MENTAL Health Awareness Week gets under way on Monday, with organisers hoping to shine light on an issue which is too often seen as taboo. Here, our reporter STEPH BRAWN tells of her experiences of dealing with a mental health problem – and her hopes for greater understanding of such issues in the future.

You know that feeling you get when you go down a big slope on a rollercoaster? The adrenaline rush which goes right through you?

Imagine having that feeling running through your body all the time and you’ll start to get an idea of what facing a mental health problem can be like.

I have suffered from anxiety since I was a teenager but the true extent of my problems came to light in my final year at university.

I had always known something wasn’t quite right but hadn’t been able to put my finger on what it was – and was too embarrassed to ask for help.

But like a bottle of pop shaken again and again, my struggles erupted like a volcano – and I couldn’t hide any longer.

In January 2014, I had to leave my student house and live with my parents for the remainder of my final year while I got some help.

My weight had dropped to 7st 12lbs because I couldn’t eat without feeling sick. I walked around with a lump in my throat and a constant nausea, completely ashamed of what I had become.

I became needy and sensitive and had uncontrollable bursts of anger but I think, more than anything else, I felt alone.

Struggling with any kind of mental health issue is all consuming – a bit like that overwhelming feeling you have on a rollercoaster, expect this isn’t a sensation you want to have.

These symptoms and feelings are just the tip of the iceberg. You can add a sprinkling of shame and a great big dollop of guilt because these are the unwelcome side orders which make everything twice as bad.

One of the things I was told by a couple of people was I shouldn’t feel the way I did. My parents were happily married, they were reasonably wealthy, I had a good relationship with my family and hadn’t been subjected to abuse.

I did well at school, I was a good musician, I was involved in plenty of extra-curricular activities, I had lots of why on Earth would I develop a mental health problem?

That’s the thing about mental health, though – it does not discriminate.

Imagine feeling as low as you’ve ever felt and then having to listen to someone telling you that you shouldn’t be feeling that way.

It’s like pouring salt into the deepest of cuts – and, let me tell you, it stings.

Feeling ashamed and guilty about your struggle is a huge factor in the reluctance of some people to speak up.

Anyone can have problems with their mental health – even if it isn’t a diagnosable condition – and the only way we can try to make a difference is by not judging and, instead, offering support.

We are all very complicated and we are all individuals. None of us is in a position to say how someone should or should not be feeling, even though we might think we know best.

If I had one wish for the future it would be that people listen more and judge less, so that those in need of support can speak up without shame and not have to censor themselves.