Despite difficult experiences with low moods, and even severe depression over a long time, all of the young people we spoke with saw themselves as having come through depression, or were in the process of recovery. One man put this as:
“I feel the storm has kind of gone down.”
Here young people talk about how they got better.
“I decided I didn’t want a career as a mental health patient”
Many young people described having made a very conscious decision to want to get better. They described coming to a realisation that they had to do something differently, or to accept the help that was available for them. One woman said that after a series of hospitalisations, she was at risk of just becoming “a mental health patient” and decided she wanted to do something else with her life.
Making the decision was not always easy. For many, it had taken a long time to get to a point where they felt able to regain control over their lives and be proactive. Several described how the first step to ask for help was always the hardest but some pointed out that even before then, they had to accept in themselves that things just weren’t right. Some said they always knew there was help available and people offering them support but before they hadn’t been able to receive that support.
But like once you get, you learn, you learn that people are just there to help you, then you will, you learn to know yourself as well, you learn to know your new self because like going through mental health illness it does change the person you were before into the person you become later on in life so.
It’s about learning to accept who you are at that point in time and knowing when you need help and when you need to ask for help. And it doesn’t necessarily have to mean that you have to go to the place or you have to go to the doctor, you can just talk to your friends ‘cos sometimes just, I even just sitting with my friends sometimes I’ll just be really distressed and I’ll just tell my friend, “Do you mind coming over?” And we can just sit quietly and just knowing that my friends are there, that’s just sometimes that’s enough so. It doesn’t necessarily have to mean injections or anything like that or being sectioned.
Another woman described the start of her road to recovery:
“I know one day I will get better, I will beat it because I have the help now, I have the means to, I have someone to support what I’m going through. I’m not on my own anymore.”
For some young people, it was a relief to be able to accept that they were ill and needed help for their illness, like for a broken leg or diabetes. Others said they had to come to an acceptance of who they were and were able to see depression as one aspect of their lives, rather than trying to explain it away. For a few, admitting that they needed help, rather than ploughing along all alone, was the hardest – and the most helpful - thing.
I guess learning to accept that I’d, I guess had a real medical condition, that it wasn’t just me being stupid and me feeling down or being like a wuss about it or whatever. And yeah kind of also kind of accepting it and being able to talk to people about it a lot more, and willing to say to people, like I can’t do it, ‘cos I’m sick. Not sort of going, “I should be able to do everything, so I’ll try like.” It’s an illness, it’s not kind of, it’s not just you being stupid or anything like that, it’s more than that, and be willing to accept that I guess so.
“My lift floated back up”
Most of the people said the process of recovery had been a very slow and gradual one. One man described this as:
“It’s two steps forward, one step back, two steps forward, five thousand steps back, every once in a while”.
For many, low moods and depression had affected their lives for months or years and they said they couldn’t expect all that to be “reversed” overnight. They said no treatment or intervention could be “a quick fix”. Some said that especially in the beginning, they had to take life day by day and accept its unpredictability. Focusing on getting through each day, or even each hour, and breaking tasks into smaller manageable blocks helped many to get through the bad days and, importantly, to gain a sense of achievement.
Depression we found in general just through daily life was getting through the day. Because you couldn’t take anymore than that. You can get through the hour and set yourself small goals of well if I don’t manage the rest I don’t manage it, but I’m gonna get through this hour, and you know do this. And just do small goals because people go, “Oh well I’ve got this to do this week, and this, and this, and I have to get that done and…” You put too much pressure on yourself and you’re setting yourself up to fail. You know you can’t motivate yourself when you’ve got this big list of stuff going, “You have to do this, and you have to get this done,” and you’ve just got to break it down. That’s something I still do to cope is break it down, like work and stuff at Uni, because otherwise I would just get so overwhelmed.
I mean I looked at my assessment list the other day and went, “Oh, that’s a stupid amount of work to get done.” But then if I take it essay by essay, deadline by deadline, I’ll get it done, and it’ll, you know, it’ll work. And that’s something that I’ve really found works for me, ‘cos people are like, well just take it an hour at a time, and it really used to bug me, ‘cos I’d just want to fix it there and I’d be going, “No I need to do this, I need to do all of this, and it’s done.” And I never used to accept it. One thing that I’ve found is it really, really does work is just take it as much as you can little by little, to get through because you’ll find it all mounts up.
Might only be small things, but if you set yourself a small goal within each day you can build it up, and achieve something and feel you’ve achieved something, rather than belittling it because you can’t do something ‘cos you’ve overwhelmed yourself.
