Warning: This article is about youth suicide and may be distressing for some readers.
As part of our Break the Silence series on youth suicide, we are publishing a number of first-person pieces. Today, Ellie Harwood, online producer at ZM radio, which is supporting the series, talks about her experience with depression and explains how you can help your mates. In her own words:
I spent some time in therapy and ended up on medication for depression and anxiety at 22 years old, the year after I had left university.
When I heard that we were going to Break The Silence on ZM and in the Herald, I didn't even THINK to share my own story to start with. And that in itself highlights one of the biggest issues here in NZ; no one ever thinks to talk about depression and suicide.
It wasn't because I was shy, or embarrassed. It was out of fear that people would judge me for allowing depression and anxiety to take over my life, for issues that may be seen by others as "not a big deal".
I hadn't lost anyone close to me that I was publicly grieving about. I wasn't riddled with a debilitating physical health issue that people could tangibly see.
I just wasn't happy. And I was scared to admit something wasn't right, because my grief wasn't visually obvious.
But this week, I quickly reminded myself what I learnt from my journey with depression and anxiety, and that is, those two bastards can hit anyone, anywhere, anytime...
To paint a picture for you, I need to express that I'm very fortunate in having an amazing childhood. I had a lot of friends, played a load of sport, captained teams, did every school theatre show, I was a prefect, deputy head girl, and I managed to get good grades too.
My childhood and teenage years were filled with love, warmth and support. "You're so talented, you're gonna do so well, people love you, you're so good at sport, you'll be so good at uni, blah blah blah ...," was what surrounded me.
And although those words sound nice, they end up sticking with you, especially when they come from people you deeply respect - teachers, friends, parents.
This was just the way of life I knew. So of course, I went off to university when I was 18 (because apparently that's what I was "meant" to do). I managed to nail my grades, which put me in the top 15 per cent of students there, and got myself a degree majoring in psychology.
Then I graduated.
And I was lost.
I had this degree, a lot of support, but no direction. And absolutely no idea what to do with myself. I was terrified of disappointing my friends, parents and all those people who had put so much faith in me. I hadn't reached the potential I had been told I would, and I felt like I was stuck somewhere I didn't wanna be, with no way out.
There were other side issues happening too of course - relationship troubles, break-ups, a mediocre job I hated. And I found that my reality could not be further from all those expectations of how "successful" and "great" my life would be.
When I realised I wasn't happy and the pressures and expectations got too much, I was ashamed to admit I was in a bad place. I was terrified that people would judge me for not being okay, because apparently I was so "happy", "popular" and "had everything going for me".
And there lies the main problem in our society today. We compare ourselves to others, and somehow justify that our issues aren't as big as others' and that we should just toughen up.
Well, I'll tell you this now - if something is bothering you, hurting you, worrying you, upsetting you - NO MATTER HOW BIG OR SMALL YOU MIGHT PERCEIVE IT - if it's important to you, it's important. Full stop. Period.
I ended up finding the courage to see a doctor. They put me on medication and into six weeks of therapy. I realised then, I wasn't weak for seeking help, I was strong for allowing my emotions to take over me. It helped me understand myself better, and I'm a better and stronger person for it.
I'm fortunate that I never considered suicide, but I attribute that to admitting I needed help early. The therapy was incredibly valuable, because it gave me an objective listener, someone who would hear what I was saying, but never judged me, and helped me rationalise my thoughts. That's all it was, but it helped.
One thing I learnt from my journey with depression and anxiety that I want you to remember, is a little term called relativism.
In young person's talk, this basically means that everything we see, feel and experience is only relative to our perceived world.
For example, your mate might reach out, crying about something that doesn't really sound like a big deal to you. But that's only because you value that particular thing less, in your relative world. If a mate is sad, regardless of how big or small you perceive the problem to be, if it's affecting their emotions, then it matters.
And the reason for the infinity sign? ∞
Take your best friend. Where the sign crosses over and meets in the middle, is representative of the friendship, the experiences shared, the chats and the human connection. And the two bobbles either side? They represent each person, and the relative world in which each individual lives.
You can meet in the middle, and try to understand each other, but at the end of the day there's so much more to any human than we will ever be able to understand.
So don't ever be ashamed in reaching out because your thoughts, emotions and the way you perceive the world DOES matter.
Never see yourself as weak, attention-seeking or psycho for going to see a "shrink". At the end of the day, going to see a psychologist is exactly the same as going to the doctor when there's something we need help with physically. If anything, seeing a doctor for your mental health is arguably more important.
Diagnosing a physical sickness is a lot easier to treat because it's tangible, a doctor can see it. It's like maths; 1 + 1 = 2. That's the answer. Every time. But there's no obvious cause or treatment for depression, because all of our little brains are completely different.
Depression isn't solely caused by single, major, tangible events of trauma. Depression can develop over a series of weeks, months, years, for a number of reasons, and no reason is more important than another.
Often, the people who look to be the happiest are often the ones who want help but are too scared to ask for it. So never hesitate to reach out, because your beautiful mind can only handle so much of this crazy world.
Make sure you listen to others. And always remember; you are worthy, you are strong, and you are only human xxx.
• Support Youthline by donating via youthline.co.nz/breakthesilence.
WHERE TO GET HELP:
If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call 111.
If you need to talk to someone, the following free helplines operate 24/7:
DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
LIFELINE: 0800 543 354
NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737
SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234
There are lots of places to get support. For others, click here.