Editorial Letter: Being Honest About My Mental Health

Dear readers,

First off, I just want to say congratulations to everyone who has gotten through this year’s November deadline season and good luck to anyone who still has deadlines to go. 

November marks many things. It marks the time that you finally put your heating on for a few hours a day. It marks the time you leave the house in the dark and come back in the dark. 

It also marks the start of you being constantly ill for the next three months.

However, November also marks the month-long Movember campaign and International Men’s Day on 19th November. Both are held every year to raise awareness of men’s issues from prostate and testicular cancer to mental health and suicide rates. 

Now I have never been the most masculine. Any of you who know me already know that but before I came out though, I was always very concerned about how the world would perceive me. 

The last thing that I wanted anyone to know was that I was queer and so I did my best to hide anything that might label me as such from the world. I kept to myself, away from friends, family, anyone who knew me. 

No one wants to talk about their problems and to make their friends worry about them. It’s especially hard to talk about in a paper like this where thousands of people will read these words. 

However, I know for a fact that I would not be writing this here today if I hadn’t talked to anyone.

It took until I was 19 to acknowledge I was struggling inside. Before this, much like my sexuality, I had refused to even acknowledge it. Before, I had always shut down any conversation in my head for why would I feel bad when no one else I knew was feeling the same way, especially guys?

It took me over six months after that first step to even summon up the courage to apply for University counselling. I felt like I didn’t deserve counselling. I felt like my situation was manageable and therefore didn’t need any help. I felt I was making a fuss over nothing. I felt I was being melodramatic However, it was when I began self-harming that I told myself I needed extra help.

Even though I continued to do self-harm in different ways on-and-off over the past three years and kept it hidden from most people who know me, counselling allowed me to find ways to cope while studying. 

It gave me a greater understanding of how my insecurities affected my relationships with other people, particularly my friends. I learnt that going to the gym and going for walks in the countryside helped me get to a point where I was less anxious and more happy.

Nevertheless, I still kept things largely to myself. I’ve seriously considered taking my life on four occasions and I never talked about these times to another person at the time.

This was because in a way, I was ashamed of myself that I had gotten to that point where I was not alright. They were at points in my life where things became so overwhelming and I felt so isolated, I felt like I had no other choice. 

The first was when someone tried to out me at school. The second was when I had a falling out with a housemate last year and I was left feeling like I had done something so awful I considered suicide as an option. Both of these times I still continued to insist that I didn’t have a serious issue. Then in the past year, I unsuccessfully attempted to take my own life for the first time. 

Editing a newspaper and managing an editorial team of over 50 people is quite a big jump for your first job straight out of Uni. It’s a very rewarding one but one that is certainly hard to adapt to when you’re struggling to cope with feelings inside. 

For a period of several weeks around Freshers, there wasn’t a single day where I had positive thoughts. I never felt happy. I was exhausted every day. I stopped talking to friends. I lost any enjoyment for work. On top of this, I couldn’t send the paper to family and friends because I felt ashamed of the work I was doing.

In this dark headspace, I got to a place where I knew I needed to talk so that to some extent the people around me knew what was going on. 

Since then, I’ve been lucky to have already started therapy. I’ve learnt to manage my work-life balance better and worked in the things that used to help me before around work. I’ve learnt to be more open with friends and family. With them knowing, I allowed myself to lift some of the weight and stress off my shoulders.

I’ve never been diagnosed with depression, anxiety or any other form of mental illness or disability but these issues I had with myself were there nonetheless and by talking and being more honest with people, I allowed myself to be anchored by the relationships I have. 

However, it has taken a lot to get to me to this point. As a man, you’re expected to never talk about your feelings even though we know this silence is a killer. In 2018, 76% of deaths by suicide in the UK were men. It wasn’t until I got to the lowest point I’ve ever gotten to that I realised I couldn’t do this on my own.  I had to seek help, as much as I wanted to not let anyone know.

Now there are issues around the current discussion around mental health. There’s a difference between struggling during exam periods and having severe depression or anxiety. 

But when you feel like you’re struggling to cope, always remember there are great services available in Leeds. These range from Helpline services to the Advice office in the Union if you just need someone to talk about things. There are great societies like Nightline, Mind Matters and Mantality too.

Not everyone has to talk, and you only need to talk as much as you want to. My own personal experiences are just one person’s experience and will be wildly different from other men’s. 

However always remember that there is the option to talk, even if we’re conditioned not to believe there is. There is a community of friends, family, lecturers, advisers, co-workers and complete strangers around you. It’s a resource of people that might one day save your life so please don’t be ashamed to use it.

The Gryphon, Leeds Student Television and Leeds Student Radio are holding a joint fundraiser for Movember. Please click here to donate!

Ed Barnes