Callum shares his story for World Mental Health Day

10 October 2019, Melbourne – The theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day is ‘Do you see what I see?’, with the aim to:

  • Challenge negative perceptions of mental health.
  • Encourage people to shine a positive light on mental health.
  • Make a way for people to seek the support they need.

At batyr, we want to amplify the voices of young people in order to smash mental health stigma and increase help-seeking rates in Australia.

Callum shares his mental health journey and talks about what World Mental Health Day means to him.

My name is Callum. I am a young person who lives in Melbourne.

I am very passionate about research and hope to start a PhD next year. I am also very passionate about mental health.

I have had quite a long mental health journey. 

In my childhood, I used to have feelings of extreme worry and unease, especially when it came to things like playing sport and performing music. Sometimes I would feel uneasy and nervous everyday about things that were weeks and weeks away. 

As I got older, I also started to feel sad a lot of the time. I thought that all of this was kind of normal until I got into my mid-teenage years and it started to impact my day-to-day life a lot. I began to feel sad most of the time and eventually started to self-harm. 

I found it really difficult to initially ask for help. 

Luckily for me, my family made sure to cultivate a very open, honest and supportive environment which meant that when my parents noticed that my behaviour had changed quite a bit and they asked me what was wrong, I felt like I could confide in them and expect nothing but love and support.

When I did tell them, my parents leapt into action, and they immediately took me to a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with generalised anxiety disorder and depression. 

Time ticked on beyond my initial diagnosis; I have good days and I have bad days. With the love and support of my family, I made it through my high school years without too many issues, and I was, for the most past, happy. 

I began university straight from high school. That was when everything changed.

My depression was getting worse. I felt like I was being submerged further and further under water and for longer periods of time. It got to a point where I forgot what it was like to breath fresh air. I forgot what good felt like.

But then, that’s when I first experienced hypomania. It was so unlike anything that I had ever experienced at it scared me a lot. I remember telling my mum about it and she guessed that I might have Bipolar.

So I went back to my psych and he diagnosed me with Bipolar 2 Mood Disorder.

My journey with Bipolar has been tumultuous to say the least. It has led to substance abuse, suicidal ideation, self-harm, disordered eating, irregularity in sleeping, hallucinations, sustained low periods and extreme highs.

But, through persistence, and the love and support of people around me, I have become well. For me wellness has meant changing psychiatrists to one I feel more comfortable with, changing medication, learning to meditate, becoming mindful of my eating, quitting smoking, exercising daily, practicing mindfulness and gratitude, journaling and planning my day-to-day life around short and long term goals.

Did stigma prevent you from reaching out for support?

The closest thing that I felt to stigma was shame. 

I felt ashamed about what I was feeling and the way that I was dealing with it. I don’t think I necessarily felt weak or foolish, I just knew that saying nothing and continuing on the way that I was wasn’t sustainable, but I also didn’t really feel like I knew what I could do. 

I didn’t really know my options. I think I was disastrously unqualified to help myself. I’m just really lucky that I had a family that was able to identify an issue and then help me address it. 

What do you wish someone knew about what you were going through?

I think that the main thing that I wish people knew about what I was going through is that mental health issues and coping with them is extremely complex. 

There is rarely one thing that is to blame, or one single symptom, or one warning sign, or one way to help someone who is going through a tough time. 

There is more likely going to be a myriad of different things, all coalescing, meaning the best way to help someone is to listen, and listen attentively. 

Tell us about a moment or conversation you had that ‘shone a light’ on the challenges you were facing and encouraged you to reach out. What was that moment like?

My mum was catching an early flight and came into my room to say goodbye to me. 

When she went to wake me up, she saw that I had been self-harming. That day, after Mum had flown out, Dad suggested that I take the day off school and he and I spend it together. 

That was a hugely important and amazing thing for him to do because he was opening up a space where I felt comfortable to talk about how I had been feeling. He didn’t scold me, he didn’t panic, he didn’t ask me a thousand questions, we just spent the day together. He asked me how my mood had been and what was going on at school, and I opened up and told him how much I had been struggling. When Mum got home she, Dad, my brother and I all sat down. I caught everyone up on what had been happening and then we discussed where to go from there. I decided, with the support I so desperately needed from my family, that I would go and see a psychiatrist. 

How do you challenge misconceptions about mental health and encourage positive conversations? 

I make sure that I am always honest and completely open. I am always open about my personal experiences with mental ill-health because I believe a great way to start breaking down stigma is through sharing personal stories.

I also make sure I take the time to point out instances of misinformation or myths about mental health when I hear them. An example of this is challenging the use of universalising language. 

I think it is extremely important to acknowledge that there are no two identical mental health stories because no two people have the same experiences.

What is your pledge for World Mental Health Day?

I pledge to continue to represent young people and advocate on their behalf in regard to mental health. 

I pledge to continue to, through working in the sector and being a public speaker, raise awareness about youth mental health in order to help break down stigma and encourage help seeking behaviour. 

If this story has brought up strong feelings for you, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.