if they have good mental health. But what people need to realise is that we don’t want any sympathy, we just want some understanding and empathy.
Yeah exactly. I know you’ve been working with another Warwick student on a campaign to improve things for people at your university. Could you tell us more about this and what you think universities can do to help people suffering from mental illness?
First and foremost, offer support. No one wakes up one day and thinks “well, life’s got a bit same-y… I think I’ll shake things up by trying depression!”
Students need to know what support is available to them, they need to be aware that any mental illness is treatable and they need to be shown understanding. Personal tutors should be trained in how to best direct and help students who raise any and all concerns about mental health (we pay large enough fees!). And a student with a mental health issue should be talked through everything and anything that can be done to help alleviate their situation, compensate for their difficulties with work, and reasonable adjustments should be provided.
Many unis claim to do this but they are simply failing their students. One recurring issue is the idea that students can find out all about various systems that are in place to help them if they need it. When you have a mental illness, the last thing you want to do is help yourself. Therefore, if there’s any cause for concern or if an issue has been raised, I don’t think it’s too much for a university to offer as much help, actively, to an ill student as possible. We spend a great deal of time, rightly, concentrating on helping physically disabled students with anything we can and the same needs to be done for the mentally disabled and mentally ill.
That’s true! And with the provisions in place it wouldn’t be asking much to raise awareness so people know what’s available. Lastly, why do you choose to be anonymous and do you think you will ever reveal your identity?
At first it was shame, now it’s almost necessity. I’m a much more powerful force as an anonymous entity. I can be a representative for people who feel disempowered by mental illness. I’m at greater liberty to talk about things and to offer blog posts to people who feel that they need to share something. People look at Charlie and the Blog and don’t get distracted by the person behind it. Plus, in all honesty, I doubt people would care at all if I wrote under my own name – I’m not incredibly popular and people would just think I was the weird english student who moans or something.
I think you’re right, it definitely helps people to share and feel comfortable with it. Thank you so much for your time Charlie, let us know how the campaign goes.