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Spotting the dark cloud: Nicole's story

Our study has revealed a worrying rise in mental health problems among teenagers in the UK. With 18-19 year olds increasingly being referred for mental health issues (a 17 percent increase on 2016). Trying to spot a mental illness isn’t always easy. Unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to diagnosing uncharacteristic behaviour, nor is there simply one “type” of person who suffers with anxiety or depression. 

Benenden have teamed up with Nicole, a mental health blogger and author of the popular blog
'A Beautiful Chaos' to share her story about how she struggled with depression and OCD as a young adult along with her advice if you're struggling with your mental health.

Nicole's Story:

In 2016, my life was turned upside down. I became really unwell with depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, also known as OCD. Looking back at my childhood, it wasn't a surprise that my mental health deteriorated as it did, but that's the beauty of hindsight for you.

Easter 2016 was one of the worse periods of my life. My mum was ill in hospital, I was being bullied at college, and I was doing a course which made me deeply unhappy. It's not shocking looking back that my mental health took the full force of these events like it did.

I became obsessed with hygiene and making sure that my parents and I didn’t become ill. It started with excessively washing my hands, avoiding touching door handles and not eating with my hands. It quickly spiralled into not eating at all, and when I did, it was with plastic cutlery. I wouldn't touch my parents or any surfaces like door handles or light switches in my own home. My obsessions made me hoard over 50 empty hand sanitizer bottles in the fear that throwing one away would make my parents ill.

At my worst, I was washing my hands with neat bleach up to five times a day. My hands became sore, cracked and constantly bled from the handwashing. On the inside, I was suffering badly, but on the outside, I wanted it to appear that everything was okay. I went to great lengths to hide my hands and avoid coming into contact with people who may question what I was doing, but soon that plan fell short.

My parents and friends noticed my bleeding hands and my ever-increasing odd behaviour. I finally plucked up the courage to go to the doctor, and I was diagnosed with OCD and depression. My mood is very much like a yo-yo. Since my diagnosis, I’ve been through countless medications, counselling, and CBT sessions. I’ve had periods of feeling like I was on the top of the world but also times where my mind lead me to believe that suicide was the only option left.

As I write this, I’m in a much better, more stable condition. My mental health has improved and I'm doing pretty well. However, recovery is a like a rollercoaster ride. There will be ups and downs because it's not a linear process.

Nicole's tips for people struggling with their mental health

  1. Talk- Mental health problems never go away on their own when they are bottled up inside. Talking about how you feel seems scary, but it’s the best thing you can do for your mental health. Talk to your parents, friends, teacher, doctor, Samaritans or anyone you feel you can trust.

  2. Find the self-care that works for you- For me, it’s watching films and reading. For others, it’s running and having relaxing baths. Some preach the importance of meditation. I can’t stand it. The point I’m trying to make is, self-care is incredibly essential but self-care can be anything, as long it is something you enjoy and gives you a break from the stresses and strains of everyday life.

  3. Reach out for professional help- If your low mood, stress or anxiety is getting in the way of everyday life, you may benefit from going to a doctor and getting a diagnosis. Medication or counselling may be offered too, but remember you always have a right to turn it down if you’re not ready or you don’t think it will be helpful. You know yourself better than anyone else at the end of the day.

  4. Set yourself little goals- At my lowest points, I would keep myself going by telling myself that I need to stay because I want to read that new book which is coming out or I want to see that new film. The reality is there is always something to keep living for. Even if you just wash your hair or brush your teeth today, that is an achievement. Do not undermine your small steps to recovery.

  5. Find something that makes you laugh- whether its time with your friends or your favourite comedy, laughter is the best antidepressant. Laughter is scientifically proven to make us feel better about ourselves. If the constant stream of negative news or social media is putting you down, take a step back. Trust me; you won’t miss much.

Spotting the dark cloud: mental health issues in young adults

It has never been more pertinent to educate families about the early signs of mental illness. To support families, we at Benenden have created a mental health video which highlights the early signs of anxiety and depression in teenagers for parents. Each scenario has been carefully created in collaboration with Dr Mohammed Munawar, of Insight Healthcare, and are based around the nine common trigger signs. 

Helpful articles 

Five ways to destress in five minutes
How to reduce stress levels
How to keep on top of your mental health 
Ten ways to help your mental health