‘I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone, I didn’t want them to judge me’ says man who suffered mental health problems from aged 11

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As a new report reveals one in nine young people have attempted suicide. Catherine Scott takes a look at a website helping with mental health.

Gage Oxley was just 11 when he started suffering with mental health problems.

“I was making the transition from primary school to high school which was tough and I was also struggling with my sexuality as well,” says Gage, now 21.

“I would suffer dark moods and anxiety, especially in crowded places, but I felt I couldn’t tell anyone. I didn’t want them to judge me or to think I was attention seeking and so I tried to deal with it myself, but failed.

“It really affected my self-esteem.”

Things got particularly bad when he was 14 and 15.

“It is hard enough being a teenager but when you are also suffering from mental health problems, it is hell. Looking back now I can see where I went wrong but when you are in the middle of it you think you are the only person who feels this way and if told anyone then they wouldn’t understand. If I had my time again I definitely would have gone to see someone.”

But, instead, Gage shut himself off completely.

“On the outside I was one person, but on the inside I was someone completely different. I was pretending all the time and that took its toll.”

In the end he decided to tell his parents he was gay.

“When I came out to my parents it really shocked me,” recalls Gage. “How could I have ever thought they would react in any way other than with complete compassion and love? They have been so supportive.”

But Gage didn’t tell his parents about his battle with his mental health problems.

“I thought coming out would help. But I only told one friend and she betrayed me by telling everyone else and that made me feel worse as a lot of people turned their back on me.”

Gage moved to a different school for sixth form, hoping that a fresh start would help and he could be the person he really was rather than the person he had pretended to be for years.

But it didn’t help with the depression and anxiety he was feeling and he eventually plucked up the courage to visit his GP.

“It wasn’t my normal GP. I had written down how I was feeling, but I couldn’t even get through it without breaking down. She said it was just the stress of exams, but I tried to explain to her that I had felt like this for years.”

In the end she signed Gage up to an anxiety course, but an hour into the course he suffered a panic attack and had to leave.

“I knew it was the wrong place for me.” He eventually managed to see his own GP who had known him all his life and soon recognised that Gage was not well and referred him for CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy)

But the teenager had to wait a month before being diagnosed as having mild to severe low mood and anxiety, and nearly a year before he got any treatment.

By this stage, Gage had even considered taking his own life and had been prescribed antidepressants.

When he eventually started CBT Gage felt at last it would be the help he needed.

“I think I put too much pressure on it. I had waited so long that I thought it would really help, so when it didn’t in some ways it made me feel worse as I thought that was all that was available to me.”

During this time, Gage had been saving up to go to university, but instead he decided to spend his savings to make a film about mental health.

“I had been making films since I was about eight. But this time I decided to make a longer film for the first time drawing on my experiences with mental health.”

Beneath the Shadows also became a reality thanks to crowdfunding and was premiered at an event in Birstall and shown as part of Leeds International Film festival.

“I wanted to make a raw film that showed the reality of mental health, but also from the perspective of a parent, to show that we all have our monsters to deal with. Making the film really helped me process what I had been dealing with.”

It gave Gage the courage to once again come clean to his parents and at last tell them about his mental health battles.

“Once again they were amazing, if not shocked that had been dealing with this by myself for so long.”

It was during the making of Beneath the Shadows that Gage came across a new website for young people with mental health issues.

“MindMate was just setting up really but I really liked what they were trying to achieve. I read their website and it really helped me understand what I had been going through, I just wish it had been around when I was at school as I think my life would have been very different,” says Gage, who now works for Leeds City Council organising the film festival.

Jane Mischenko, lead NHS commissioner for the project, says MindMate was created in response to a growing awareness of mental health issues among young people in Leeds.

“We recognised that we weren’t responding effectively in terms of mental health for young people,” says Jane. “We decided to do a review and part of that was to actually ask young people what were the key issues for them.”

The key thing that the young people wanted was to normalise mental health issues as well as a way of accessing help and support that was relevant to them and most importantly in language they could understand.

A panel of young people worked with web designers and health professionals to come up with an interactive website that gave them all the information they wanted on where to go to get help.

“We also wanted somewhere that parents could go if they were worried, as well as GPs and teachers who wanted more information.”

Since MindMate was launched two years ago, it has been accessed by thousands of young people not just in Leeds but across the world.

“We are constantly developing MindMate. We have developed a MindMate champions programme working with schools across Leeds and are this year introducing a self-referral scheme for young people, who before had to go through their GP,” says Jane. “Things have definitely improved since Gage had his experience with mental health services.”