It’s Time to Change the Way We Think About Anxiety and Depression.

There’s a lot of stigma surrounding mental illness. Yes, it’s an uncomfortable subject – you don’t just strike up a conversation and say, “Hey! Nice to meet you. I have general anxiety disorder with OCD tendencies!” Mental illness isn’t a fun topic and some people are afraid of what others will say if they tell how it affects them. It’s like if we don’t talk about it, mental illness doesn’t happen, I’m fine, you’re fine, everything is fine. But it happens, and now is the time to start talking about it.

Anxiety affects around 18% of United States adults, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. These people are your neighbors, your classmates, your family, your sisters. I am one of these people; I have anxiety. I discovered it the fall of my sophomore year, when I would lie awake until 5, 6, or 7 in the morning with multiple panic attacks a night. I cannot tell you what triggered it; I can only tell you that it was a personal nightmare. The next six months was a rollercoaster where I got put on antidepressants, took myself off, gained weight, felt severe side affects, lost my temper, became depressed, and couldn’t control my emotions. However, in those months I learned a lot about misconceptions about mental illness.

  1. Antidepressants do not fix everything. They don’t cure your depression. They don’t make your fear go away. I consider it a push in the right direction. It’s like one step in the formula, not the entire equation.
  2. Going on medication doesn’t make you weak. If you’re actively pursuing a way to get help, that means you have courage, maybe more than you realize. Side note – just because you go on antidepressants does NOT mean you are depressed. They help a multitude of illnesses.
  3. Don’t try to rationalize someone’s fear or depression. It is not a simple question such as, “What are you so afraid of?” or “Why are you so sad?” These things are not always rational, and you could be hurting someone by not considering this. Sometimes, people suffering will talk about their issues, not because they want advice, but because they need someone to listen.
  4. Going to a counselor or therapist is not embarrassing. Talking to someone is actually very healthy. It is someone who is paid to listen to your problems without an opinion. They won’t call you weird and for that entire session it is all about you. Some schools will even do a few counseling for free!
  5. Mental health is just as important as your physical health. Your brain is your control center, and you want it to be healthy. Neglecting your mental health all together would be like driving a car without a steering wheel.
  6. You are not alone. You never have to face anything by yourself. There is a plethora of resources all around you; all you have to do is look. A friend once told me that the most frustrating thing about life is that you can’t save everyone. But personally, if you can save one person, it is all worth it. If just one person reads this, can apply it to his or her own life, and gets help, then that is all I can ask for.

Anxiety affects us all differently. How we react is up to our own selves. It has taken me quite some time, but I have accepted that I will never be “normal” (I probably never was in the first place) and I do not blame myself for my anxiety. I have come to terms with the fact that I must start medication again and stop skipping my counseling appointments. It is time to stop thinking that just changing your attitude can fix mental illness. There are so many factors that go into it. We need to get comfortable talking about mental illness and we need to be vocal about what resources are available. No one has to suffer alone. There is always help. There is always a way to make things better, even in the smallest way.

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