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A recent survey from the Ministry of Health suggests that 45 per cent of New Zealanders have experienced some form of mental illness. That’s 20 per cent of us at any one point in time. The most common forms of mental illness are depression and anxiety, with others including schizophrenia, bipolar, and eating disorders. These disorders impact a diverse range of people including students, professionals, young, old… I should know, I’m one of them.
In the last few years I’ve been diagnosed with both Bipolar and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. This has made university a real struggle for me at times, and has affected every aspect of my life. It has meant learning how to juggle study, part time work, exercise, and socializing, while my moods are rollercoastering between being so high I could kiss the sky and so low I’m crying on the floor. Sometimes I get so anxious that I can’t breathe or I hear and I see things that aren’t there.
When I was first diagnosed I stubbornly resisted any sort of treatment. I wasn’t crazy! I could still do anything I wanted! I didn’t need counselling or meds! And I most DEFINITELY did not need to see a psychiatrist! I’d absorbed the cultural narrative that ‘crazy people’ were different, limited, and would never lead a meaningful life. Unfortunately this attitude led to me not seeking help, determined to prove to the world that I could deal with it myself. I was strong, not weak, right? I overloaded myself. A hospitalization, several withdrawals, disciplinary meetings with my work supervisor, and several damaged friendships later, I had to conclude that actually, I needed help.
My friends have been a huge help and I’ve learned so much from them. If a friend reaches out to you, be kind to them—it’s scary asking for help. Ask what they need. Listen to them without judgement. Remember, you can’t cure them, but you can make it suck so much less. Mental illness can be ongoing so remember just how important and amazing your friend and you are.
If you’re struggling, be kind to yourself. You’re not weak and good people won’t reject you. Talk about it, even to one person, even if you need to write them a letter. Victoria has resources to help such as the Bubble and Student Health Services. Try to do one thing every day just for you. You are so very very worth it. Breathe, and know that one day the sun will shine again.