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When you hear that someone close to you is suffering from a mental illness, you aren’t embarrassed or ashamed to be around them. This person you love who has the best sense of humor, who you share your best memories with, is being tormented by an invisible thing that looks to be a part of them, but isn’t. If you could, you would make it so that their brain would just behave itself because you know they’ve done nothing to deserve their illness.

And yet it is impossible to apply the same logic to yourself. We are so fortunate to live in a time when more and more people are willing to be open about their mental health, as my dad who started experiencing depression in the 1980s often reminds me. However it is far more difficult to get rid of the internalized stigma many people with mental illnesses feel. On an intellectual level you can tell yourself that you are a good person, that you are loved but mental illness is not rational. Having your internal voice telling you you’re worthless is part of the deal.

As someone who spent years refusing to acknowledge my depression, I understand just how difficult it is to overcome the internalized stigma that comes with having a mental illness. Growing up in an environment where depression was common, I felt I understood that regardless of how my loved ones felt about themselves they always deserved all the help in the world. While I would spend evenings hearing people tell me the exact same things I was thinking about myself, I was so scared to consider that I might have a problem, the thought wasn’t even allowed to cross my mind. Knowing that I felt down a lot of the time wasn’t enough to make me get help because that would force me to recognize that the problem wasn’t me, it was the illness.

When I eventually got help it was not because I asked for it. In my last year of sixth form my depression intensified as I was surrounded by people who were talking to me about my future when I wasn’t even sure I wanted one. It’s one of the worst feelings to have well meaning people tell you all about how bright your future is and how excited you should be when you can’t feel anything at all. You create an idealized picture of your future and tell yourself ‘this is good, I should want this’ but somehow nothing you do can give the words any meaning. In every scenario where I told people I was struggling, they were mad at me for being ungrateful for whatever advantages they thought I had. I was so ashamed these kinds of thoughts were crossing my mind that I thought I wasn’t worth the care of other people.

I was extremely lucky that my English teacher, self proclaimed Archbishop of Banterbury Jayson Burns, noticed something was wrong. Looking back it’s clear that if Burnsy had not noticed I was struggling, I wouldn’t be here today. At the time, I did not feel anything close to gratitude. In fact when the head of sixth form called me to her office and told me a teacher had reported concerns about my wellbeing, I felt betrayed. Reluctantly I agreed to see Pam, the counsellor, just so Mrs Hobson would stop worrying.

The first thing Pam did when I showed up for some break time counseling was hand me a form asking on a scale of 1-5 how much I related to a series of statements. This is a standard form you get whenever you meet a new counsellor. I filled it out and handed it back. While she counted it up I sat in a deep state of cringe, since I was clearly wasting her time by being there. In her signature tone I would get to know so well, she told me a total of 19/30 was the benchmark for depressive symptoms- the point at which Mind would offer you more free sessions. My score was 29/30. Apparently this meant there was something wrong.

And so it began, the most basic questions about my life triggered answers that I thought were fairly standard but made Pam’s face turn stoney. To hear her tell me that what I was talking about went beyond normal teenage angst, made me burst into tears. It was the first time I had been unfiltered about what I was going through and voicing all these irrational thoughts made me realize that my impressive score was more than just a number- it was indisputable proof that there was something wrong with me. I blamed my illness on the fact that I was a bad person. The shame only intensified when I landed a doctor’s appointment, even though my GP Dr. Rafiq couldn’t have been friendlier. Walking into the chemists with my prescription for anti-depressants in hand, I felt like a fraud. I kept watching the face of the woman behind the counter assuming she would be angry at me for hogging medication that other people clearly deserved more than I did.

Over the next year I got locked into a cycle of being referred to counseling then dropping out after a few sessions, believing that I hadn’t done anything to warrant all this attention. Each time I would reach crisis point a couple of weeks later and have to go back though the whole process again. I will never forget one occasion just after I’d got back from holiday, I started spiraling to the point where I was truly scared by my own thoughts, so I texted Pam saying that I didn't think I could cope anymore. She replied immediately, putting my mind to rest as best as she could. Within a week I was back seeing her again.

No one at any point told me I was crazy or that I was unloveable or anything else stigmatizing. When the people around me knew what I was going through, the kindness that came pouring out of them was unbelievable. Every time I’ve had a new person become close to me I’ve worried about how to tell them the reasons I act odd sometimes and it has never been a problem for anyone. All of this self loathing was as much a product of my own brain as my illness.

Getting over internalized stigma is incredibly difficult, but thinking you’re a bad person for feeling the way you do shouldn’t stand in the way of getting help. Everyone deserves support for their mental health, and you never need to worry that you are wasting people’s time or that anyone is judging you.

