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Nobody could pinpoint what was wrong with me

[Trigger warning: this blog talks about suicide and self-harm]

Jacob struggled throughout his young teenage years with mental illness and spent time in a secure adolescent mental health ward. Now he’s looking forward to the future.

At age 14 I fell into a deep depression. I refused to go to school and wouldn’t get out of bed. I didn’t move for so long that I created a permanent dip in my mattress where my body was. 

I started having suicidal thoughts and self-harming.

I was given private therapy and all of a sudden, all these labels were being thrown at me – could it be this, or this, or this. And then, all of this medication was being given to me… but nobody could tell me for sure what was wrong and what I needed.    

I remember when I was 15 one of the medications caused excessive weight gain, another gave me an allergic reaction.

That same year I had a psychotic episode. I started thinking that there was a man in the house who was turning me against my family. I wouldn’t take my anti-psychotic medication because I believed it was poison. I used to strangle myself and say it was ‘the man’ who did it. 

My mum was struggling to cope, she was terrified I was going to hurt myself. She turned to CAHMS (Child And Adolescent Mental Health Services) and I was referred to a secure adolescent ward.

I’d never been exposed to anyone’s mental health problems before then. The first night I was there someone smashed a window and cut their wrists in front of me. I remember screaming at my nurse saying I didn’t belong there. 

But at the end of my stay I didn’t want to leave. I had this amazing mutual support network and they gave me coping mechanisms. I honestly don’t think I’d be here today if I hadn’t gone into the unit. It changed my life. 

After coming out, I went to a school for fast track courses. They got me right on track, I did my GCSEs in a year and then my A-Levels and I’m now doing a degree. 

I still get very anxious today and have dips when I’m feeling stressed. But I’m mostly able to keep my mental health under control.  

My main concern is that one day my brain will go back to how I was before.

It took me so long to get better and I think my biggest barrier to recovery was that no one could pin point what was wrong so they couldn’t get me the right treatment. There was so much misdiagnosis. I remember saying, I just want a label. It was so frustrating and even now I haven’t been given an exact diagnosis.

I just want to know – how does mental illness develop in the brain?

If we knew that, we could prevent it. Last year I was diagnosed with petite mal epilepsy and there’s been debate about whether seizures could have been part of the reason for my mental health problems. I know that if I got help earlier and doctors knew exactly the treatment I needed, it would have saved me and my family so much pain. 

Mental illness is cruel, it takes your life away – we need to find a way to treat it better and prevent it. That’s what research can do. 

We’re funding Dr Symon Kariuki to understand why epilepsy and psychosis often co-occur by looking into the genetic risk factors behind the conditions, offering hope to people like Jacob.  

The photo and name of this blogger has been changed to protect the blogger's identity. 

Last updated: 30 November 2017

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