Mental illnesses: a healthier approach

April 11, 2013 | 11 a.m.

Stigmas interfere with our ability to properly deal with mental health issues

Views | Dan Sheets for The Clarion

Mental illnesses: a healthier approach

Copyright 2011 MCT. Graphic by Keith Claxton, Chicago Tribune.

Current medical statistics are now showing that issues of mental health are on the rise and are more prevalent than ever. The negative stigma of mental health has been portrayed on the news multiple times the past year, whether in a mass school shooting or a student stepping out of line with his teachers. We seem to only catch the short negative messages on mental health issues.

Within the past year, I have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, mild depression and ADD. At first, it was somewhat of a shock, but it grew on me. Being properly diagnosed, I could start on a path of treatment and receive help for the symptoms that never seemed to go away.

For those of you who don’t have an anxiety disorder or depression, let me try and briefly explain it to you. Anxiety attacks and chronic anxiety almost feel like having a heart attack. Some doctors have even gone as far to say that they are identical symptoms. Your brain tells you at these moments that death is looming from a heart attack. The first time you encounter it can be one of the scariest times of your life. Other times it can be less severe and just be continuous nausea when experiencing high stress.

Depression is another thing. While symptoms of depression and anxiety are commonly paired together, they are not the same thing. People without clinical depression might try and relate it to a down day or the feeling of having a bad test week. Clinical depression is not that. People with depression can experience a wide array of symptoms. Personally, I have days where I just don’t feel like I can get out of bed and socialize with people and my brain feels as if it has a major block in it. It’s the feeling that the whole day is going to hell, even though it is not. People can also suffer from more serious symptoms of which can be deadly.

I write this article to inform people of the need to start a mental illness reform. We need to take away the stigma that having a mental health illness is a negative thing. We need young people, like ourselves, to take the step and receive help for these mental health illnesses and not feel judged by society or ashamed. This reform is a two-step approach: firstly, preaching the message of taking the step and getting the appropriate help and secondly, reforming the way people without a mental illness perceive such diseases. Both are extremely vital in our current society and media blitzed world.

Preaching the message of getting help is easier said than done. Many people, like myself, struggle with coming out openly about having a mental health illness. The central feeling of being judged plays a major role in why people struggle internally with a mental illness. Part of this “reform” is getting the message out to people with mental illness that it is not uncommon and that many people have the same mental illness that they are going through. This can be done through many ways – television advertisement, radio, mailings – but it will all take the initiative of some sort of nonprofit group. This is what I am proposing to start.

The same can be said about the public perception. Both sides of this reform play an equal role into our current standing of mental illness. The news and many other media outlets can portray having a mental illness as having a disability. This can lead to the stigma that having a mental health illness is wrong and causes the reaction of being ashamed to openly say you have a mental health condition. Again, it will take the efforts of some sort of nonprofit group to change this negative stigma and inform people of what a mental illness really entails.

If you suffer from a mental health disease, severe or moderate, please feel free to contact me via email (d-sheets@bethel.edu) to have an open discussion. You would be extremely surprised to realize you’re not alone in the symptoms you face every day. If you do not suffer from a mental illness but would like to get involved in the ongoing reform on mental illness, please also feel free to email me on ways to get involved. A group of people and I are building the stepping stones to what we hope we will be a life-changing nonprofit organization. We want to reach out to people with and without mental health diseases and reform the way society perceives mental illnesses.

On a final note, if you are reading this and have a mental illness, I applaud you for even taking the time to read about it! I know when I was first diagnosed, I wanted nothing to do with my diseases and denied even having them. Just remember the cheesy line people always say: you’re not alone. So many people share the same illness and are powering through it, just like you are. Let's take this reform by the horns and run with it.

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