SENSITIVITY WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS CONTENT AROUND SELF-HARM. ONLY READ ON IF YOU ARE COMFORTABLE WITH THIS TOPIC. THANK YOU.
Interview by Stuart Graham
Answers by James Lee
Q- What is the first word that comes to mind when your hear the phrase mental health?
A- I think either illness or counselling. I don’t know which one I associate most with it.
Q- And why do these two words first spring to mind?
A- Basically because I’m a pessimist I suppose and illness is the first thing that comes to mind. But counselling has been my main association with my own mental health.
Is there a specific time in your life that you felt most affected by a mental health struggle?
A- Yeah, I’d say the latter half of high school, the last couple of years going into the first bit of uni. That was probably when I was most affected by it.
Q- Could you briefly talk me through that time and your state of mind at the time?
A- The main aspect of it that sticks out to me, as that being the serious time, is because that was the main period when I was cutting myself. I was very aware of the fact that I seemed to go through these cycles of misery, I guess. I would be fine and then I would slowly get worse and worse and worse. Then I’d have this great big breakdown and then I would be fine for a little while but I would just keep happening.
That kind of dominated the first semester of uni here and that was the main thing I think about when I think of high school. It’s just being like that and hoping that it would get better.
Q- Do you think there are certain things you often do/did as a means of coping with your mental health struggles in difficult times?
A- I think music is a big help. I usually find myself listening to specific pieces of music when I’m feeling pretty low. I usually isolate myself as a way of doing that as well. To a degree I guess every now and then I will just start ranting at myself, which is cathartic, I think, but it’s not a permanent solution. It’s never resolving it, its more ‘I need to do this.’
Q- These coping mechanisms you mentioned, do you find there are times where these don’t work and if so how do you find yourself and your mindset in these more challenging times?
A- Yeah well there have been times when I have gone back to these mechanisms and it just hasn’t done anything for me. I’ve just been in too awful a mood.
Usually I just get very upset and it’s more or less a case of exhausting myself I suppose. I won’t go to sleep. I’ll stay up pacing around or crying. It’s not something I will be able to deal with, it’s more something I will just have to outlive I guess.
Q- Is mental health the sort of thing you find yourself talking about with certain groups of people? Is it the kind of thing you share with your parents?
A- Well I guess my roommates hear a bit more of it, especially recently when I’ve been getting proper counselling, I’ve been telling them what’s going on. But I do feel like there isn’t really someone that I trust or have that sort of relationship with, I suppose.
I’ve only recently been talking about it with my parents, they’ve had no idea. My dad was surprised, my mum was kind of upset by it because I think she takes it personally that she wasn’t able to help.
But there are only a couple of people really, close friends, who have any idea about it.
Q- Do you feel like mental health is currently trivialised in our society? And how so?
A- It’s hard to say because I still feel like to a degree there this sort of glamour about it and it’s almost like an easy character trait, in a way. But there are organisations out there that are trying to do some good, people are trying to be more open about it.
I’m probably not as educated on the status of mental health in society as I probably should be but I would like to think it’s getting better.
Q- An example I’ve heard come up quite a lot when talking about trivialisation is the “Cut for Bieber” thing where people where self harming and taking pictures of it as a protest to Justin Bieber being seen smoking weed. What are your thoughts on stuff like this?
A- I feel that is very toxic. I can’t think of a better word for it, it just seems very unpleasant, it seems bad for people involved and bad for those who do self harm who look at that kind of fad and it is put across glamorous in a way.
Q- Would you say there is an attitude of a mental health hierarchy in which some mental health disorders are given far more serious consideration compared to others?
A- Yeah, it’s difficult for me because I’m genuinely of the opinion that I’m quite well off. It was difficult for me to access that there was any reason for me to get any help as I figured I could just deal with it.
But at the same time I treat myself much harder than I would anyone else and I would never diminish anyone’s problems. There might be that to an extent but I think that’s something not mentally wrong with the person but just personality-wise, if they think it’s okay to diminish someone’s issues.
Q- Would you say it’s common for people to think ‘I don’t want help because I would be taking that help away from someone who needs it more’?
