A quarter of all fourteen-year-old girls and nine percent of fourteen-year-old boys are depressed in the U.K. While this statistic shocked and baffled some, it didn’t surprise me, nor did it surprise my friends. Throughout my teenage years, I’ve met the dark face of depression in many different forms, in the way my best friend no longer returned my calls, in the way my peers were failing their GCSEs and A Levels, in the way that ever so quietly, everyone’s lives seemed to be falling apart in one way or another.
Why? There’s no definitive answer. There’s no rule or reason to why your brain decides to torture you. It can be because of a harmful environment, a sudden death of a loved one or maybe just because you’re wired that way. Your teachers tell you you’ll be fine, you’re friends either resist you or go the extra mile to support you and your parents love or hate you, but your doctors? They don’t care.
Mental health awareness has become a number one priority in the U.K. in the last few years. Theresa May, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and all the celebrities in between have been hammering at your televisions about the fact that mental illnesses exist, that there has to be more awareness, that whatever dark shadow is clinging to the backs of our youths must be destroyed. It’s commendable. If we want to crush the stigma, we have to talk about it, we have to remind young girls that what they’re feeling is okay, we have to teach boys that it’s okay to talk about their feelings and we have to have a long discussion, one that in time can change the general opinion on mental illness from one of embarrassment and laziness to one of strength and shamelessness. But where’s the money? Words are powerful, but they can’t solve everything. They can’t solve the issue of under-staffed and over-filled hospitals, they can’t make those infuriating waiting lists shorter and they can’t stop turning us away.
Because when a teen has mustered up all their courage to finally confront a doctor about their problems, sit in a plasticky chair and hold back tears for half an hour, they’re usually told ‘Sorry, we can’t do much about that. Just go home and feel happy. Or we can sign you up for counselling but you’ll probably have to wait a year for your first session‘. And you’ll say ‘it doesn’t matter‘, even though it does, even though your insides ache and you hate the shade of blue the world is seeped in. And then, just as you are rising to stand, they’ll say ‘Well, unless you want to kill yourself, unless you’re harming yourself physically‘. And you’ll consider lying if it will just get you the help that you need but in the end you’ll shake your head, say a resigned ‘no‘ and leave, wondering why they wouldn’t even give you a minuscule dose of pills.
You are no less worthy than the next person for being in a different kind of pain to them.
This is the problem. This is what’s wrong about the heroic spreading of ‘awareness’ without the spreading of resources and finances too. The absence of physical self harm and suicidal tendencies does not mean you’ll be fine if you have a hot cup of tea and try to get a little sleep after crying until your cheeks are red raw. Just because you display no evidence of breaking point, the crumbly peak of the cliff that threatens to collapse under your feet is still there, it’s just biding its time, elongating the struggle, until you get worse and worse and then you are at breaking point and there’s nothing to save you anymore.
You are no less worthy than the next person for being in a different kind of pain to them. You are no less deserving of a full and healthy recovery. You are no less valuable, your life is no less meaningful. Just keep going, keep fighting against the tides, against the current of false help that threatens to drag you under, against all those who say you’re not bad enough to be helped. Because anyone who suffers deserves help. Whether you’re standing there after your fourth suicide attempt or before your first. And hopefully, one day, if we keep protesting until our lungs ache, fighting for what is our right, we’ll have a government that means you’ll no longer have to measure time by counting days of helplessness as they drag by. Hopefully, one day, the national health service will be fit enough to help every mentally ill teen that comes knocking at their door.