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Opinion My New Year's resolution? To no longer be ashamed.

This year, I have decided to try to no longer be ashamed of suffering from mental health problems.

THE START OF a New Year. Filled with hope and good intentions. Many of us waking up with the proverbial New Year’s resolution at the forefront of our minds. For some, this promise to ourselves – whether it be losing that extra bit of weight that has piled on over Christmas, deciding to get back in touch with that old friend, making a career change – will very quickly fall by the wayside, for others, the resolution will be followed through to completion.

I don’t know what the lifespan of my New Year’s resolution will be, but I find myself with a determination this morning and I hope it stays around for a long time. This year, I have decided to try to no longer be ashamed of suffering from mental health problems.

I have been intimately acquainted with the inner workings of my mind since April of 2010. At first, I thought that it was a once off, a blip. Something I could put down to a bad couple of months, that I could write it off and move on from. Unfortunately, it has been rather a longer journey, with my most recent major episode taking place in April of 2014 (what is it with Aprils?!) – as I documented in my article of December 12th. There have been a few spells in between, thankfully not ones that I would consider as major as these two. There have also been some fantastic times and, although not fond of cliches, I can say that I have learned a lot about myself over these past five years.

One major theme that I have noticed since the start of my relationship with my mental health has been the huge shame that I have felt. I can freely admit that, before experiencing this myself, I thought that only people who have suffered a loss or who have had a ‘hard life’ can legitimately suffer from mental health problems. I thought that anyone who has a good, stable life – as I would consider myself to have – must be putting it on, they must be an attention seeker of some sort.

Having not had any prolonged contact with someone who suffered from mental health problems when I was younger, I assume that this viewpoint largely comes from how I have grown up. Not a viewpoint handed down from my parents per se, but from society in general. From a young age, we are taught to pity those who are less fortunate than us. This can be positive in some ways – we as a nation are very charitable, sending aid in various forms to developing countries, for example. But it can also be negative, both for ourselves and for the subjects of our pity. For me, it has meant that I considered those less fortunate than myself to be the ones who are ‘allowed’ to suffer from mental health problems. Myself on the other hand, with my parents who are still together (married for 30 years this coming June), a solid set of friends around me, no major financial worries, a job, a steady boyfriend – I am not allowed to feel like this.

Whenever I have told someone of the events of the last few years, I have felt the need to make jokes and excuse myself, basically to apologise for something that I now realise I did not do to myself. I assume that the person I am talking to will think badly of me, think I am lazy, over-emotional and just looking for attention. I realise that the reason I think this is because previously I would have make those assumptions about someone who was telling me of their own experiences with mental health. That is what I actually should be ashamed about, making that judgement about somebody who has not asked nor wanted to suffer.

I’ll say it again (mostly to reinforce it in my own mind!) – my New Year’s resolution is to no longer be ashamed of suffering from mental health problems. With this, I intend to keep writing about my experiences and try to do my bit to reduce the stigma that is attached to mental health. We have come a long way over the past few years, but there is still a long way to go.

Happy New Year to all, I hope 2015 is full of happiness and contentment. Perhaps a small resolution for those who are still skeptical about the legitimacy of mental health problems is to keep an open mind. Maybe over the coming year, we can change your opinion. One article at a time!

Natalie Marr is a recent master’s graduate and current employee of Viking Splash Tours, where she is ‘fondly’ known as Natalie the Noxious.

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