Whenever someone asks how my day is, my muscle memory immediately responds with “Good, how about yours?” with a fake confidence, as I promptly await the same response. We start conversations with the same hook, lie, and sinker and expect to have a connection to the people we talk to every day. It stems from the taboo that mental illness shrouds itself in.
Mental illnesses are more common than one might think, especially in teens. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reported that suicide is the third leading cause of deaths in youths 10-24, and only 50 percent of youths ages 8-15 received mental health services in the past year. But statistics about suicide do not tell the story of the young teen struggling to collect the motivation to get out of bed each morning because they are suffering from depression. The teen who feels alone, and wants nothing more than to reach out to friends, but social anxiety disorder takes hold of them and holds them back.
Having a healthy mentality is not just the absence of a diagnosis. Mental health, to me, also refers to the presence of positive characteristics in one’s life that improves quality of life. These lifelines can range from something as small as warm tea before bed, to as monumental as having friends one can be open and honest with. School counselors and nurses can help provide resources to connect with occupational therapists and psychiatrists who will support you.
About one in 5 teens have a mental illness that affects them daily. Here is how we can comfort them on a personal level. If a friend having a hard time, let them know that you appreciate them and are thankful that they are with you. The stigma about talking about mental health is a boundary, and that should be expected. It is important to respect the other person’s choice if they do not want to open up to you. If they make the brave decision to discuss their experience with you, do not make them feel as if they are wrong, bad, or stupid.
To address how difficult it can be for many to receive health care, contact your local politician. Tell them we need access to affordable health care, education about mental illness in schools, and an increased amount of community support groups. The Adolescent Psychodrama Therapy group is a great example of one. These support groups would ideally help with transportation.
People affected by mental illnesses are fighters. Carrie Fisher, who played Leia in Star Wars, battled endlessly against the stigma of mental health before she was taken from us. She was diagnosed with bipolar at 29. She said, “I am mentally ill. I can say that. I am not ashamed of that. I survived that, I’m still surviving it, but bring it on. Better me than you.”