Laura Benner-Hughes, Equally Well Lived Experience Group member
World Mental Health Day: Young people and mental health in a changing world
At the age 12 of I was a thriving pupil. I loved school, and studying, had some lovely friends and was well liked by the teachers.
Things weren’t fabulous at home for me though, and as the teenage hormones kicked in, and things at home got worse, everything began to break down.
Fast forward two years to when I was aged 14, and I had isolated myself from my friends and began to hang out with the kids who were smoking and binge drinking. School work became unimportant, and feeling very lost and unloved, I began to search for comfort in relationships with boys and began having underage, unprotected sex. I put myself in a lot of very dangerous situations and had a few awful traumatic experiences as a result of that. Sometimes I feel I was very fortunate not to have died.
If anyone around me was questioning why the sudden change in me, I didn’t want to hear about it. I wasn’t asked what was wrong, just very quickly relabelled as someone not worth bothering with or it was shrugged off as teenage hormones.
Over the following years I failed exams that I should have easily passed and lost friend after friend. I either lost or quit any job I had, and I hurt many lovely people by adding drugs to a growing list of unhealthy coping strategies. I even became technically homeless a couple of times, sleeping on a living room floor or two after spending rent money trying to feel happier.
Anxiety and depression were constant companions, and my contributions to society were rare.
Upon reflection, many opportunities to intervene were missed. So many teachers saw me every day and the change in me was stark. Yet, nobody acted. Although this was 25 years ago and I know some things are much better in some places, I worry that it is not consistent.
Although I was lucky enough to eventually receive effective treatment for my problems, I am worried that some of my issues have been passed down to my children who were born before I received the right help only 5 years ago. 20 years since my problems first began, my eldest child has some anxiety issues which result in being bullied at school, and these issues are not always dealt with very proactively, despite the policies set up in order to protect our children. I have to fight quite hard to get things moving when problems arise, and sometimes find myself fighting the people employed to help him.
I don’t work in education and don’t pretend to be an expert in how to achieve better support for our children at school, but I am an expert in my own mental health journey and I know that a mentor who understood what was going on for me could have helped me to achieve better mental health and enjoy my childhood and young adult years.
Accessible counselling should be being offered for all children at school, -and not just the ones whose problems are the most severe. The children who are quietly suffering are also worthy of support in order to help them lead fulfilling lives.
We, as a society, are still currently failing so many children. It’s not ok.
I will continue to share my experiences wherever I can in the hope that the right people are listening and have the desire to help change the life of a child like I was and stop their suffering.
When I was 14 I drew a tree
I was so proud myself
It was a really great tree
And then my world went dark
And I put down my pencil
Waded aimlessly through the next 20 years
Never knowing who i was or where i wanted to be
Somewhere inside me I was lost
But every now and then I would sit somewhere and draw a tree
The world would look brighter, just for those minutes
I would see me again
I am good at something
Then I would stop drawing
The cloud would descend again
Until I drew another tree
Eventually I beat back the cloud
The light flooded in
I can now see who I am and where I need to be
The solid constant that trees were has become apparent
I am grateful that they were there
For me to draw
To hang on to
When all else was dark
I’m so glad I drew that tree