Confronting mental illness

By Glenn McMahon

Recognizing a problem in your own mental health is a difficult task. Not only is it easy to ignore, passing off bad moods as the result of a bad day or stress, but it can be even harder to reconcile with your self-image. However—and I realize this sounds like a TV ad at this point—if you suspect that you or someone you know is suffering from a mental health problem, seek help. There seems to be a widespread, unfounded stigma against seeking counseling.

I’ve been diagnosed with depression and have sought therapy. I also recently sat down with a fellow Lawrentian to hear another experience with issues of mental health. I hope our experiences may help to demystify what can be a frightening realization.

The first step of seeking counseling or medication for a mental health issue is scary. People tend to fear that mental illness will define you, or that it’s something that will never get better. Many times it’s also just hard to recognize in yourself. But if you’re struggling day-to-day or feel overwhelmed, there’s absolutely no harm that can be done in seeing a counselor.

It took me a long time, and the urging of many close friends, to seek therapy for my depression. I felt the same stigma that maybe mental health issues weren’t something to be treated, but something to be hidden in shame. However, I decided to see a counselor at my high school. I met with him a few times a week for nearly six months before I met with a psychiatrist and was prescribed medication.

The Lawrence student that I spoke with had been exposed to the idea of seeking help for mood problems, as a family member had been prescribed medication for a mental health diagnosis. This family member helped him to understood that the stigma was unhelpful and that he could seek effective treatment.

Taking that step towards help can come in many forms, too. While I sought help somewhat secretly, and avoided counselor-to-mom contact for as long as I felt I could, our fellow Lawrence student brought concerns to family members. This Lawrence student was met with some resistance at home, as a family member who had been diagnosed did not want to see their family with the same problems. Eventually our fellow Lawrence student was able to begin simultaneously taking medication and seeing a counselor for therapy.

Therapy can make a huge difference. My counselor taught me tricks—such as stepping out of a room when I got really upset to do deep breathing and consider other circumstances—for alleviating some of the cyclical, stressful thoughts. After only two or three meetings I felt a huge change in the way I felt waking up, as well as my attitude towards school, work and friends.

Our fellow Lawrence student had nothing but positive effects from therapy, although we share mixed experiences with medication. We didn’t have to broadcast that we were seeing a counselor, nor did friends or family think ill of us. Seeking help for a mental illness can be scary, but it shouldn’t be. It’s no different than seeing a doctor about a physical ailment.

It’s going to get better, and it’s going to get easier. Since coming to Lawrence, both our fellow Lawrence student and I have stopped taking medication for mental health problems and have found social and creative outlets to keep ourselves happy and motivated. I know that at this point the “it gets easier” argument is cliché, but I want to reaffirm that it does actually get easier. You become more used to the tools a counselor will give or to talking through problems. Even if it requires some work, you learn to make each day good.

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