Age at interview:
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I do believe in something like that, not God as in the biblical sense, You know, not this old dude upstairs with a grey beard, or with a white beard you know what I mean. It’s like there is a bigger power out there, but not as any of the religions have said it. You know… And I believe you know there is, each one of us is born to do something, and each is destined to do something, but there is a choice of what we are destined to do. You know, whatever we, whatever we do you know, we are destined to either succeed or fail at that chosen subject, and it’s up to us to decide what we want by starting to follow it like that. ‘Cos I believe you know there is, there is something still better for me. So I’m just waiting to see what happens. Just enjoying life one day at a time, while I get there.
In addition to getting help, treatment and support, some had to rebuild their lives. Long-term depression had affected so many areas of their lives - schooling, friendships, home life, physical health - that they had to first find and then refit “all the pieces” of the puzzle back together.
I can’t, I honestly can’t remember like an exact date, ‘cos a lot of people say when they realise there’s problem there’s an exact day or something, but I can’t remember. It was more, you know I said at the beginning that it was like I got in the lift and it floated to the zero, well this way it sort of went slowly back up.
So I did things in reverse really, and it was like for a good two years before I managed it, I always, I’d been trying to go a night without alcohol and couldn’t do it. It took me a good two years to actually go to bed and wake up not drunk. And I got a taste of what that felt like and basically it’s been on and off ever since. Like one week I’ll be drunk every night, then I won’t drink for two weeks, and stuff like that. And I mean recently, this last year, is the first year, maybe the last two years is that all I’m doing is punishing myself, doing this is not gonna get people to help you, it’s not gonna get someone to rescue you, you’re just going to fuck yourself up and it’s like at the end of the day all you wanted was somebody to notice how ill you are, and by the time you’re that ill, no-one’s watching. You’re on your own. When you’re finally ill enough, you’re on your own. It’s all very well taking a bow but if there’s not an audience there to clap, what’s the point?
So you just kind of realise well actually you know what, and it took a while, it took a really good few tries to like stop, not so much to stop drinking, I still socially drink, but I started to build a life for myself. I realised that I’d been in this city for like five years and I could name two people that maybe I’d be able to phone to go out for coffee or something. And since then I’ve done like evening classes, got voluntary work and stuff, and I get, it was literally starting from scratch, and building a life for myself. Because the entire reason I was drinking and stuff was to block out the fact that I had no friends, that I, you know like? So it was, it was about building a life for myself, and that’s taken like a good four years at least.
But when you consider that it took me, it took me 12 years to get fucked up, 4 years to get better isn’t exactly a big time frame.
Little by little, I kind of put, dipped my toe in the water and thought I’ll try an evening class. And the first time I did I went to 2 out of 10 of them ‘cos I just couldn’t do it. The next evening class I did I went to 5 out of 10 of them, and gradually and gradually and gradually it became more normal to be doing these normal things that normal people do.
Age at interview:
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And how is your life now?
Better, a lot better, more happier with my girlfriend, with my work, with, just with my life in general you know, I can walk down the street smiling. People look at me and go, “Oh what are you smiling about?” But I’m, don’t you know? you know I can, I’ve just come back from Turkey on holiday, Paris, you know I’ve done, I went to New York a couple of years back. I’m planning to move out and get my own place next year, so that’s kind of a big milestone, trying to get my driving license, you know everything’s starting to look up and, what I should’ve been doing about five years ago really.
But that’s life, and that’s the way it goes. You know? Life lessons and hopefully through this I can help someone from avoiding all what I’ve had to go through.
Absolutely yeah. And you are very, very young still.
Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Only forty three!
“I want to make this crap worthwhile”
Young people described a sense of “achievement” over the battle through and recovery from depression. Some felt their experiences had made them “stronger” and one woman said she wouldn’t change her past because it has made her the person she is today.
A few people wanted to turn their experiences into help for others with mental health problems, either as a career or through voluntary work. A couple of people were active in raising awareness and campaigning for young people’s mental health issues. As one man put it; “I don’t want anyone to have to go through what I did”. Many people had experienced lack of understanding and insensitive approach from both professionals and other people, and felt they had to “battle the system”, which had spurred them on to try to change things for the better.
Depression is a battle, one that at the time you never feel like you’re going to win. But I can promise you that you do. And you become such a stronger person for it, now that I'm on the road to recovery - in a strange way I don’t mind that I had to go through all that pain because it's made me the person I am now and I have the rest of my life ahead of me, and without the battle I wouldn’t have the drive to be the best I can be now. I had times that I wanted to end my life, I used to do horrible things to my body because I thought it deserved it, but you owe it to yourself not to. Your body didn’t cause you this heartache; depression did, it doesn’t deserve being attacked. You don’t deserve inflicting pain on yourself because it is NOT your fault.
