By: Sydney Waltner
More than half of all Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness in their lifetime. But not everyone will receive the help they need. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, only forty percent of adults and fifty percent of youth receive the medical help they need. Even though mental illness is common and can affect anyone, there is still a great stigma attached. This stigma creates reluctance and shame in seeking help. The acceptance and understanding of mental illnesses has come a far way from where it used to be, but improvements can, and should still be made.
Mental illnesses should not be thought of any differently from physical illnesses. In fact, I believe the two are inseparable. Because the whole body is connected and interwoven, the two cannot be separated. The brain is an organ just like everything else in the body and can be hurt like everything else. When the brain is ill, it is not isolated in just the brain, but instead affects the whole body and the overall wellness. Substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide are very common and dangerous in those with mental illnesses. The stigma surrounding mental illness keeps people from getting the help they need to get better and causes them to hide their pain.
For three years I was one of those people hiding my illness. I was quietly suffering from depression and an eating disorder. My whole day revolved around my eating disorder and hiding it from everyone. This caused a lot of sadness, anger, and loneliness. I not only hid it from others, but I also tried to hide it from myself. I tried to convince myself that nothing was wrong because I did not fully understand what was happening. I did not know what was making me hurt myself and why I could not stop. As my weight was decreasing, my sadness and anger were quickly increasing. I became so mad and upset at everyone and everything. The stress and pressure of holding everything in caused me so much misery. If something small happened, it became too much to handle and I had to release it somehow. The only way I could think of to handle this was to hit myself and other things until I forgot about all my pain. By this time, it was impossible to hide my illness, and my family finally found out my deep secret. They did not want to see me suffer like that and wanted to help. They tried their hardest to help, but they just did not know how to help me. They tried to get me to go see somebody and get help, but I refused. I was scared of admitting that I had a mental illness and that I needed help. I was worried that people would judge me, treat me differently, or even bully me if they found out about my mental illness. So, I refused to get any help. I insisted that I was okay and could fix it myself. After a while of getting worse, my parents made me an appointment and told me I was going to get help. I remember crying and begging my mother to not make me go, but she did, and I am so grateful to her now.
For almost a year now I have been going to see a mental health counselor once a week. It took me a while to open up to her and tell her how I felt. But when I realized she was there for me and did not judge me, I was finally able to let her help me. Looking back now, I cannot believe how sick and miserable I was. I cannot imagine how my life would be if I had not received her help. I cannot express how grateful I am to her. She has changed my life for the better, I am so much happier and healthier now and look forward to living.
Receiving help is the most important thing anyone can do for themselves. But unfortunately, the stigma keeps people from getting help. Mental illness should not be something to be ashamed about or thought of differently. When mental illness is treated equally to other illnesses, more people will have the courage to get help and better their lives.