“What should I do if my friend is having a panic attack?” “If you have anxiety, will you get depression when you’re pregnant?” “I know my friend is depressed, but she won’t admit it. What should I do?” “Can you get panic attacks while you’re sleeping?”
These are some of the questions I was asked last week when I spoke to a class of 36 high school juniors. I presented a program called Ending the Silence, developed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). The purpose is to raise awareness of mental illness and help end the stigma.
I love to speak to high school students and bring attention to mental health. If I attended something like this when I was a teen, maybe I wouldn’t have waited so long to get treatment for anxiety and panic attacks.
Mental illness is a difficult subject to discuss, and can be especially hard for young people. If kids aren’t embarrassed or ashamed to talk about it, there’s a good chance there would be less stigma for the next generation.
When I stood in front of the class to share my story, I noticed how engaged the students were. I had their full attention, and for the next fifteen minutes they would learn how panic changed my life and also my daughter’s. They’d see that recovery is possible. I wondered if any of them had ever heard anyone speak openly about their struggle with a mental illness.
My co-presenter and I explained the warning signs and symptoms of anxiety, depression, suicide, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, and post traumatic stress disorder.
We assured the teens there is no shame in having a mental health condition. We told them millions of people around the world live with some type of mental illness. It affects not only the person dealing with the disorder, but their families as well.
Our message to the students was clear. The stigma needs to end. Many people don’t say anything about their condition, in fear of being ridiculed. Stigma can keep someone from reaching out for medical help.
It took me twenty years to go to my doctor. I knew it wasn’t normal to have extreme bursts of fear. My heart would beat fast, I’d get clammy and shaky, and was afraid I’d faint. I couldn’t imagine what was wrong with me. I didn’t think anyone would understand, not even my doctor.
We wanted those high school juniors to know they aren’t alone. If they or someone they know has a mental health condition, it’s important to talk about it and get help. The sooner, the better. We wanted those students to know that even though mental illness can be extremely challenging to live with, there is hope.
Together, we can end the stigma.
First image courtesy of here
Second image courtesy of here