Lucy Adkin - Second Year - French and Russian Studies

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i hate calling it 'my' depression, like it's something i collected, bought, something i'm keeping around because, oh, it just brightens my life every day. but yeah i do possess it, i live in it, the dark cloud over my head that drizzles incessantly on my human experience. sometimes it pisses it down, other days it just spits, gently, and sometimes, albeit rarely, i catch it casting a bit of a rainbow. as an illness, there's no framework depression follows, no checklist of symptoms you can tick off and bam, there's your diagnosis, there's a packet of pills, here's the cure. i wish it was that simple. no instead, suffering from depression means learning what your own symptoms are, paying attention to what triggers them, and working out how to manage them. it's the process of creating, rather than following, the treatment plan. with an illness like depression, you will never be sat down and told how to get better. you won't find it online, in a book, or even in the office of the third psychiatrist you've seen this week. it is an illness that, unfortunately, looks different on everyone, and that's why this one, the one that hangs out over my head and in my heart, i call mine.

i do understand why sadness and depression can get so conflated, but as a Depressed Person i find that they are very separate things. i almost never feel sad when i am depressed. empty, yes. lonely? yes too. angry, sick, bored, lost, and numb are all feelings my depressed self is far too familiar with. but funnily enough, not really sadness. so if depression isn't always this sadness it's been romanticized to seem, then what does it actually look like?

the white noise in my brain gets really loud. unbearably-to study is to stare at a computer screen and read the same 3 words repeatedly for 3 hours, all ability to be productive is lost. mirroring. sometimes the only way for me to keep myself functioning when I'm depressed is to mirror someone else. their behaviour their eating and sleep patterns. their working hours. the less decisions for my brain to make, however small and inconsequential, the better.

spiralling. i get scared of never getting better (ok, likely), and living my entire life in this state (possible). more irrational fears too. that a tumour is pressing on my brain and causing dark thoughts. that my lack of productivity will result in brain activity diminishing and that i will

forget how to do simple tasks like reading and writing. that everyone i love will simultaneously be hit by a car on their way home today. etc.

Aoife Murphy - Fourth Year - International Relations

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Social anxiety is like having a nasty parrot on your shoulder. He's always clinging there, squawking about how everyone perceives you. For me, "You look terrible today," is a common line. "You don't fit in here," is another one.

When I was younger, I couldn't speak to anyone outside of my friend circle without feeling tears glittering in my eyes, or without my face blushing like I'd just ran a mile. I was, naturally, a shy kid, and enjoyed spending time by myself. The thought of talking to a random person - even a cashier, or a waiter - made me feel nauseous, and I wouldn't be able to make a phone call without an hour's worth of preparation.

I never anticipated my first year of university to go as it did, nor did I expect my anxiety to follow me to Edinburgh. I expected my life at university to be a smooth ride like a stereotypical American college movie. Everyone goes to parties, has a cheeky romance, and lives a lovely life. While I'm sure some people in my year did get this experience, I, for one, did not.

My social anxiety decided to burrow its claws into my heart. I didn't like to party because I was self-conscious of my body, and I wasn't good at making friends. I didn't get on with anyone in my courses, and everyone seemed so much more knowledgeable about Kant and Marx than I was. As far as I was concerned, I was the problem. I didn't act like the rest of them, so I was the alien. I believed I was unintelligent; that I didn't belong at this university, that it was some sort of mistake. I wasn't worth even speaking to.

To make matters worse, I was also involved in quite a toxic relationship. I was with someone who did not care about me, yet I relied upon them for my own self-esteem. Being in a relationship, for me, was a marker of worth. Losing them meant losing validation.

My second semester was the darkest time that I can recall within my whole time at university. I buried myself into my bed covers and consumed nothing but cheese (I'm not afraid to admit it), and only left my flat for one hour each day to attend a lecture. I'd wake up at 1pm and, because the sun would set at 3pm in winter, my life was almost perpetually cloaked in darkness. My grades were on the edge of being so low that they might've crashed down into the mantle of the Earth. I felt utterly worthless. I felt lonely, as if I deserved to be like this, as if everyone else was built right and I was wrong. Why couldn't I have been extroverted and confident? Why was no one else feeling the way I did?

I was determined to make a change. Enough was enough. I was going to shake this anxiety off my shoulders.

Summer was a fresh start. I broke things off with my partner, learned some new skills, and worked on myself. I was determined to make a difference in my second year. I started to look after myself physically, which meant going for more walks and eating healthier things other than just cheese. I put more effort into my studies and committed to the secondary reading. I wasn't afraid to ask questions or for advice. Even better, I joined a society that resonated with my own hobbies. I've met close friends that I naturally vibe with; individuals that I know I wouldn't have found on my course. I've developed more as a person and can speak to utter strangers on the street without a single care of how they may perceive me (why should I? They're never going to see me again). Even more astonishingly, I have a part-time retail job that involves speaking to many people. It's ironic, right?

Now that I am approaching the end of my degree, I'm enjoying reflecting on my journey with social anxiety. I've had some ups and downs, but that's how life is. One piece of advice that my dad always gives me is, "Don't bully yourself. Leave that to the real bullies." What's the point in pulling yourself down? If there's no one around to nurture you, be the one to nurture yourself. Love yourself.

Even now, the parrot isn't entirely gone. Sometimes, he flutters down onto my shoulder and tells me what I'm doing wrong, or what could go wrong, but it's only a matter of brushing him away. His feathers linger sometimes, but it's only natural. What is most important is to remember that you are worthy, and that you always will be.

Tenci Earnshaw - Fourth Year - English Literature

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