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There’s still so much stigma surrounding abuse and mental health – this needs to change

[Trigger warning: this post references suicide and self-harm]

Research has shown the link between child abuse and mental illness. Sadly, this is something I know only too well.

When I was younger, I was sexually abused. I don’t know when my symptoms of depression first came on but even as a child I remember feeling sad, so sad that at times I’d self-harm. I was too young to understand that this is what it was called – ‘self-harm’ – but looking back now I know that’s what it was. I felt compelled to hurt myself. 

I didn’t speak out about the abuse until I was older. Abuse and mental health have huge amounts of stigma surrounding them. In the Asian culture I’ve grown up in it’s particularly difficult to talk about these things.

This needs to change.

Too often when someone comes forward to talk about abuse, they’re not believed. This is detrimental to recovery. We must find new ways to help people talk about their own experience and be listened to when they do. I felt isolated because of what I’d experienced and struggled to form healthy relationships.

I turned to drugs and alcohol to help me cope. I felt so tired all the time, it was a way of waking me up and making me feel something. 

After I left home, I ended up in a women’s refuge following an abusive relationship. That’s when my depression really hit home. I’d stopped working and was on my own. My drinking and my self-harming got worse.

I spent two years without being able to leave the house. I’d been brought up to think that God punishes and that he was punishing me for being a sinner. I felt like all the pain I’d been through was deserving. I thought I was to blame for what happened and my thoughts turned to suicide.

A turning point was getting a counsellor that was able to talk to me about my faith - my spirituality is really important to me. She enabled me to talk about God in a much healthier way.

It would be great for research to develop interventions that are more personalised  to people’s experiences. If I didn’t have a counsellor that understood faith, I don’t think I would have made the same steps towards recovery.

I now use my experience to help others who have similar experiences and I’ve even participated in programmes that train mental health nurses. I talk to them about what it’s like to experience mental illness so they can see it from a patient’s perspective.

I still get days when I don’t want to do anything, but I’ve come a long way on my journey and I’m making peace with my past.

I think the focus for research should be on prevention – there should be more work done at schools to understand which children are at risk and get them support early on. 

My focus now is on raising awareness about mental health in the Asian community. I’ve lost a lot of Asian friends along the way due to my mental health and I’d like to see a world where mental health is respected by everyone.

The image used for this blog is of a model to protect the individual's identity.

Last updated: 15 June 2018

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