We Need To Educate Our Kids

13 years old

First lap…… around the bed…… over to the window…… look outside…… not home yet…… back to the other side of the bed…… stroke the cat…… tap each bed knob three times…… second lap… faster now… around the bed… over to the window… look out… still not back yet… back to the other side of the bed… stroke the cat… tap each bed knob three times… third lap, faster, around the bed, over to the window, look out, not here. He’s late. Why’s he not back yet? Is he having an affair? Has there been a car crash? Did he leave us? Back around the bed, stroke the cat… wait… where’s the cat… where the fucks the cat?! Quick, run, find the cat, don’t look unusual, don’t let mum know what you’re doing, she’ll think you’ve gone crazy. Ah-ha, there’s the cat. Pick him up. Put him on the bed. Stroke him. Tap each bed knob three times… twenty fourth lap. Around the bed-over to the window-look outside- can’t see him- stroke th- doorbell rings. He’s home. Dad’s not dead. I can stop.

15 years old

I wonder who’s been voted as the world’s sexiest man this year. Hopefully Johnny Depp, I would definitely vote for him. What’s this? An article about OCD? Isn’t that something you get when you can’t stop washing your hands? This person in the magazine can’t stop cleaning. I might do weird things but I can’t have OCD. I never need to clean in a routine.

16 years old

Make sure the toothbrush is completely wet. Make sure my right hand is completely wet. Brush my teeth for exactly 2 minutes. The timer goes off. Stop. Turn off toothbrush. Turn on toothbrush. Turn it off again. Once, twice, three times? Is that enough? Does it feel just right? Not quite. Turn it on and off again another three times. Good. Just right. Now tap the toothbrush on the sink six times. Four quick taps… pause… two more. Put the toothbrush on the window sill. Put my right hand under the water. Now the left. Make sure both hands are wet. Now dry. And leave. OK, now I can relax.

17 years old

“Look, will you just stop! Why won’t you let me walk on the left?”

“Haha, you’re such a weirdo!”

“Just. Move. Over.”

“Jesus, stop pushing me, it’s not that big a deal what side you walk on!

“If it’s not such a big deal, why can’t you fucking move?”

“No, I wanna be by the wall.”

“You’re a dick head, do you know that?”

“I don’t understand why you’re getting so stressed over this!”

“Just fucking walk on the right!”

17 years old

“You’re going to see the doctor”

“No.”

“Your behaviour isn’t normal.”

“I’m fine.”
“Normal people don’t line up everything like you do.”

“I like things neat!”

“You lined up every single item of shopping on the conveyor belt and put them into categories. All the jars together, all the boxes together, all the-”

“So?”

“It’s not normal; you’re going to see the doctor.”

 “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is an anxiety disorder characterised by intrusive thoughts that produce uneasiness, apprehension, fear, or worry, by repetitive behaviors aimed at reducing the associated anxiety, or by a combination of such obsessions and compulsions.”

For 5 years I went without help for my OCD. It wasn’t until my mum finally noticed and made me an appointment with my GP that I actually got diagnosed. For just under a year  I underwent cognitive behavioural therapy until I was finally discharged. I’d gone from borderline severe OCD to the top end of mild OCD. If I had done this treatment 5 years ago, it would have saved a lot of suffering.

I think the main reason I never understood what was wrong with me was because of the lack of awareness in schools about mental illness. Considering about half of mental disorders begin before the age of 14, kids are uneducated and ignorant when it comes to mental health. I’m not saying we need to give kids an in-depth description of the hows and whys of mental illness but I do think more should be done to help kids recognise if they need help. We had special sex education and drug talks in lower secondary school, why not mental health talks? If children (and parents) have a general idea of the different symptoms then maybe they can get help quicker, rather than relying on the media’s interpretation of mental disorders that they see when watching TV or reading a magazine.

When I was in my early ages of OCD, I got my knowledge of the disorder from watching soaps or the occasional article in a newspaper or magazine. I thought it was merely when someone is really clean and always washes their hands. Certainly not someone who has to touch something a certain number of times to stop their family from dying. I didn’t understand the distress  I was feeling. I thought it was just some sort of phase I was going through. If my dad was late home from work I would be shaking and crying as I carried out these compulsions. The fact that he always came home after I carried out these rituals further reinforced them. I knew it was crazy, and I knew by doing this I wasn’t actually having an influence on my family’s safety, but nonetheless I would carry it out everyday.

It wasn’t until I studied psychology at sixth form that I started to suspect that these rituals might actually be OCD. That’s when I started doing my own background research and realised that I had a lot of the symptoms. I was still trying to hide them from my friends and family and I was wary of seeing my doctor. My dream was to study psychology at university and go into forensic or clinical psychology after. Who would employ a mental patient to look after other mental patients? It wasn’t until an argument with my mum over lining up shopping and a particularly heated, and almost violent, row with my dad over my obsession with moving things so they were “just right” that I was made to get checked up. And I’m truly thankful I did get an appointment. Although it’s still hard and although OCD never really disappears, I can’t imagine spending another 5 years in the consistently anxious state that I was in.

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“We Are The Same People, A Diagnosis Does Not Change That”

Mental health issues affect approximately 450 million people in the world. It seems incredible to me that an estimated 1 in 4 adults in the UK will experience at least one mental health problem. If your school has 1,000 kids, about 300 of them will suffer from a mental illness. That’s 300 kids with depression or anxiety problems,  schizophrenia or bipolar,  anorexia or bulimia. I could go on.

So which ones are the crazy ones? Do you think you could recognise them? Surely they would be obvious? The ones sitting in the back of the class, rocking back and forth? The ones who wash their hands 10 times before they can go into a classroom? The ones who are talking to the voices in their heads? Has anyone actually seen this? If 300 kids were mentally ill we would notice, right?

Wrong.

I remember the first time I told a friend of mine that I had OCD.

“No you don’t, your mum is just exaggerating, you’re acting normal.”

And what would you define as normal?

My friends and teachers would see me as “eccentric.” They didn’t realise that whenever I walked on the left of someone, rather than the right, I would feel so relieved. They didn’t understand why I got so angry if they forced me to walk on the right hand side of them. They’d laugh and joke around that I was a ‘weirdo’ and I would laugh along. But underneath, my anxiety level was reaching boiling point. No one noticed that these ‘little quirks’ were everyday, internal struggles.

Imagine the 300 people in your school suffering from a mental illness. OK, some of them you would be able to tell. But most of them you wouldn’t notice. The girl laughing in the corner with her friends actually goes home everyday and cries herself to sleep. She wears long sleeves to cover up her cuts and scars. She has depression, but you wouldn’t know. The boy snacking on crisps in the front row will run to the toilet after school and throw up. He’s bulimic, but you wouldn’t know. The girl with the messy desk will clean her teeth later in a perfect ritual, and tap the bedpost a certain number of times before she leaves the house to ensure her family are safe. She’s got obsessive compulsive disorder, but you wouldn’t know.

We need to get this crazy notion out of our head that someone mentally ill is going to ‘act mad.’ Mental health discrimination is a massive problem. It stops people who really need help from getting it. It makes it harder to get a job. Being labelled as mentally ill leads to people acting differently around you. Oh my God, I just said “crazy” around you, can I do that? It can lead to social isolation and losing friends.

Prejudice and discrimination need to stop.

We are the same people, a diagnosis does not change that.