Age at interview:
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I’m hoping that now, once awareness is made of a situation that something is done about it, because something’s gotta change, because it’s not fair on the rest of us, well I’m only 23, I want a life. That okay for the last four years has been trapped, and it going to take a long, long time to get the mental health issues sorted. , but then I’ve got to think about well if I get that sorted, what can I do with it. , but also the actual system’s gotta change with it because I want to go back to full time education, but the system doesn’t allow full time education and people on benefit. You either have to be one, or the other. So then what? You know I can’t afford because I can’t move back home because of my disability that I have to be on benefit to afford my flat.
One young man, who’d experienced low moods on and off for some years said all his experiences had given him a desire to do something big and to “make all the shit worthwhile on the other side”.
I was just finding it really sort of hard to, sort of deal with stuff and you get the sort of really doom inciting thoughts, sort of suicide and that sort of stuff. And that, that scares you. Really does but, I just thought there must, there must be some sort of meaning to this so you just got to ride through it and get to the other side I think. Just, ‘cos that that’s what I’m doing at the moment. I mean there’s, it can’t be, this can’t be sort of fate or anything, I’m going to make something of it, I don’t care whether, whoever wants me to be in that for the rest of my life, I want to get out and do whatever, I’ll conquer a country sort of thing, if you know what I mean. Just I really want to make something of it. It’s like after sort of being through all of this shit I’m, just wanna see that it’s all worth it on the other side.
Though people were focused on recovery and getting better, many were still unable or unwilling to look too much into the future. They felt it was better to focus on the present and to live in the here and now. One woman described this as wanting to “live, not just exist, because existing isn’t enough”. She further described “existing” as “it’s like a book being there but not being read”.
Several people were aware of the possibility that depression might come back but said they weren’t as consumed or scared by this as they had been.
“I don’t know where I’m gonna be in ten years but I want to know where I might be. I will wanna know what to do if I end up in a place XYZ QRBV. I want to know. I wanna know all the things that other people know about it, all of the possibilities.”
Others wanted to be armed with all the information regarding a future with depression. A few said they’d reached a place where they experienced the same ups and downs in life as “any normal person” but that it wouldn’t lead into depression. They were able to see those days as “just bad days”, and nothing more. Many felt reassured that if depression came back one day, they would know they had the resources and the knowledge to cope with it in a much better way. One woman summed it up:
“I had the fear of it [depression] coming back, I haven’t thought about it, and maybe yeah, one day it’ll all come back and I’ll know how to challenge it and every time I get it I know to beat it in a much better way, I get a bit of knowledge. It might come back, it might not. But right now I’m not actually that bothered. And it’s the best feeling in the world.”
I’m not breaking down at every little like hurdle. Like since then obviously like other things happen like in life as they do which I think I’ve dealt with much better than I would’ve before. I think I would’ve went into a total breakdown over some of the things that have happened, whereas I’ve just got upset like a normal person would. I haven’t gone into depression for like a week or two and just not talked to anybody, not left the house, not like I haven’t skived college, I haven’t stopped eating completely. I mean obviously like I became a bit more finicky eating my food I got upset, like you normally would, like when something like really bad happens. But I think it’s made is much easier because I’m not getting as upset over things, I’m getting as upset as a normal person, like a person who functions normally would.
And it made it a lot easier but, it’s the things in the past that are coming back and that are hard to deal with, it’s not what happened now, it’s getting over things.
Age at interview:
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It’s tough because things fluctuate so much and you can’t ever go, “Oh can I stay with it.” You’ve always just got to kind of go through it and sometimes be hit, sometimes be missed by these big whatever, and just kind of move on really. You’ve got to accept that things are gonna be changed, it’s hard, very hard, very hard to accept that you will have highs and lows because they mess you around. They do.
But you know once you’ve got over that all your problems are done really, just because highs and lows will just be an everyday thing, they’ll just be a little routine within your daily life that you won’t have to focus on so much.
This is how one young woman described her process of recovery and hope:
“I’ll get it on random times like if it’s a really sunny day, and I’ll be walking across campus, and like I’ll see all these flowers and I’ll be able to feel within the pit of my stomach just happiness, and be able to feel a smile like some back onto my face, without even having to try. And just kind of life is okay, life’s good. It isn’t or it is brilliant. Like it’s raining today, but you know the sun will come out again. But it’s easy to forget that when you’re in a depressive hold, when you’re in the hold of a depressive episode.”
“It’s hard to say to someone, you’ve just got to remind yourself that things will get better, ‘cos you can’t see it. I’ll go:
“Well no they won’t. But they got better for you; they won’t get better for me.” I remember reading things like that, and thinking, “You know, don’t worry things will get better.” I’m like, “No they won’t, you’re just being stupid.” And it is hard to say, but I’ve got to remind myself that things can get better. The sun will come out again, things pass. Life chucks stuff at you, but also you come out so much stronger from it.”
Last reviewed June 2017.
Last updated December 2013.