I’m part of a generation that uses Adderall like they’re skittles, who use Xanax as often as I use my car, who abuse Ambien like I abuse my bank account on Chipotle. Abusing prescription drugs is seen as “cool” yet when I’m reliant on an antidepressant just to get through my day to day life I’m looked upon as “mental.” I have never seen a bigger stigma against mental health than in the halls I walk every day.
I once took a psychology class. Now, I’ve never really been one to actually read the textbook, but in this certain chapter we were talking about mental disorders and I was curious to see how mental disorders are described; how they could possibly be put in words. The next day in class we had a discussion over the reading, and in that discussion one of my peers stated that mental disorders are a myth and that “anxiety and depression are caused by a person’s outlook and nothing more.” (So clearly, I’m not the only one who doesn’t read the textbook.) I can agree that a change in outlook can make me feel slightly better about my anxiety, but I don’t think outlook ever stopped a panic attack. Even presented with facts and science, for some reason we don’t want to believe these things are really happening.
I use WebMD a lot; whenever I get a headache or stomach pain I usually will go and look it up on symptom checker. I usually end up coming out of WebMD with the diagnosis of terminal brain cancer. I can read the passage all I want but that doesn’t mean I understand what terminal brain cancer is, what kind of a toll it takes on human life, and how it would feel to have it. While cancer and mental disorders don’t even fall on the same spectrum, I believe there is a lack of understanding that even though nothing is physically wrong I still have a disease that isn’t in my control. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t know what depression is, who hasn’t heard of OCD or anxiety, yet there never seems to be a sense of putting yourself in that position. I wish there was a pair of shoes someone could walk a mile in to understand that I’m not just in a bad mood, that I can’t just “snap out of it”, and that sometimes getting out of bed is hard not just because I was up too late doing homework.
High School is difficult and I don’t think anyone would doubt that. High school is harder though when you feel the need to put on a facade in order to not be looked at differently by your peers. I never wanted to take medication, in fact my parents used to tell me “It’s just like insulin; if you were diabetic you would take insulin. It’s a disease, an imbalance of chemicals, and this is your insulin.” I always cared so much about what everyone else thought, even those I had been closest to for the past 4 years. When I started seeking help, I didn’t tell my friends out of fear that maybe they’d see me in a different light. Eventually it reached a point where hiding it wasn’t an option anymore, and I had to tell them. There’s a very amazing thing about human’s though, that things seem clearer when they are explained by another human. WebMD definitions and psychology textbooks provide no emotional connection to words on a page, but people and their stories do.
So often the stigma seems more prominent than anything, so prominent that I was willing to go through it alone. However, I believe we can teach people by being brave and sharing our stories. I think we’d all be amazed at how quickly that stigma would shrink when the definition isn’t just one on a piece of paper, but rather made up of our lives and experiences. Someone wise once told me that this isn’t something I can get through alone, and they were right. I wish more than anything that there wasn’t a stigma against mental disorders, but I don’t wish they never existed because if me being the “anxious girl” helped someone understand that mental disorders aren’t a state of mind and a myth or provided someone with the comfort that they aren’t alone then every panic attack, tear, and seemingly endless night was worth it.