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mental health : a how-to guide

As women and young people, we are constantly being reminded of how we should look after ourselves, how we should be presentable in public, eat the right food and get plenty of exercise… But what we don’t get taught how to do, something that is still rather hush-hush even with all of the advances in society over the last 20 years, is how to look after our own mental health. Please do not get me wrong, there have been absolutely HUGE leaps in the field of mental health and the understanding of it in recent years and people are much more understanding of depression, anxiety and so many other mental illnesses that affect so many young people in modern times.

The majority of the fault (however harsh it seems) lies in our own hands. For so many young women it isn’t that they don’t have access to the right help, it is just that they are too scared to use it. I write this not as a psychology student, or as a writer… but someone who has been quite mentally ill herself. I have had two overdoses of prescription drugs in the last three months, and was clinically diagnosed with depression and a ‘mood disorder’ a little while ago. Last year, I hit rock bottom, and to say the very least they were not sure if I would come out alive. I am a very lucky girl. Life, for all its lows and hard times, smiled upon me. Like many of you, I didn’t tell my parents for a very long time, and even now that I am almost completely honest with them, they don’t truly understand as they haven’t been through it themselves. It doesn’t mean they aren’t any less worried then I am, but unless you have walked this path yourself, it is difficult to understand or give advice to someone else going through it.

There is no handbook on how to beat mental illness. We can look after our mental health, but as humans we are prone to such things. It is not like a cold or flu that has a magic pill to make it disappear. The road to recovery is a long battle, but from what I have heard, getting back to the person you were is worth every minute of it. Suffering from depression, anxiety or any mental illness is not a sign of weakness. Nor does it mean that you are crazy (although it feels like you might be). It just means that like the rest of us, you are only human.

A few words of advice….

On getting help:
The hardest step is always the first one, reaching out. It means admitting that everything is not okay and that you have to place your trust in another person. It’s scary as all hell and it’s not a quick fix, but it does help. Some say that talking makes it worse, but there has to be pain for there to be healing. It may sound like the biggest cliché in the world, but it speaks the truth. Without working, you cannot achieve your goals and dreams. The same goes for depression. Never self-diagnose – this is a common mistake made by so many young women. Leave the diagnosis to a medical professional, so that they may decide what treatment is best for you, depending on your condition.

On Happiness:
We, as young women, seem to be yearning after some unattainable far off dream, the perfection that we yearn for our lives to be. Something which I am afraid to say, does not exist outside of fairy-tales and Disney Specials. Happiness is not a place that we can go, but a feeling, a state of being. Just like being hungry or tired, your mood changes. Life doesn’t always run on smooth tracks or go according to the plan that we have set out for ourselves. At times, we just have to take what life throws at us. True peace of mind comes from understanding that although life has its downs, it does not mean all is lost. Just because things do not go to plan does not mean that everything is hopeless. We must take life as it comes, and try to look upon things in a positive light.

Looking upon things in a positive light is easier said than done. I struggle with such battles on a daily basis, so I truly understand the strength it takes to face each day with a smile and good outlook. Some days, it is nigh on impossible. That does not mean that it cannot be done.

On being beautiful:
Every day, we have what seem to be thousands upon thousands of advertisements in magazines with beautiful models and actresses shoved in our face. It is no wonder that we feel that we cannot measure up, that we are only half the people that they are, both inside and out. That is not the case. No human life is worthless – no matter how dismal things may seem, or how much you hate yourself. Everyone is beautiful. Everyone is their own person. The world has a hard time recognising what true beauty means. The most beautiful girls are the ones that wear a smile. Size doesn’t matter, race doesn’t matter, religion, sexual orientation, hair colour, body type, all don’t matter! I cannot stress enough how beautifully individual every single person is. They bring that beauty to the world just by being themselves each day, and to someone they mean the world. Everyone is beautiful, YOU are beautiful. I care, and you’ve probably never met me before.

On Suicide:
Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. So many people, including myself, have thought that life for everyone would be better if we were not around, that it would be easier if we just disappeared. In a place where you are not in control of your own thoughts it can be absolutely frightening. When a person kills themselves, they do not only take their own life, but the life of everyone who has ever come into contact with them, or loved and cared about them. Your family and friends die along with you, because there is no recovery from losing someone to suicide. All that follows is years of guilt, regret, anger and sadness. I, for one, could never put myself through that. This is something that I would never wish upon another person. You may longer be in pain, but the people around you are not, nor will they ever be. No matter how hopeless life seems, there is always hope. Sometimes, you just have to fight to see it. The light is always at the end of the tunnel, and no one ever has to go through this journey alone. Every life is worth living, and nothing is ever so desolate that it cannot be fixed.

If you or someone you know is suffering from a mental illness, you can call Kid’s Helpline (1800 55 1800) or Lifeline (13 11 14), two free crisis helplines that save hundreds of lives every day.

By Jessica Coates

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