Remove the stigma

Mental illness is not a rare thing: Almost one in every five adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness in a given year. Still, society often acts as if mental illness shouldn’t be talked about. Although it can be hard and uncomfortable to ask for help or treatment, mental health isn’t something that should be a last priority.

Mental illness left untreated can interfere with daily tasks or pleasures, cause job loss, destroy marriages and even lead to death. Sadly, many who experience mental illness feel ashamed or too embarrassed to ask for help. Many fear accepting or admitting that they experience a mental health problem simply because of the stigma that surrounds it.

Despite the stigma, mental illness needs to be discussed and I’m going to talk about it.

I have depression and anxiety. It began the summer after my junior year of high school. I spent hours alone in my room watching television or thinking—thinking about how hopeless I felt. I could never think of anything that would make me happy. I was irritable and lonely. I never felt like spending time with anyone, and in the moments that I did, it was hard to pretend that I was okay. I was always an upbeat person, and when I began to feel unlike myself, it terrified me.

I remember taking multiple online tests regarding mental illness, and each time I received the same result: depression. I tried to deny it while I lied to myself and convinced myself I was fine. A few weeks went by with the same feelings and it quickly started to affect my schoolwork, appetite and relationships.

I felt better as I got out of the house and was around people, but I didn’t feel like I could tell anyone about how I was suffering—not my friends, sisters or parents. I thought that everything I was experiencing was in my head. I didn’t know if they would understand the deep and excruciating sadness I was feeling.

When things got worse, I was so desperate for a solution that I began to feel extremely scared. I just wanted the pain and nothingness to go away. I finally told my parents in an email after I spent hours trying to figure out what to say. What if they thought I was faking it? What if this would be too much for them to handle? I thought that maybe I could just figure it out all on my own.

But the people who you love and trust, like my parents, know what to say and what to do to help you. I started going to therapy and a little while later I started taking medication. Slowly but surely, things got better. Today I get by without medication and utilize therapy and meditation. I still have bad days, but they are fewer and farther in between.

I believe it’s important to tell stories that help break the stigma because mental health problems are more common than people realize. If we don’t take steps to normalize mental illness like we do physical illness, people who struggle won’t feel comfortable receiving help.

This is why I chose to share my story.

Having a mental illness is just as serious and can be as common as many physical ailments. Sadly, we continue to stigmatize one and not the other. Mental health is just as important as physical health; without one, it’s very difficult to have the other.

When our mental health is in order, it’s a lot easier to take care of ourselves physically. Depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses can make it difficult to focus, stay motivated, feel confident, get adequate sleep or eat well.

For someone who needs their physical health to be in good condition, like an athlete, mental health is also key, despite the fact that physical health is focused on more. However, without proper mental health, physical health will decline. This is something that an athlete, along with coaches and other supporters, must be very aware of. Physical health should never be the only priority.

Mental health issues are much more common than many realize; therefore, it’s important to know how you can get help. Mood disorders including major depression, dysthymic disorder and bipolar disorder are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the U.S. for people ages 18–44. Overall, about 18 percent of the people in the U.S. will experience a mental, behavioral or emotional disorder in their life.

It’s quite possible that you will know or love someone that has experienced or suffered from a mental illness, and it’s important to know how to help and express empathy. If you or someone you know needs help, talk with someone you trust, utilize the counseling resources at the SHAC on campus, use online resources such as Psychology Today for help finding a therapist, and make self-care a priority.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911 or the national suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255.