I’ve struggled with depression since I was about 15, although it was officially diagnosed at 18. I’m 31, so that’s pretty much half my life. These days, a combination of friends, hugs, prayer and chocolate gets me through the worst, but there’s been times when that hasn’t been the case. 10 years ago I made several attempts at suicide in the space of about three months, and I’m very aware of how the story could have gone.
One of the main reasons it didn’t? At 20, depressed, suicidal, but desperate to get out of the house and away from the concerned eyes of my parents, I rejoined guiding. And there I met Luisa, who convinced me that there was so much more to life than I could imagine at the time. And with her support, I opened up to a few more people. And they didn’t think I was a freak, but loved and valued me for who I was, until I finally began to see a little bit of what they saw. And ever since, I’ve loved being part of an organization dedicated to empowering girls and young women, which still supports every member, regardless of any challenges they might face. It’s an honour to give back some of what I was given, which to me was truly life saving.
Which is why Girlguiding’s recent Girl’s Attitude survey is so appropriate. For an organisation dedicated to supporting girls and young women to be the best they can be, who better to talk about that tough subject, mental health?
The results are startling. From nearly half of those surveyed between 17 and 21 having received personal help for their mental health, to self harm being the chief health concern for young women, the survey shows a generation of girls and young women who are struggling. Why? Pressure of looks, exams, attitudes, hormones, peers…all sorts of things adding up to make life as a teenager overwhelming. And yet very few of those surveyed feel able to talk to adults about it.
We can do better than that. I’m here today because someone took the time to listen. To accept me for who I am, and not to solve me as a problem but support me as a friend. I’m so blessed. But whilst we continue to treat these issues as taboo, as somehow shameworthy, we create a broken generation with no hope of repair.
What’s the answer? I don’t know. But I do know we need to open the conversation. To kill the stigma. To make mental health acceptable. To ask the tough questions. To make a space where it’s safe to be real, to be honest, to be human.
I’m scared for our young people. I’m scared because in these answers I can see myself, and I don’t want that for anyone else. And I wish I had all the answers, and I don’t. But I’m glad Girlguiding are asking the questions. That’s got to be quite good start.