Imagine this: You wake up one day and feel this overwhelming feeling of sadness and emptiness. It’s paralyzing, and you have no idea what is wrong with you or where it came from. You manage to convince yourself to eat something or go for a walk thinking that will make you feel better, but you still feel as if you are physically ill. Your body aches with fatigue, you feel nauseated, and you don’t want to talk to or see anyone; all you want to do is curl up in your bed and stay there forever crying about absolutely nothing.
You know there’s no reason to feel this way, and you feel completely ridiculous and stupid, but this feeling is embedded somewhere deep within you and you don’t know what to do. You try to hold it in, but that makes things worse so you decide to talk to the people you trust, and nobody takes you seriously.
“It’s all in your head,” they say. “Just get up and go do something, you’ll feel better eventually.”
But you feel like you’re drowning, and nobody will help you. This is depression, and despite what people would like to believe, it is a real sickness that affects almost 7 percent of the US population over 18 years of age (including myself). Overall, mental health affects over 18 percent of adults in America, and over 20 percent of children between 13 and 18.
The problem is that many Americans do not believe mental illness is a “real illness” when the facts prove otherwise. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an MRI study found that the brain’s prefrontal cortex in adults with bipolar disorder tends to be smaller and function less well compared to adults who don’t have bipolar disorder. I don’t know about you guys, but I can’t make my prefrontal cortex grow or function any better based on sheer willpower. It is also true about depression: the brains — namely the parts involved in mood, thinking, sleep and behavior — of people who have depression look different than those of people without depression.
If you’re sick, you go to the doctor and they make you better, whether it be with medication, therapy, or some other healing process; mental health is no different. The medicine prescribed for mental illnesses work many different ways. some of them impact the dopamine levels produced by the brain and are used to treat the symptoms of psychosis (including delusions and hallucinations), while common anti-depressants help the brain to produce more serotonin and/or norepinephrine. It’s easy to dismiss mental illness because many people do not want to believe that one simple chemical can cause a person to change completely, but it can; ignoring the facts won’t make them disappear.
So how would you feel if you went to the doctor because you had a broken leg, and the doctor told you that there was nothing wrong with you and that all you had to do is tell yourself that you’re no longer in pain? And to top it off, everyone you know makes fun of you because you’re walking weird, but nobody will help you. My guess is you wouldn’t be happy about the situation. This is what people with mental illness face every day, and it isn’t fair, because they did nothing to cause the fate that has fallen upon them. Even if you still are not convinced that mental illnesses can be as debilitating as people claim they are, do not ever belittle someone who claims to have one. If someone tells you that he has any type of mental disorder, the worst thing you can do is make that person feel like it is his fault or that it is not real. You don’t have to believe it, but would it hurt you to offer support?
Let’s think about the rise in suicide rates for a minute here. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in those aged 10-24; it takes as many lives as cancer, AIDS, birth defects, pneumonia, stroke, heart disease, influenza, and chronic lung disease combined. Each day over 5,400 middle and high-schoolers attempt suicide, and 4 out of 5 of them showed clear warning signs in advance. Mental and addictive disorders are associated with 90 percent of suicides. These are facts; they cannot be denied, and they prove that mental illness is something that should be taken way more seriously than it is. People with any type of mental illness just want someone to tell them that it isn’t their fault and that they have people who support them; these people are not looking for attention, they are looking for help. So no matter what you believe, do not let it be the reason that someone takes his/her own life.
To anyone who suffers from mental illness, know that you are not alone. Yes these illnesses are difficult to live with, and most of the time they do not completely disappear. The thing you have to remember is that there are people who care about you and who will help you through it. Do not give up, and never hesitate to talk to someone or get the help you need. It does get better.