As I sat there, I felt lost, confused and frustrated. Deep inside, I felt that I should be able to handle this on my own. I was a strong person. I knew what to do, but I couldn’t get my mind to agree with my heart. I couldn’t control my thoughts.
At that moment, I was told the best advice that not only helped me in the moment, but also helped me in every moment of confusion after that:
It’s like building a house. You have all the right tools, but you still need someone to show you how to use them. You need help.
After hearing those words, I decided to take control of my mental health.
Prior to this conversation I had with a psychiatrist, I had been to counseling, and I thought I talked through all I needed to. I addressed my trauma, my panic attacks and my constant anxiety, and I thought I was cured. In my own words, I thought I was normal again.
It wasn’t until this conversation I had almost three years ago that I realized I was far from my version of normal. Without knowing it, anxiety became my normal, and I forced myself to simply deal with it instead of getting professional help. Why? Because I didn’t want to be labeled as someone who had a mental illness.
I didn’t want to feel the judgement of people when I told them I couldn’t go out with them because I had to go to counseling. I didn’t want to sit down with my friends and family and tell them what was happening. I didn’t want to hear the “Everyone deals with anxiety” and “You’re fine. It’s just in your head” comments.
I didn’t want to face the stigma of living with a mental illness. So, for the longest time, I didn’t get help.
It wasn’t until I was urged to see a psychiatrist (for reasons out of my control) that I faced the stigma head-on. Even as I sat there, taking test after test and answering question after question, I didn’t think I would be going back to counseling.
The change of heart came when I asked the psychiatrist a simple question—”When do you think you’ll have my results, so I know if I need to go back to counseling or not?” And he responded with:
Without looking at your results, I can tell you that you should go see someone as soon as you can.
It was weird, really. The sense of urgency in his voice almost scared me, but at the same time I was still hesitant to listen to him, because I thought I was fine.
In reality, I just wanted to be fine. I wanted it so badly that I ignored how crippling my anxiety was because I didn’t want to face the stigma of having a mental illness.
World Mental Health Day
When Kevin Love came forward with his struggles with mental health, I wrote a post about bringing mental health into the light. There, I told my story in the hopes of helping others. I know from first-hand experience that it can be terrifying to go through something like this.
I’m talking about my mental health again because today, October 10, is World Mental Health day. Today is a day to talk about mental health without feeling scared or intimidated—without feeling the negative stigma talking about your mental health carries.
Today is a day when you shouldn’t feel alone (although I wish every day was like this). You should feel surrounded by people who have gone through exactly what you’re going through. People that you can talk to, and people that can help you overcome your struggles.
Mental illness is much more prevalent than people think. Don’t believe me? Here are some stats from the National Alliance on Mental Illness:
Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year.
Approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13 to 18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life.
18.1% of adults in the U.S. experienced an anxiety disorder.
Among the 20.2 million adults in the U.S. who experienced a substance use disorder, 50.5%—10.2 million adults—had a co-occurring mental illness.
Only 41% of adults in the U.S. with a mental health condition received mental health services in the past year.
Half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14; three-quarters by age 24.
Despite effective treatment, there are long delays—sometimes decades—between the first appearance of symptoms and when people get help.
Adults in the U.S. living with serious mental illness die on average 25 years earlier than others, largely due to treatable medical conditions.
Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S., the third leading cause of death for people aged 10 to 14 and the second leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 24.
More than 90% of children who die by suicide have a mental health condition.
You’re not alone in this battle.
It’s time to erase the stigma
Mental health is something that touches every single one of our lives, so why does there continue to be a stigma surrounding it?
Too many people are facing a silent struggle because they do not feel like they can talk about what’s happening to them. They often put on a happy face and go about their seemingly perfect life until they can’t take it anymore.
That needs to end.
It’s time to listen to others without judgement and help them help themselves. Like any illness, mental illness gets worse over time if it’s left untreated, and the only way to treat it is to talk about it.
Use today to make the first steps in erasing the stigma surrounding mental illness. In doing so, we can open the door for people silently struggling to go out and get the help they need. Be part of the change that leads people to recovering from their illness and feeling safe enough to seek help.
Erase the stigma.