I’m proud to say we’re living in a world where the mental health stigma is breaking a little more each day.
We’ve made strides since the days where depression meant you must be possessed by the devil. The world has come leaps and bounds since having a mental illness meant you were “crazy” and treatments were dangerous and experimental or cooped those with depression up at home or in asylums.
But we’re not nearly where we should be.
It’s important to understand depression and anxiety can be crippling for a person. For those who do not have either, it can be hard to grasp people can’t help it and aren’t choosing to feel the way they do.
A person with anxiety can’t “just calm down.” As someone who has suffered with it since I was a child, I wish I could do just that.
If it were that simple, don’t you think we’d all be cured by now?
Depression is a beast in itself. It overtakes a person and its force is stronger than you can imagine.
Managing it is not cut and dry either. You can’t just “get out more” or “cheer up.” It’s a chemical imbalance of the brain; it’s genetic; and it’s a completely different thing than being sad. Treatment is not an option or a choice; it’s necessary.
These disorders don’t have a “type.” They don’t pick and choose who they want to attack. They don’t care if you’re white, black, purple or blue; they don’t care if you’re 6 or 46; they don’t care if you’re a strong, hard-as-nails, fearless person or a weak, vulnerable one. They are unwavering forces that can affect anyone.
I’ve seen anxiety develop in my niece who just turned 8 years old. Although she is the oldest of her two siblings making her naturally the most responsible, she has that in her nature anyway. Because of this, she is always the one who gets to go to doctors’ appointments with me; gets to man the shopping list at the grocery store; and leads the at-home projects or activities.
I’ve noticed she’s always worried about being late, obsessed with what time it is and if we’re going to make it to said doctor’s appointment on time. She’s always making sure we didn’t forget something and that everything is under control.
We tell her not to worry but guess what? She does it anyway because it’s not something she can control.
As an 8-year-old, she shouldn’t be worrying about these things. That’s for the adults to do. But her brain is wired to worry because she has anxiety.
I remember being that way as a child and now as an adult it’s something I suffer with daily. So it hits close to home knowing my niece will suffer with anxiety more and more as she grows older.
What can we do about it?
Earlier this year a law went into effect in Oregon that gives students five mental health days in a three-month period. Last year, Utah changed the definition of a student’s valid excuse to include an illness “which may be mental or physical.”
One in six U.S. children ages 6 to 17 experience a mental health disorder each year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). That’s a statistic of nearly eight million kids who suffered from some sort of mental illness in 2016.
The NAMI also reports high school students with significant symptoms of depression are more than twice as likely to drop out compared to their peers.
Oregon and Utah have the right idea. In a world that’s talking more and more about mental illness each day, we have to continue making progress. We can’t stop here and we have to think about our kids, too.
These mental health days could seriously help kids when they are overtaken by forces beyond their control. But beyond that, it is another step toward normalizing these illnesses. It’s talking about it; it’s letting kids know it’s OK to feel the way they’re feeling; it’s educating those who may not know what they’re feeling about mental illnesses; it’s a step in the right direction to rise the number of those who are getting treatment.
These mental health laws should be the norm in all states. After all, we don’t choose to feel this way.