Friday, September 19, 2014

Stigma Behind Mental Illness

What are the first words that comes to your mind when you hear the words “mental illness”?! Crazy? Insane? Pyscho? Looney? Or do words like "ill", "neglected" and "stereotyped" come to your mind? Would you be surprised if I told you that 1 in 5 Canadian adults will be diagnosed with some kind of mental illness in their lifetime?

Mental illness almost seems to be a taboo topic, something that people keep on the down-low. But why? People talk about cancer all of the time, people talk about autism and cycstic fibrosis, but why not mental illness? Mental illness has physiological origins, and therefore it is out of the person's realm of control, they can't control it. They didn't ask to be sick. They didn't do anything wrong. So why are we giving mental health the cold shoulder? Why can't we talk about it?

Almost 50% of individuals with Neurofibromatosis are diagnosed with some form of depression throughout their lifetime. Feelings of helplessness in conjunction with loss of control can be extremely debilitating for people. Anxiety about appearance and fear of being ostracized are completely legitimate problems for people facing a variable illness such as NF. Having an unpredictable illness can be terrifying, and slowly those fears can take a toll on one's body. How do I know this? I went through it 6 years ago.

I was never officially diagnosed with depression, but it wouldn't take a psychologist to diagnose me. I sucked the happiness out of the room. Seriously. I withdrew from most of my social activities, I didn't want to spend time with friends on the weekend. I spent a lot of time sleeping, and when I wasn't sleeping I spent time by myself (usually in my room). I didn't do things that made me happy anymore, because what was the point? I felt like a burden on my family because I was constantly going to medical appointments and missing school because I wasn't feeling well. My whole world felt like it was encased in a black tarp, and I was fighting to search for a way out... I just didn't know how to do it.

I was eventually prescribed an antidepressant, but until recently I never referred to is as that. Is was always a "mood stabilizer". I was afraid of the stigma that would be placed upon me if people knew I was fighting depression, but now I realize that it is NOT my fault. And anyway's, why should I care what people think, I am happy now aren't I?

I use to feel like the 3 years I spent in a depressive state were cruelly taken away from me. I felt like I was robbed from the feeling of happiness. But as I've gotten older and learned more about myself, I feel like those 3 years were almost a blessing. I was truly able to learn who I was, what I believed in, and it made me realize how lucky I am. Yes, I have an extensive and complicated medical background, but I fought for 3 years to stay alive. At the end of the all I found out that I am a fighter.

I am happy to report that today, I am doing so much better in terms of my mental health, I am still taking my medication, but as long as it is helping me I plan to stay on it. Why change a good thing, right?! And please, if you or a loved one is fighting a mental illness in silence, SPEAK UP! We need to break the stigma mental health has, and make it a priority in health education.

Thanks for reading!
Courtney =) 

    Signs and Symptoms of Depression:

  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in daily activities
  • Sleep changes (both insomnia and hypersomnia) 
  • Concentration problems
  • Unexplained aches and pains 
  • Anger and/or irritability 

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