A- That is literally my mindset. That is literally my attitude to it so I would say yeah it is pretty common, which is probably worrying.
Q- Would you say mental health impacts strongly with the relationships you have with people in your life?
A- Yeah it’s probably one of the most influential things in my life. I wasn’t really aware what to expect, it was impacting the way I socialise with people and the way I talk to people. It’s something I’m slowly trying to work against.
Q- In your experience has mental health caused you to lose friends or distance yourself from people in your life because of a bad time struggling with it?
A- Well that was the sort of push for me to get counselling. I was aware I kept doing this to friends, I kept having these breakdowns in front of them where I would just unload all this shit to deal with.
There was a case a few weeks ago where I did this in front of someone. I was totally fine like an hour beforehand and then over the course of like a conversation just these few things just came up that put me back in that mindset and afterwards they were like “I’m not sure if we should be friends anymore, I don’t know if you are in the right place for this”. Because I was at counselling I was more open about how I felt and we sort of repaired it a bit but it definitely had the potential to mess things up.
Q- Thinking back to when you were in your worst period, would you say there has been a lot of or at least some improvement? Has the counselling helped you?
A- I guess to an extent, it really depends because I was very lucky in the people I met and those I was friends with that really helped me get there and I’m inclined to believe that if I didn’t have that I wouldn’t have gotten any better. Things have improved, I don’t harm myself any more, I feel more positive since coming to terms with it. So I can get better but it just takes a bit of luck and a bit of activity I suppose.
Q- You earlier mentioned you had self-harmed during challenging times dealing with your mental health. When people talk about self-harm, what is the thing that comes to mind for you?
A- I in particular picture the scars I suppose. It’s weird in my case because like I say it’s very difficult to accept there is anything wrong with me but I could look at the scars and think ‘Well clearly there was something wrong, I felt bad enough about it to do this’. I don’t want to say anything about them being glamorous because obviously self-harm is a bad thing, I don’t want to make it seem like it’s okay or a good thing to have mental health issues but it can be good to have that physical reminder that it’s real, it’s okay to admit it.
Q- Do you think a bottle of alcohol holds the same potential for self-harm as a knife, a razor or a lighter?
A- I think, again, it can depend. I feel like using it as a coping mechanism is totally wrong, it’s not advisable in any way but it can help. Some people who have certain anxiety and they do happen to get that sort of liquid courage effect, it could be useful if it pushes them in the right direction.
But there is a great potential for people to take it too far and do some serious bodily harm and it won’t go noticed, people will think you are just having a good time or you are just dealing with it in your own way.
Q- Can you talk me through your mindset at a moment you were about to (or felt you were about to) self harm?
A- It’s just an intense self-hatred and anger. In my case, it wasn’t just sadness or it wasn’t loneliness, it was just sheer misery and being really negative on myself. In my case it was a punishment, it was something you deserved. There was a satisfaction thing because then you have dealt with it, you think you are a terrible human being but its okay now cause I punished myself for it.
Q- At what point would you say your mindset flipped on how you saw self-harm?
A- Honestly it was when I started dating someone and they were a very positive individual, they were very encouraging of me and they generally just gave me the sense that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. After they saw the scars and they were bothered by them, they wished they could have done something to stop it.
I think that’s a difficult piece of advice to give to people because I was lucky myself in meeting that person but just having another human being whose not got this family connection who I didn’t feel was obligated to care about me, just another human being saying “No, there is absolutely no reason for you to do this. It’s not fair, you deserve better”.
Q- What made you come forward to be part of this project?
A- I suppose it was going to counselling. I knew I needed to be more open about how I was feeling. Like I saw I personally feel like I’ve had it quite easy, it’s been pretty mild but I’ve been surprised at the the few times in my life where friends have said they self-harmed or they have gone through issues. I guess it could also be encouraging for someone who thinks “Nah, I’m fine, I don’t need to do anything about it”, I think to hear someone say they were in a similar mindset and I feel way better about it now that I’ve actually done something about it and it’s totally okay to go get help.
You don’t need to wait for the fire to spread to justify phoning the fire engine. Do it whenever you can.