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Time to Destigmatize Mental Health: My Story

by: Alexa Erickson

In today’s society, people suffering mental health conditions often feel ashamed and embarrassed to see therapists even though these professionals will give them the help they need.    In reality, seeking professional help for conditions such as anxiety or depression is no different from going to the dentist for a cavity or going to the doctor for medicine for a head cold. Society looks at mental health with many misconceptions that can later affect the person in their life who is battling with mental illness, especially if they aren’t receiving proper treatment.

Society paints people struggling with mental health as being lazy, weak, or attention seekers. And yet, people who struggle with mental illness most likely have just as many positive qualities about themselves along with those who do not suffer with mental health. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.–43.8 million, or 18.5% experience mental illness in a given year.  

Personally, I have a supportive family who provides me with a roof over my head and food on the table every night. I have supportive friends who share fun experiences with me.  Nothing to be sad about, right? However, after a traumatic loss I went through in the eighth grade,  I began to have little to no confidence in myself; I stayed alone in my room avoiding all of my friends.  My grades began to drop, and I never felt a true, genuine sense of happiness.

A few months after the loss I encountered, I began seeing a therapist and that’s when I first heard the words, “It looks like you have fallen into quite a depression.” Depression? There was no way,  I can’t have depression.  I can’t let people know I’m sad and down on myself constantly.  They would think I was weird and if they hung out with me I would bring their moods down every time.

As a middle schooler, still trying to figure out who I was and who I surrounded myself with, I pushed my feelings to the back of my head in order to not feel judged or make anyone “uncomfortable.”   Every day, I put on my fake smile as soon as I left for school, I walked in pretending to be so excited to see all my friends, all while hoping they weren’t picking me apart and judging the things I did or said. I pushed those feelings back so much I felt numb to them. It became a daily routine to put on a fake smile, put myself in a good mood and go to school to see people who did not support me or listen to me. I ignored all my anxiety and sadness and went about my days as a middle schooler. I stopped being motivated to go to therapy and tried to distract myself, all while having the monster of depression eating away at me.

In high school, I found happier and more exciting times, I began hanging out with people who cared about me, I got into a healthy relationship, and my family life was great. Although the self esteem and anxiety issues were still in the back of my mind, I had things that were making me happy to distract myself. I truly began to feel happy with my life and the people I surrounded myself with. Things were finally beginning to fall into place and I began feeling somewhat confident in myself and the things in my life. If I felt depressed, I never let it be known.  

I ignored the feelings and moved on with my day, simply because I did not want to annoy anyone in my life by expressing my problems. Those feelings slowly began to build up, relationships began to crumble, I did not feel like I fit in with my friends, and I became extremely down on myself. My personality slowly started to change, I became quieter and more reserved. I spend hours alone in my room, sleeping, thinking about things.

My senior year everything started to crumble; I did not feel secure with my relationships, the college process took over my mind, and I went through so many changes. I began experiencing terrifying panic attacks where it was hard to catch my breath and control my thoughts and actions. My family became increasingly concerned overtime, trying to contact my counselors and extended family members to help calm me down. A few days after a significantly big panic attack, I began to have no motivation to go to school or eat anything. I went to countless counselors and doctors to help get my head in the right space. Currently, I go to therapy twice a week and with the help of anti-anxiety medication, I am able to calm myself down and not stress so much all of the time.

As a girl with an amazing family, supportive friends who lives in a town like Westborough, most people wonder why someone like me can suffer from anxiety and depression. What society needs to really understand is that mental health does not focus on one type of person. Mental health can affect the richest person in America, it can affect the captain of the football team, it can affect the most popular kid in the class. Mental health should be a topic that is looked at as being as serious as heart disease and should not be a topic one should feel ashamed of. As someone who continues to suffer every day with mental health conditions, I believe it is important to make it a more talked about topic among students in order to destigmatize the misconceptions of mental health.

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