A certain news story flashed across the TV screen on CBS one evening, and I couldn’t help but find inspiration from it.
To summarize, Rachel Griffin, suffering from depression and anxiety since the age of 14, decided to start a movement toward destigmatizing mental illness with a simple hashtag #imnotashamed. Rather than keeping mental illness in the dark, she is bringing it to the light and fully exposing it. She’s even writing a dramatic work for Broadway taking place in a mental hospital, a place many may feel extremely uncomfortable. When the misconception around mental illness is still so strong, admitting those inner struggles and embracing them is no small feat, but it’s a necessary one.
The amount of research I have done in the past few years regarding all aspects of mental illness is astounding. I have looked into diagnosing them, treating them, and spreading awareness about them. Knowledge is power. It’s a great place to start to begin realizing how important it is to tackle mental illness head-on.
A quarter of all people will face some sort of mental illness in their lifetime, so it isn’t like this is a minor problem. But because these illnesses can so easily be concealed beneath a smiling face, the tendency to avoid acknowledging their severity has become an everyday trend. Words like “depressed” and “bipolar” have become synonyms for “crazy.”
I come from a town where suicide is all too common. I’ve sat through many assemblies and presentations about suicide, but the focus was primarily about bullying. Which admittedly is still important, but if the root of the problem is much deeper than that, teasing is but a minor detail in scheme of things. I never really learned about mental illness like I did about physical illnesses and their symptoms. For these reasons, I began experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety in middle school, but never even realized I was suffering until after graduating high school. Even my eating disorder crept in and out of my life since around the same time, but I’m just now in the process of a full recovery.
It’s great that I’m taking action now to benefit myself and lead a healthier life, but I spent far too much time in the dark about my own mental health. I had no idea what was normal or not. And I thought speaking out about it, going to a therapist or taking medication, was weak and unnecessary. That it’s just “in my head” and I can therefore handle it myself. And therein lies why someone might resort to suicide, leaving the world in shock when all they knew was the pleasant mask they put on every day.
We’ve gone too long disguising our health. If we were talking about any other illness that wasn’t just mental, we would encourage everyone to take those healthy precautions to take care of themselves. But when it comes to mental health, it’s a whole other story. Thinking of taking a day of leave because you can’t get yourself out of bed in the morning sounds lazy. A low day can apparently be fixed by just “doing things that make you happy.” We shouldn’t have to justify how we feel. Your feelings are always valid.
I long to see the day when we acknowledge mental health symptoms as equally as physical ones, when mental health education is a mandatory aspect of all curricula. Society is already taking those first steps toward changing our mindsets, but we have a long way to go. Our fear of mental illness goes back to Medieval times, when those conditions were reminiscent of inner demons. Even mental wards are still places full of fear. Many forget that some of the kindest, funniest, and most generous people on this planet are those whose minds are battlefields. But admitting yourself as a soldier in that mental war is brave and admirable; it could be a olive branch to those suffering in silence. Even those suffering without even realizing it.
I’ve gotten to a point I didn’t think I ever would with my mental health. As someone who tends to be quite guarded, I have become very open with my struggles. I have learned that although my mental health is an aspect of myself I can’t avoid, that my chemical imbalances are here to stay, that does not define who I am. But I can use it as a way to spread awareness and help others. Since reaching out, several people have contacted me telling me about how they too have struggled. Some of these people I never would have guessed would deal with similar pains that I do. It’s far too easy to get lost in your own head, and it feels like you’re stuck in your own foggy world without a moment of clarity, but knowing you aren’t alone (no matter how cliche it might sound) can help dramatically.
So if people look at me differently for taking an antidepressant every morning and seeing a therapist every week, I don’t mind. The struggles I face every day are worth it. Even days I am too numb to function, I am proud for facing each day and doing my best. And I encourage everybody, whether your mental health is fair or not, to take care of yourselves in any way possible. You are worth it.
Hi, I’m Allie, a college student from South Dakota. I have major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, mild OCD, and anorexia. And I am not ashamed.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie