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Posted by : ﱞﱞﱞﱞﱞﱞﱞﱞﱞﱞﱞﱞﱞﱞﱞﱞﱞﱞ ﱞﱞﱞﱞ Desember 13, 2012

Topics about mental health have been popping up here on Feminspire more often, and I for one am glad. Although I’ve been around people with mental health issues all of my life, only recently have I taken the time to think about the general lack of knowledge and awareness on the subject. While more and more organizations make a push to advocate for mental health awareness, many people are still in the dark about two of the most common ailments of Americans: depression and anxiety. About 6.7 percent of the American population (14.8 million) has depression and another 40 million suffer from anxiety disorders, yet I encounter ignorance and misinformation about mental health every day.

 I feel that schools should better educate students on mental health issues. While it’s great that schools here in the US offer counseling and pamphlets on mental health, that simply isn’t enough. A common misconception is that depression is just sadness, an emotion that you can snap out of. Last year, someone had the nerve to tell me exactly that. I calmly tried to explain that my mother suffered from severe depression; with my father in the military and my extended family hundreds of miles away, she often felt isolated and hopeless and would begin sobbing for seemingly no reason. Why would anyone choose to feel that way? Why would anyone choose to suffer such extreme dread and misery? His apology was blatantly insincere and followed by ‘but that’s just what I think. It’s like any other emotion. It’ll go away.’ I was so unbelievably angry, furious even, that this boy had no idea what depression actually is.
Here is what depression is in a nutshell: a mood disorder that is usually caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, but also involves environmental, genetic, and psychological factors. It involves a loss of interest in activities, unusual fatigue, irritability, changes in appetite, and a whole host of other signs and symptoms. Generally these symptoms have to last for a period of about two weeks to be diagnosed as depression, but every case is different and should be treated accordingly. Meanwhile, there are a large range of different anxiety disorders but I’ll focus on generalized anxiety disorder. This involves excessive worrying and the inability to relax. Symptoms commonly include inability to fall or stay asleep and difficulty concentrating. Panic attacks are also very common with generalized anxiety and are accompanied by feelings of dread, restlessness, chills, profuse sweating, shortness of breath, and many other symptoms that vary from person to person. Depression and anxiety frequently go hand-in-hand.
Not understanding these mental issues isn’t just a problem for people who have never come into contact with them. My parents are high school sweethearts, married since the age of 18. They’ve been through so much together and my father is the kindest, sweetest husband I know. He always takes care of my mom the best he can, even when her depression and anxiety is so crippling she can’t get out of bed. However, as much as I love him, I feel like my dad doesn’t understand that I too have depression and anxiety.
My depression began when I was about fourteen. I had just moved from Hawaii to Washington State (an extreme change in itself, I know; from sun and beach to clouds and cold!). I’ve always been an introverted person, but socializing in my new school was extremely difficult. Instead of trying to find friends, I focused solely on my homework and spent a lot of time in my room alone. While I received stellar grades, I would cry at the drop of a hat and I would get upset any time someone would leave the room without me. I began washing my hands so incessantly that they would crack and bleed. I used hand sanitizer like it was mandated by the gods. Once, just in an act of desperation, I purposefully shaved using a razor that I knew would cut and irritate my legs. I can’t tell you why I did it, only that it felt good and I could pass off the little cuts as just a bad shaving day. How can anyone want to feel like that? If I could have just pressed the happy button, I would have.
Finally, after about six months, my mom dragged me off of the couch and forced me to go to a consultation. I honestly didn’t realize I was depressed until after I started going to therapy. You may think that talking to a therapist is embarrassing, shameful, or unnecessary. I felt this way too, but I quickly realized that having an unbiased, nonjudgmental person to talk with is extremely beneficial. I wanted to be one of those stereotypical stubborn kids, the kind you read about in books and see in movies who adamantly refuse treatment with wise-ass remarks and/or silence (Cillian Murphy’s character from On The Edge, anyone?). I’m personally just too polite to disrespect or ignore someone and I’m really grateful that I opened up to my therapists. They talked me through my problems and taught me to handle my out of control emotions and I was able to regain my sense of self-esteem.
I know a lot of people who say they’ve had less than positive experiences with therapists. To them, I say this: try therapy and if you don’t like your therapist for whatever reason, switch. It can only benefit you to feel comfortable with your therapist. If you feel that therapy isn’t doing enough, try asking for additional sessions or trying medication. I attended therapy for two years before moving again. As soon as I moved, my new doctor put me on Zoloft. I honestly was reluctant to take medication; I felt like now something was really wrong with me, that I had some sort of disease, that I wasn’t strong enough to deal with my depression and anxiety on my own. But now, after being on medication for two years, I feel so much better about myself. I realize now that therapy just wasn’t cutting it and this medication seriously has given me my life back. In conjunction with therapy sessions now and then, my depression pops up only intermittently and my OCD tendencies are virtually nonexistent except for my insistence on symmetry/straightness that I can’t seem to shake (if you touch my bookshelf you will suffer a painful death).

Like I said before, even though I’m on medication and I’ve been through years of therapy, my depression and anxiety is still there. It’s certainly manageable, but I’m living proof that mental illness isn’t something you can just snap out of.
I am by no means a therapist or doctor but if you think you are depressed, or know someone who may be depressed, please do your research and talk to someone before writing it off as a simple whim of mood! You can visit the National Institute of Mental Health to learn more about depression and other mental health issues, as well as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s really neat support initiative. As always, seek professional and/or medical help immediately if you or someone you know has thoughts of suicide. Action is prevention!

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