Amber Warning, by Amber Kirk-Ford, December 30, 2014

editorial image
Have your say

Did you know that one in 10 teenagers suffer from a diagnosable mental illness?

I am part of that statistic. Since late 2012 I have been dealing with severe social anxiety along with emetophobia, which is a phobia rather than a mental illness but it affects my life just as much as the anxiety.

Every day is a struggle, and often it holds me back from doing things everyone else is doing – going to concerts, going on holidays abroad with friends, going to parties that last well into the night.

But that’s just me. I know of other people my age who have depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and so many other illnesses that prevent them from doing activities considered as “normal”. Unless you know someone with a mental illness, or you work in that field, you might not realise just how common they are – especially in teenagers.

As I said, it is estimated that one in 10 live with a diagnosable mental illness, which means roughly three people in a classroom could be silently struggling.

Last week I was interviewed by someone who, like me, has anxiety. She said that having anxiety and suffering from panic attacks has made her more compassionate, accepting and understanding of other people, and I completely agree because I feel the same. I have to be honest – before all of this happened, I never really thought about people if I wasn’t friends with them or related to them. I never thought that maybe the old woman in front of me on the bus might be really proud of herself for building up the courage to get on the bus in the first place, or that a seemingly grumpy man battling his way through the Christmas crowds might actually be terrified and in desperate need of space and fresh air.

So, there are silver linings. In some ways, I don’t like the person my anxiety has forced me to become which, 99 per cent of the time is a hermit with no social life.

But in other ways I do like the person I’ve become – someone who now fully understands and accepts people who are different, and someone who hopes to help those going through similar things in the future.

Like most people, I used to judge anyone, even people I just walked past in the street. I know better now.

Everyone has their own issues and battles, and we’re all just trying to get over life’s hurdles in the best way possible.

I’ve made new year’s resolutions before but I have never stuck to them. Last year I washed out a jam jar and decided that, once a day, I would write something good that happened that day and put it in the jar. On New Year’s Eve 2014 I was going to open the jar and reflect on all of the happy moments, no matter how small.

That lasted until mid-January. But I’ve come up with a resolution that might be easier for all of us to achieve, and that is: to try and understand people with mental illnesses, young and old.

Please don’t say things like “you should be trying to get better” because we all are, every single day.

Please don’t say things like “you just need to get your life together” because, don’t you think if it was that easy, we would in a heartbeat?

Would you tell someone in a wheelchair to “just try and stand up”?

When you have a visible illness, people line up at your door to give you home-made casseroles.

When you have an invisible illness, you are invisible, too. This year, let’s try to change that.