Nothing to Hide
Lucy McSweeney talks to us about her experiences with mental health and why she's started a petition to bring change to the education system.
Mental Health started being a big player in my life in my last year of high school, when I was 17. I had always been a pretty high achiever, top of my class and a good musician, however I really began to internalise people’s assertions that I would do well, and I felt like if I wasn’t the absolute best at everything I did I would be letting people down. These thoughts soon became warped, and every time I got a merit, I honestly felt like my future was over.
My stress over grades really affected my friendships and that just made me feel even worse, perpetuating the whole cycle!
I had a few really amazing teachers at school who did pull me aside tell me that I wasn’t myself and that something was up, and although we aren’t the kind of family who share everything, once my parents became aware of how much I was struggling, they were really supportive in getting me the help I needed (In fact, now our relationship is so much more open).
I’m a real extrovert, so I didn’t have lots of the symptoms that people stereotypically think of – I was still socialising and happy when with friends, but I had a very short temper, was quite irrational and worried a lot when I was alone, and I think this change was really scary for the people around me.
Now I am 21 and in the last year, I have become really passionate about encouraging people to talk about Mental Health, because the thing that I struggled with the most in my experiences was that I felt like I had this big secret to hide, and that if I told my friends then they would think of me differently.
In fact, your friends are your friends because they love you and want to support you! And my friends whom I’ve told always say that they want to help me. Honestly I feel better after reaching out 100% of the time.
I didn’t really have a whole lot of education around this subject, and a lot of my uni friends from different schools have the same thing. I believe that if we have good education in schools, then young people will know just how normal it is for everyone to have ups and downs, and they will feel more comfortable talking about it with their friends, and friends will feel empowered to support their friends going through a tough time (because it is scary seeing someone you know so well change!)
My biggest message for girls who might be having a tough time at the moment is that it doesn’t make you less of an awesome person.
In fact as tough as it was, going through depression has made me so much more compassionate, and has made me appreciate what’s really important. Reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness, and no matter how tough it gets you do deserve to have a happy and healthy life! Everyone goes through tough times for different reasons, so it’s not at all something to be ashamed of.
If you think that your friend is acting funny – if they stop wanting to hang out, or seem more angry, or tearful than usual, then my biggest advice is just to keep being their friend, and don’t be afraid to call them out and ask them if they are ok. It’s not your job to be their sole counselor if you’re feeling overwhelmed by what they’re saying, but you can still support them by holding their hand In the counselor’s waiting room and just letting them know you love them. I know it’s really scary to see your friend change, but being an awesome friend means sticking by them through the tough spots as well.
I have started a petition calling for better mental health education in schools, addressing important concepts like how you can support your friends in a tough time, where you can go to seek help, and what you can do to keep well.
The more young people that support this, the more likely that people in high places will listen, so check it out.