Nearly 1 in 4 young women develop a mental illness at some point. But why? And why so many?

I spoke with my classmate, Monica (name changed for privacy), a young student living in South-West London about their experience with mental health issues in the young on the occasion of Mental Health Awareness Day on October 10th. 

S: What is your diagnosis and when were you diagnosed?

M: I was diagnosed 2 years ago with depression and anxiety. I was 13.

S: How does school support your mental health?

M: When I am feeling particularly stressed or low, I can go into a spare classroom and do my work there so that I don’t have the anxieties of everyone surrounding me and what people are thinking about. I don’t have the social anxiety when I am in there because I am on my own and it means that I can cry if I need to and not feel so judged. I also regularly talk to a teacher about what has been happening recently so it’s off my chest.

S: Would you want to improve that in anyway? Do you think the school gives enough support? 

M: I think you can’t be supported unless you tell them, so there are probably some students who need a lot more help, but don’t get it because they are not telling anyone. The school is doing as much as it can because mental health in children is difficult since you never really know if they are just stressed because of exams or if they actually have a mental health issue. Almost everyone gets stressed out these days because of the immense pressure of school assessments. At the age of 13 when most of us are still clueless about our aspirations, we have to choose our GCSEs and with that we feel a huge sense of responsibility for our entire lives. If you get that choice wrong it could be you’ve excluded yourself from your dream career later on which you don’t even know about at that age. You learn for two years and then it all just comes down to the exams. All the hard work you did along the way might count for nothing if you don’t do well in those exams. It’s almost impossible. Everyone starts feeling like if you screw up your exams in year 10 or 11, you have ruined your future already. So, it’s not surprising that this is often the time when mental illness is first apparent in young people. 

Teachers and school councillors are doing their best within this extremely limiting school system but they certainly can’t help if you don’t speak up first.

S: Are there any stereotypes of mental health in children that you would want to debunk?

M: One is that we are all being over-dramatic but we’re really not. We are trying our best. There’s a belief that we are just emotional and the only reason we are talking about it is because we want attention. And also, many say that people with mental health disorders are weak but some of the strongest people I know have mental health issues because they have to fight this thing that they can’t escape. 

S: I know that in your case it was hard to get your doctor to listen when you went to him. Do you think being a child affected that?

M: I don’t think people took me seriously and I don’t think that they really understood that I needed help. I don’t even think my family knew that I needed help because I didn’t like talking about it. So, the doctors didn’t get it and my parents didn’t get it. And I think it was unusual because mental health issues are a stereotypical adult experience and for a child to feel those things instead of being happy and jolly, it shocks people and they don’t want to believe it because it’s unpleasant. They don’t want to know that people are depressed, especially children.

S: How long did it take you, then, to get the medication that you needed?

M: I originally looked into getting meds when I went to the doctors when I was 13 because I thought that was the only way out and it was very scary. At that time, the doctor refused to prescribe anything because they didn’t take me seriously. Then last year I went again asking for medication because I had tried several different types of therapy and EMT (the tapping) at that point and nothing was working for me. I wasn’t getting anywhere. The doctor agreed with me then that there was an issue but they couldn’t prescribe meds because I was underage. They said I needed to go to a psychiatrist. They promised they’d refer me to CAHMS (child and adolescent mental health services) in November. However, by February, nothing had happened. Then, for about 3 weeks I was either at the doctors’ or I was on the phone to them begging them to refer me and they didn’t. When they finally did refer me, and I got to CAMHS, I found out that the referral had been just one sentence. It didn’t tell them what I needed or that I wanted medication, it was just telling them that I was sad. So, this lack of information meant that I was sent to the wrong level of CAMHS. Another assessment later, and I was sent to tier 2 of CAMHS where they had to assess me again a couple of months later (about June) and decided that I needed to go to tier 3 in July. A few months later and I am finally on medication now after a lot of back and forth. 

I worry about other kids who might be in a worse mental state than me and are too shy and then do not get any support because they can’t be as persistent.

Monica’s final advice was to urge other children to “talk to someone you trust an­­d try not to feel like a burden, because you’re not and they will want to help.”