When Hannah was 16, she had a year off school after being diagnosed with anorexia, anxiety and depression.
“My friends were really worried about me and at first didn’t know what was going on, so my Mum got them together along with their parents and explained what I was going through.
They took the time to understand and that meant the world to me.”
During that year Hannah felt isolated from the outside world, but her friends helped keep her connected.
“I was disappearing in every sense of the word, but my friends organised to text me every day – even just a quick “thinking of you” or “lots of love” meant so, so much, even if I couldn’t acknowledge it as the time.
They reminded me what was still out there for me, even if it was just something funny a teacher had said in class or what someone was wearing to the school ball – they just kept on being friends with me and I credit my recovery to them, they’re my biggest supporters.”
Her friends also stood up for her when she couldn’t be there to do it herself.
“I was really worried about what my other peers at school were saying about me, but when my friends heard nasty or unhelpful comments, they set them straight!”
Fast forward a few years and Hannah is now studying medicine in Wellington.
“When I left home to go to university I wanted to put my experience of mental illness behind me – I felt like it was a horrible part of me, something awful that I wanted to leave behind.”
But that didn’t last long.
“I felt like I was hiding something. I decided - this is who I am and it sucks if someone decides that is a bad thing. On top of that I was still living with anxiety and depression so I needed support.”
When Hannah told her new friends and flatmates she was met with support and acceptance.
“When my flatmates notice I’m not well they will do simple things that help and remind me I’m cared for. It might be a buying me a block of chocolate, inviting me to to go for a drive or a leaving a nice note under my door.”
Being open about her mental health problems also gives Hannah the strength to take a stand when she witnesses mental illness discrimination around her.
“Words like ‘psycho’, ‘crazy’ and ‘mental’ are so damaging, even when they’re used as throwaway comments. I’ve even heard people say things like ‘all people with mental illness should be locked away’, so I tell them they’d be surprised at the number of people in the community living with mental illness who lead completely normal lives!”
Hannah also says social media can be damaging for people living with mental illness.
“It’s so important to not click ‘like’ on things that are in poor taste but you think are funny – they are hurting people.”
Hannah says she’d like young people like herself to know that it’s okay to be just how they are and to surround themselves with caring people.
“While no-one has the power to make mental illness go away or even to cheer you up when you’re in the depths of depression, it’s so important to have people in your life who can hold onto hope for you and love you when you can’t do that for yourself.”
Hannah's story was originally featured in our Take the Load Off campaign.
Watch her story via our Like Minds, Like Mine YouTube channel.