Mental Illness Matters: Why We Need To Regard It As Such

by Kali Venable

It is official. Our nation is amidst a mental illness epidemic.

Kids who are too young to tie their own shoes are throwing away their lives. Public life has turned into a battleground in which the armed are unknown and the victims are randomly chosen like eenie-meenie-miney-moe, you — I pick you.

Maybe the CDC hasn’t declared that there is anything more than a problem, but anyone who watches the national news knows how bad it has become.

I am no exception.

I remember the day I was diagnosed with severe anxiety and clinical depression. When my psychiatrist told me, I blankly stared outside the window to an empty parking lot and avoided making eye contact with my mom. I could feel her eyes on me, waiting for some sort of reaction. She was stunned when I had no objections or questions; I wasn’t the least bit surprised.

I had known for two years that I had depression and anxiety, but no one ever seemed to take my outbursts and episodes seriously. It started with a rebellious stage of drinking alcohol and light drug use and then it slowly progressed into a world of self-loathing, self-harm, depleted motivation and suicidal thoughts. I knew that those who surrounded me knew something was up.

Yet, for months on end, I was scolded for my actions and felt no sense of genuine concern from my peers. Everyone around me seemed to think that I could simply shake off my “sadness” like leftover water drops from a morning shower or steam after a bad day at work.

The thing about mental illnesses, though, is that they aren’t short-term definitions of how you feel. They come into your life unannounced and uninvited to screw with the way you perceive your entire existence. Things you once found interesting suddenly appear to be bleak and pointless; quite frankly, the days of your "normal" life are over.

Worst of all, mental illnesses are issues you have to face every day because there is no real cure or explanation. No matter how manageable they may seem, you always feel like the diagnosis defines some part of you.

In America, being mentally ill is akin to being mentally insane. Attempting or committing suicide is not an impulsive result of something that a medical professional may define, but merely a poor, selfish choice.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illnesses (NAMI), 60 percent of Americans who have mental health diagnoses don’t receive annual help. Not only are we leaving millions of Americans to suffer alone, but we are also creating a situation in which society reaps mass consequences.

Mentally ill Americans make up a majority of disabled adults who are unable to work a full-time schedule. Kids who suffer are prone to perform at a lower level in school. Both groups are more likely to commit criminal acts, abuse substances and attempt suicide. None of these results impact one person; they contribute to and make up problems that affect local, regional, national and global communities.

I didn't receive treatment until my suicidal thoughts turned into action during the summer before my junior year of high school. I was 16 years old then — barely old enough to drive, yet somehow, of an age to decide whether or not I deserved life on Earth.

Looking back, I know that I kept quiet because, like millions of others, I let this world lead me to believe that my problems — my mental illnesses — weren't real. The stigmas were too embarrassing with which to identify and I didn't want to be "that girl."

But, "that girl" represents a fourth of the US adolescent population and a fifth of the adult population. She suffers from something that is out of her control, but treatment is available.

I wish I was the only person who handled his or her mental disorder(s) by pretending it didn't exist. Maybe that would mean that people aren't suffering silently at this very instant. I am not ignorant or impractical, however; I have too many friends who hide their illnesses under their sleeves.

Despite all of the chaos surrounding mental illnesses, I still like to believe that we are better than this. I like to believe that we can do more than flip the channel when the news comes on and yet another school shooting has taken place.

It is about time we realize that mental illnesses have never been the problem. Rather, it is the way we ignore or categorize them into one negative connotation and shove them under the rug like some sort of stain, too ugly to expose.

Photo via We Heart It