Kendelle was diagnosed with depression and anxiety just months after she moved to college. She shares her experience for the first time.
Going to college was the single life event my prep school upbringing had prepared me for. I was moving away from my home in Texas for the first time to South Carolina where I’d meet new people, try new things, find my life’s passion… It was going to be life-changing and amazing.
Life-changing? Absolutely. Amazing? Far from it.
My freshman year was by no means ‘living the dream’. I was diagnosed with my first major episode of depression a couple of months into the first semester, as well as anxiety that led me to feel isolated, helpless and embarrassed.
I remember thinking, “I’m supposed to be having the time of my life. Why is this happening now?”
I grew up in a financially stable home with a loving family. I received a private education which I excelled in, had close friendships, enjoyed hobbies I was passionate about and was a successful competitive equestrian. In the context of things, I had it really good. So why, all of the sudden, was I blindsided by depression and anxiety?
I made it through that first year of college then transferred to another university, hoping a different environment might help. But despite the fresh start, I was still merely surviving.
I became a complete shell of myself.
Lethargy replaced ambition and a zest for life. I could count the number of different antidepressants I tried on two hands and, after a while, I didn’t know whether my mood was a construct of my symptoms or the side effects.
I hardly made it to class. I was socially isolated and struggled to maintain the friendships I did have. I wasn’t really present in my talk therapy sessions (if I made it out of bed to attend them) and I slept so many days away. I remember a quote from Hemingway I grew fond of during those days: “I love sleep. My life has a tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?”
My mental health declined to the point where I had to withdraw from college.
During that time, a number of people disclosed intimate details of my condition I did not want them to share with others, and I had my first real experience with mental health stigma and the shame that came with being called ‘crazy’.
I strongly would not suggest this to anyone taking medication for a mental health diagnosis, but I reached a point where I stopped taking everything I was prescribed, on my own accord. A terrible few weeks followed, with debilitating headaches and abdominal shakes. With depression stripped down to its raw core came a complimentary pair of hopelessness goggles; I had hit the ultimate low and was convinced I would never recover from it.
But if I have learnt anything from this experience, it’s that there is always hope.
With ongoing guidance from a psychiatrist who persisted through the worst with me and - very importantly - supportive family and friends, I began improving slowly. Taking the right medication made a huge difference, and fortunately I had ample time and resources to focus on getting better. I ultimately returned to finish university and found a new normal – as well as new-found self-awareness, grit, resourcefulness and gratitude for the good moments.
Looking back on the decade leading up to all of this, I wish someone had spoken to me about mental health during my childhood and teenage years. Why do these conversations largely only happen when things go really wrong?
This is the first time I’ve publicly shared my personal journey with mental illness.
I’m motivated by my belief that we need to be radically candid if we want to reframe what it means to experience mental illness. I wholeheartedly believe we can rewrite the current narrative around mental illness - and when I say ‘we’ I mean individuals, families, communities, schools, universities, and businesses alike. The only way forward is together.
MQ is doing exactly that.
Not only is MQ’s research highlighting topics that haven’t had the attention they deserve, it also offers an abundance of hope for improving our understanding of mental health.
I’m particularly encouraged by the Brighter Futures programme, which is looking specifically at young people and how we can change the reality – or even prevent – people like me experiencing mental illness in the first place. 75% of those with a mental health condition start developing it before the age of 18, so investment in this research is invaluable.
Through MQ’s work, I hope we can start paying more attention to cultural differences - how can we adapt different treatments for mental illness to a diverse population? I’d also like to see their research findings used to upskill GPs and help them engage more effectively with people that show symptoms of mental illness, signposting them to the best treatment.
I’m so proud to be an ambassador and help MQ reach its full potential.
Last updated: 5 August 2019