What is it like living with mental illness?  

Trigger Warning: Please be aware that this content may be triggering for those experiencing mental ill health or struggling with their emotions. 

For those experiencing mental illness. it can be debilitating, preventing them from taking part in normal daily activities such as school, work and socialising. Mental illness can be frightening and isolating, having knock-on effects on relationships with both friends and family and causing a devastating lack of self-esteem and self-worth. In the midst of this, it can often be hard to feel any sense of hope at all or to begin to imagine that life can get better. We wanted to know a bit more about how young people experience mental illness and our survey went out earlier this year. We have put together some of the responses to this, alongside some insights from parents who have supported their child with mental ill health to illustrate just how impactful mental illness can be, not only on the person suffering, but on those around them.  

The effect on school and work  

"When I’m at school and am having anxiety attacks and my hands or legs are shaking I get quite embarrassed because most of the time people don’t understand what is going on and just give me a weird look which just ends up making me feel a lot worse than I was to begin with." 
"My anxiety is always at its worst when I’m at school, there are just so many people in big groups and it is all so frightening." 
School can be a busy, fast-paced and demanding place and many children and young people have times when this becomes a struggle. However, for those struggling with mental ill health, these difficulties are compounded by a range of issues. Firstly, they may be feeling extremely anxious and dealing with busy classrooms, corridors and playgrounds can be overwhelming. They may show physical signs of their illness, such as shaking or even have wounds from self- harm that are evident, and this can be a cause of embarrassment. If a young person is also struggling with eating, this can cause a further struggle for them. And their state of mind can cause massive barriers to their cognitive ability, meaning that they find it difficult to keep up in lessons. Many will struggle to get into school at all, and often this results in what is now termed as 'Emotionally Based School Avoidance.' This can result in children and young people missing out on large chunks of their education, as well as their social life, which is a particularly important part of their development. Children and young people may also miss out on key life events, such as school plays, prom nights and school trips.  

Living with fear 

"She also asked me yesterday if I would buy her some razors with the shopping. That just gives me heckles. Being constantly alert and worried is hard work, and sometimes I wonder if I am being silly. But I know I must be alert, I must be aware of the possibilities so I can keep her safe." 
Mental illness can be extremely frightening, as it is not always easy to know how someone is going to react at any given time. It is hard to tell if they are feeling suicidal or are likely to harm themselves and this makes it possible at all times that they may do something that causes severe harm or even death. As a parent supporting a young person, this can be both emotionally and physically draining, as the need to be constantly alert becomes a daily reality. For a young person experiencing these thoughts and feelings, it can be equally frightening, as they often don't feel they are in control of what they are experiencing. 

The absolute exhaustion  

"...but I also feel completely exhausted. I have jobs to do this morning, but maybe I should to something to take care of myself and help me feel stronger for later on." 
"All of these things made me just feel so tired and there were times in the morning where I couldn’t even get out of bed for school." 
For a young person coping with such overwhelming feelings it can be exhausting. Often, they will also be working to hide how they feel to atleast some extent, and this, too, is draining. Everyday can feel like a battle, to the extent that they may not even have the energy to shower or carry out basic self-care. For a parent or carer supporting them, being constantly alert and monitoring their mood is also exhausting, and they may struggle with taking care of other children, household chores and going to work. It is not unusual for parents and carers to have to give up their job to enable them to care for their child, and this can lead to further stress, due to financial pressure.  

The feelings of hopelessness  

"If it wasn’t for us going there and people finding out about my plan then I don’t think I would be here and I wouldn’t have experienced this glimpse of hope I have experienced with the help of Y:AMHS who helped me get sessions with a counsellor." 
"I feel angry, hopeless, sad, angry, disempowered, worried, anxious, sad and angry." 
Without the help that is needed, mental illness can feel hopeless. Mental ill health is not something that can just get better by itself or by someone thinking themselves better. When someone is mentally ill, they need help in the same way they would if they were physically ill. Mental illness can be complex and can become entrenched without early intervention, and this can lead to a cycle of hopelessness. A person who is experiencing intrusive thoughts can feel like there is no way out, no where to turn and no one who can help and this can sadly lead to thoughts around self harm and suicide.  

Where to get help  

"I just think that making young people struggling with their mental health to feel understood is the best thing that can be done." 
If you or your child need help with your mental health, it is important to reach out. You are not alone and things can get better. Y:AMHS provides funding for mental health treatment for young people aged 10-18 in the Crawley area and you can find out how to apply here. 
There are also a number of other agencies that you can contact for help. Childline and Shout provide telephone and text services 24/7 so that you can talk to someone in complete confidence about how you are feeling whenever you need. The Samaritans have a phone line for adults to call. There are also other agencies who provide ongoing emotional support, including YMCA and YES. You can find out more about where you can get help here.  
If you would like further advice on how to support someone with mental ill health, please see the links in this blog post or email gethelp@yamhs.co.uk. 
Together, we can #changethestory 
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