Mental Illness: I

Because I feel like I can’t cover everything I want in one installment.

This issue is very close to my heart. I know so many people, arguably too many people, that are fighting this relentless battle. Close family. Best friends. Successful and unsuccessful people. It’s something that status or money or culture can’t shield you from.

For those who don’t know me as well, I’ve fought hard battles with mental illness in the past. I don’t think I had knowledge of it then, but as far back as I can remember, I didn’t feel nearly as happy as most kids. These negative feelings and bleak thoughts grew silently, where they hit their peak in high school. I used to harm myself. I felt completely worthless and talentless. Life felt meaningless. I felt emotionally numb and a poser for having to pretend to be ok at school and with family.

From the outside, I had everything to be grateful for. I had a supportive family who loved me and wished to see me happy and succeed. I had plenty of friends and people whom I was very close to. I was attending the best school in Tennessee and was excelling. I had many of the materialistic things I wanted.

The power of depression is that none of these things matter.

We’ve seen evidence of this time and time again. Your classmates, and colleagues, to people of different cultures, to celebrities, to people in the highest tax brackets all suffering from some form of mental illness.

Given how prevalent mental illness is, why is it stigmatized?

I’ll start by defining what I’m talking about specifically (a little trick I still borrow from middle school). The mental illnesses I mention here include but are not limited to:

  • ADHD
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Autism
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Depression
  • Dissociative Disorders
  • Eating Disorders
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Schizoaffective Disorder
  • Schizophrenia

Depending on the source, between 1 in 4 to 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. suffer from at least one of these in a given year. The Census Bureau put the U.S. adult population at ~242.57 million in 2013. That sets the lower bound of adults that suffer from at least one mental illness between 48.5 million and 60.6 million. That’s somewhere between the entire population of Colombia and Italy. Going further, “approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S. experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.” (source)

Next time you go about your day, sitting at work or in your workplace of choice or go out grocery shopping, tally up every fifth person you see to personally see how many people this affects.

The next logical question is how many people get treated. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration(source), nearly 60% of adults with mental illness didn’t seek treatment for mental health last year.

Imagine having a persistent physical pain, let’s say a knee pain, that you’ve had for years. It never leaves, although sometimes it gets better, but mostly worse. How long would it take you to go get it checked out?

Some of the consequences of living with untreated mental illness can have extremely devastating effects. Roughly 90% of suicide deaths are committed by those with a mental illness. Research also shows that depression is also correlated with other medical conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, osteoporosis, etc. (source)

To elaborate on my initial question, if so many people suffer from mental illness, knowing the impact of untreated mental illness coupled with how few people seek treatment, then why aren’t these people getting treated?

No one has found a definitive reason why, but there are some convincing contenders: stigma — society has painted a horrific and untrue picture about people battling mental illness, severity — people simply don’t know what warrants professional help and what doesn’t resulting in people waiting until symptoms are unbearable, time and energy — everyone is already so busy, so why would you spend time talking about the things causing you grief, money — yet another expense, and those close to you — sometimes those close to us don’t provide the encouragement we need to get help. (source)

If anything of these sounded like you, and you’re this far in the article, odds are you should try professional help. You’re entitled to pursue physical and mental wellbeing. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose.

There are many options to combat it, from counseling to medication, to a combination of both. Just remember, if one method doesn’t work, that doesn’t mean that the entire process won’t. Try something else until you find the one that fits you. It is possible to beat mental illness. Beyond that, there are several tricks correlated with increasing your happiness.

Those battling mental illness know it’s something you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. It sounds corny, but that’s why they call it a battle; some days you come out victorious, others defeated, and others just periods of downtime. Despite the outcome, you emerge from every battle stronger and with more knowledge, culminating to a point where your own newfound resilience surprises yourself.

In those times when I felt the most defeated, I vividly remember these unrelated quotes gave me a little hope. I truly wish the same for you.

Man cannot remake himself without suffering, for he is both the marble and the sculptor.
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

I feel like this article sounds mostly bleak, mostly due in part to never resolving how I feel now. I’m at a high in my life, and I feel like it’s still trending upwards. (I feel like this is necessary to preemptively stave off people asking if I’m ok.) I sometimes reflect and look at myself now vs. then and the difference is astounding. I honestly can’t recognize that person. There were definitely a handful of some hellish and miserable days in between, but also an assortment of extremely magnificent days. Such is life, the ebb and flow of good and bad.

For those who are in the same boat as me and are wondering what the hell to do now, here are some resources I’ve found. In the meantime, for those who are reluctant to talk about the things they’re going through, that’s the first step. It’s important to show people that it’s ok to talk about these things, to show people they’re not alone. Find someone who really cares about you and open up. You’ll probably surprise yourself with the results.

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