There is no shame in having a mental illness.
Approximately one in five adults in the U.S. (43.8 million, or 18.5 percent) experiences a mental health condition. In the past year, only 41 percent have received treatment, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
On college campuses, 39 percent of students struggle with mental health, yet only one-third of those with anxiety and depression seek help. This is shown in research conducted by Active Minds, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising mental health awareness among college students.
With that said, I am going to share my own story to help change the conversation surrounding mental illness. I hope that it inspires all of the silent sufferers to accept themselves and seek help.
My entire life I have struggled with anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder.
In eighth grade, I missed half of the school year. I spent the last two months at home crying every night before bed and every morning when I woke up. It was the scariest time of my life. There were things that made me happy, like playing basketball, watching my favorite sports teams and being with my core group of friends, but I was not in a happy place.
Every day was worse than the day before.
I understood my problems, but didn’t know how to cope with my intense feelings of anxiety. The more school I missed, the more terrible I felt about myself and the more socially withdrawn I became.
At that point, I didn’t think I’d make it to college. It wasn’t my academic ability, but a low self-esteem and an inability to focus through the pain that set me back in school.
I am extremely fortunate that I have a loving family and supportive friends. With their help, I decided to go to boarding school for all four years of high school and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
I learned how to analyze my feelings and found strategies to better cope with my anxiety and my triggers. Being around students with similar struggles, having teachers that understood me, and learning to accept myself changed my life. I realized that I wasn’t alone, and that I could be as happy as anybody else in this world even with mental illness.
I left boarding school a better, happier person with a brighter outlook on life.
Now I am a junior at Quinnipiac University, and I’ve never felt better. I found my love for sports journalism and got involved in student media. I can embrace myself for who I really am and learned that mental illness does not define me.
I will always take pride in my courage to share my story. It’s the only way we can truly eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness. We see the statistics, we see the rising rates in anxiety and depression, and yet there is still a general fear to speak up. Everyone has problems, some worse than others, but no one should be ashamed of who they are or what they are dealing with.
Despite all of the pain I experienced throughout my childhood and adolescence, I mean it when I say I wouldn’t have changed a thing. If my experiences have given me the ability to write this article, and help those who lack the support, understanding and courage to speak up, then I consider all of it a blessing, and not a burden.
The Active Minds website states that “today’s young people are actually much more likely to talk about mental health than their parents or grandparents. This generation is closer than ever to breaking the stigma around mental illness in a time when only 44 percent of adults—and less than 20 percent of children and adolescents—with diagnosable mental health problems receive the treatment they need.”
Society is on the right path, but the fight against stigma is far from over. It’s on each and every one of us to spread awareness, treat people with compassion and ultimately change the conversation surrounding mental illness.
Every second you hold in your feelings is a second of your life that you waste. Once you speak up, you’ll realize you’re not as alone as you think.
Let’s put an end to stigma.