Friday, May 1, 2015

Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Let's talk about that.

Mental health is a very important issue to me because I myself suffered from depression, anxiety, and panic attacks for a little over a year (November 2013 to December 2014). I was not officially diagnosed because my parents don't believe in mental health issues, which made the entire ordeal the most isolating, painful experience I've ever endured. I am by no means an expert of a psychiatrist, but these are my personal views on the subject, and hopefully they can shed some light on what mental illness is and what can be done about it and the stigma surrounding it.

I feel like now is an appropriate time to talk about it because enough time has passed that I can assess it with a critical eye and objective reflection. For a long time I denied it because I was determined not to be "one of those people." I viewed mental health issues as a weakness, which is unfortunately how a lot of people view it. It wasn't out of malicious intent; I simply didn't understand what it was and judged people's experiences without an inkling of an idea of what it was truly like. Perhaps the most important lesson I learned out of the experience is that it is important to be kind to others and to not criticize them bluntly for their views because I have not experienced their life. This goes for not only mental health, but also religion, sexuality, and other social issues. Ignorance is just as damaging as malice, on both sides, so now I try to understand their position and sympathize or empathize with how they feel before judging.

For me personally, I was only able to get help after accepting and confronting the real issue. It got a lot worse before it gets better, and there were occasions where I lost all hope. Luckily with a strong support network of people that cared about me – friends, teachers, and counselors – I was able to keep going. Thankfully today, I no longer live with clinical depression. I still get panic attacks from time to time, but they are more the result of triggers than spontaneous outbursts.

But what are these "panic attacks" and "anxiety" and "depression"? According to mental health is "emotional, psychological, and social well-being." A good resource for learning about the different types of mental illnesses is

Mental health has numerous causes and sometimes no cause at all. If it doesn't that doesn't mean it's not valid. Everyone gets sick time to time, and the brain is no exception. It is an organ like any other and sometimes there might be problems with it. Mental illness is especially stigmatized because having something wrong with your brain means there's something wrong with you. But I like to use a different analogy to explain the true nature of mental health. Substitute "brain" with any other organ or body part and compare. For now, let's use the example of a broken arm. Just because someone has a broken arm doesn't mean that the entire person is sick or useless. You wouldn't amputate that arm just because there's a broken bone. You would give the person with the broken arm time and support and care until the arm recovers. Same with mental illness. It's a thing someone is going through, not something that defines their entire existence. With proper care and enough time, they can recover.

For those who have or are suffering from mental illness, remember that the end goal is recovery. A lot of support is given in the form of validation, which is important, but it doesn't help the person move forward. Conditions like depression rob you of the ability to give the effort to care, but it is important to fight it with every last bit of strength. Recovery is very possible and well worth the effort. Talk to friends, take up a new hobby, do anything it takes (within reason) to get help for yourself. I know it's not easy, but you are stronger than you think you are, and you can make it through. ◊

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