A Young Leeds woman who has struggled with self-harm and suicide attempts over many years has opened up about her experiences in a bid to help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health.
Megan Alikhanizadeh, 24, of north Leeds, has been hospitalised and sectioned under the Mental Health Act numerous times and has also been the subject of a police missing person appeal.
Megan said she is passionate about raising awareness of mental health issues and has spoken about her experiences in a bid to help others during Mental Health Awareness Week, urging others not to suffer in silence.
She started suffering from mental health problems aged around 16 and has been diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Megan also suffers from psychosis and has been diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder, a serious mental illness that leads to her acting impulsively and recklessly, amongst other symptoms.
She said she has always felt ashamed of her mental health problems and hid them.
But when she went missing from mental health unit The Becklin Centre in Leeds last year, a police appeal was published on the Yorkshire Evening Post website and shared on social media.
Megan said: “I have always been extremely private about my struggles with mental illness, completely hiding it from everyone bar mentioning it vaguely to a couple of close friends and family, but no where near the full extent.
“I’ve always felt massive shame, alienation and have found it easier to mask everything pretending I’m okay rather than face the judgement and rejection.”
“So, finding out that I had been exposed to everyone, during such a vulnerable period in my life, was really very distressing.
“Initially I found it immensely difficult to accept this, and went further into self destruct mode. I received a lot of nasty comments and messages.
“A lot of narrow minded people who clearly didn’t understand mental illness, nor have any compassion for it.
“However I also received a lot of kind messages of support and love, which I felt extremely undeserving of and guilty for troubling all these people.
“Everyone knowing my struggle and the negative reaction I received has made me want to be more open and frank about the realities of living with severe mental illness.
“I want to talk about in the hope that it raises awareness and education, encourages other people to be more open too, and normalises the discussion of mental health in our society.
“I want to make sure people like me are represented, and we don’t shy away from talking about the more severe side of mental illness.”
Megan added: “I’ve hidden my struggles for so long due to stigma surrounding mental illness, not wanting to burden people around me and believing people would think I’m crazy.
“However I’m sharing my story and being more open now to hopefully encourage others to do the same, to raise awareness and education about severe mental illness, self harm and suicide, so other people like me don’t feel alone and feel able to speak out and get help too.
“We need to bring these issues out of the shadows so people don’t have to suffer in silence and in isolation.”
Megan has been involved with Leeds-based Mindmate since October 2017 and now works as a part time ambassador for the local NHS mental health initiative.
The MindMate website is for young people, their families and the professionals who support them.
It is designed to help young people and parents explore emotional wellbeing and mental health issues and offer information about where support is available.