|Elizabeth D. Johnson
As far back as I can remember, I have always been worried. Worried about where my mom was if she was late coming home, worried about what happens after we die, worried about my health, my pets, my friends – the list goes on and on. In my second year of high school, things started to change and I constantly felt that I was in a dream and that things weren’t real. I wasn’t able to go to school because, while on the way there, something about the way the clouds looked made my chest tighten and I wasn’t able to breathe. I couldn’t shower for longer than five minutes because being alone with my own thoughts was too terrifying, and I was afraid to look in the mirror because I no longer felt like myself. My mom took me to our family doctor, who couldn’t figure out why I felt this way and guessed it was vertigo or something in my ears. After some trial and error, it was suggested I see a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. At the time, I was terrified and didn’t know who else had this, if I was normal, or if I was going crazy.
Throughout my young adult life, I have learned to cope with my anxiety and panic attacks, but I still go through bad episodes. Through medication and therapy, I have started to feel less trapped inside of my own mind. What I wish I knew back then was how common this is and that one in five adults suffer from mental illness and one in five children aged 13-18 have or will have a serious mental illness. (1). Despite the fact that these illnesses can decrease a person’s quality of life, individuals living with a serious mental illness face an increased risk of having chronic medical conditions. These conditions can be hard to treat for someone who is already struggling with a mental illness, not to mention costly. Nineteen million Americans suffer from clinical depression and anxiety disorders, so you would think that these numbers would equate to a large support base and a general understanding of mental illnesses. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case, and many people don’t believe that mental illnesses are a physical disease despite the brain being a vital part of your body. People still shame others who come forward with their illness by calling them lazy or unmotivated, and say that they just need to get over it. It is important that when speaking to someone with a mental illness, you ask yourself “Would I say this if it were the flu?” (2). If someone were to wake up one day and have a panic attack, they wouldn’t be able to call out of work or get a doctor’s note, even though driving with one is dangerous and almost impossible. But if someone woke up and started to vomit or had a fever, they wouldn’t have an issue calling out or getting an easy prescription from the doctor for whatever is ailing them.
Because such a large portion of citizens suffer from depression and/or anxiety disorders, seeking treatment should be easier and less frowned upon. Some still view treatment as being personally weak; my favorite example of this is Tony Soprano, who was almost killed by his own uncle because it was discovered that he was on Prozac and seeing a therapist. Getting help for anything that hurts your body, whether physical or mental, is important. Being vocal about your illness and seeking help is brave. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged 15-24, the third leading cause in youth, and each day an average of twenty veterans die by suicide. For those who haven’t experienced a mental illness, it is vital that you try and think of it as any other disease and not something that can be slept off or ignored. And for those who do experience it, remember that you aren’t alone and that help is out there.
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