It is Our Social Obligation to Talk about Mental Health

Nobody likes to feel uncomfortable. It is human nature to avoid situations that put us in harm’s way. Sometimes, that harm includes discomfort from speaking our truth. After all, when someone asks us to tell them about ourselves, we tend to give superficial answers regarding our interests and personalities. It is rare during the introductory phase of relationships that people reveal the deepest parts of themselves. Maybe it’s time we should. 

Hi, my name is Kayla. I am a senior health studies major with a minor in communications. My favorite color is pink, I like to travel, I listen to Taylor Swift and–oh yeah– I have generalized anxiety disorder and clinical depression!

If one were to say something like that it would probably catch a lot of people off guard. There would be a tangible awkwardness in the air with no clever follow-up capable to placate the room. But it shouldn’t be that way. Just as a lot of people relate to liking the color pink, traveling and Taylor Swift, even more people relate to struggling with mental illness. 

Like many others, middle school didn’t go very well for me. I went from a very outspoken and confident person to one who is incredibly shy and worried about everyone and everything. I became very distrustful of those around me to the point where even if I made new friends, I was constantly anxious that they would leave me. 

During seventh grade, my mother was very concerned about my mental health and made me see a therapist. I felt like I was being punished. To me, seeing a therapist meant that I was crazy, that there was something wrong with me. Thus, in order to spite my mother and prove that I did not need therapy, I behaved sardonically, not taking my sessions seriously (apologies to my then-therapist Katherine). Needless to say, therapy for me then did not work because I was not willing to accept that I had a problem. 

My anxiety then carried on through high school. Unfortunately, my anxiety became so bad that it manifested into depression. I was angry at myself for not being able to talk to people. The fear I had that no one around me liked me made me feel sad and alone. I did not like attention. When I had to present in front of other people I cried nearly every time; then I would cry more because I was embarrassed about crying. 

It’s not like I didn’t have anyone. I had a great, supportive group of friends who I loved hanging out with. The issue was I wouldn’t allow myself to be happy. I was constantly suspicious of my friends and if they actually enjoyed my company, or if they were just being nice. 

In the middle of senior year, I lost my best friend. There was a miscommunication between us and things eventually became irreparable. That loss made me even more distrustful of everyone around me. I mean, I always had a feeling that people would eventually leave me, and then it happened with my best friend. What was stopping the others from leaving? 

With my mind being consumed with sadness and anxiety, I did not realize that I was partaking in a form of self-sabotage with my other relationships. I would find reasons to be angry with my then-boyfriend and I would take my other friends for granted. I was a mess. 

At this point, I started realizing I needed some form of help. So I asked my doctor to put me on anti-anxiety medication. She agreed but also suggested I see a therapist. I lied and said I wasn’t that bad, and the medication should be just fine. I didn’t want to see a therapist because I would be admitting to myself that I had a problem.

My freshman year of college I attended American University (AU)  in Washington D.C., away from my family, friends and boyfriend. At this point my anxiety and depression were the worst they had ever been. It was very hard for me to make friends at AU. I did very well in school, but it was only because I had to keep myself busy. If I didn’t have anything to do, I would just think about how sad I was. 

Obviously, I left AU and came back home to URI. I loved the school and I was happy to be with my friends who had stayed behind. Although I was definitely happier, my issues did not go away. I didn’t feel like doing anything; nothing interested me. Life continued on but my soul did not. I was tired of being apathetic towards everyone and everything. If I wasn’t indifferent, I was extremely sad. There were certain points that I strongly considered not being around anymore.

I needed help. And so, I willingly decided to get a therapist. Her name is Jackie. I have been seeing Jackie weekly for a year and a half now and I have definitely seen improvement in my overall well-being. Therapy has taught me to be more mindful and recognize when I am being irrational. It has improved my interpersonal communication skills. I am in no way healed, but my mental health is no longer debilitating. Sometimes I have moments of pure lowness, but those are becoming less frequent. I no longer distrust everyone around me, and go out of my way to say hello to people without worrying if they like me or not.

Therapy has also made me more cognizant of other people’s suffering. I can recognize in others the same hurt and anxiety that I have felt and still feel. Therefore, I started openly talking about my therapy sessions. I don’t make a big deal out of it, I usually just impart wisdom that Jackie has said to my friends or acquaintances.  I encourage everyone around me to go to therapy as I feel it is something that is as needed as getting an annual physical from a primary care physician. 

According to the World Health Organization, one in four people will suffer from some form of  mental illness at some point in their lives. Mental illness affects approximately 450 million globally, which places it among the leading causes of ill-health and disability. 

In the United States, Mental Health America reports that the prevalence of depressive episodes in youths are on the rise along with sucide and suicidal ideation. Almost half of adults experience mental health issues in their lifetime, but only 41 percent of those individuals actually get treatment. 

Sometimes I feel uncomfortable being so open about my mental health. I feel other people becoming on edge and so I feel that way as well. I push through that uneasiness though, because I know talking about my experience is necessary.

Therapy is still intimidating to some, and has a connotation that the people who go are unstable or crazy. Unfortunately, the stigma that surrounds therapy and mental illness in general prevents a lot of people from getting the help they need. I sometimes wonder how my life would be if I took therapy seriously back in middle school. 

Last year, I wrote an opinion article for The Good Five Cent Cigar discussing the need for open discussion surrounding mental health. I was surprised at the number of people who responded to my article, opening up about their own experiences and agreeing with my words. 

With mental illness being so prevalent in our society, it is our social obligation to talk about our experience freely so that people recognize their feelings are valid. The more we talk about our personal struggles, the more people will be encouraged to talk about theirs and get the help they need. By being more open, individuals will feel less mentally isolated and as a society we can see the decline in suicides instead of a rise. 

This column is the first of what will be a weekly installment by the Good Five Cent Cigar in an effort to advocate for ending the stigma around mental health. If you would like to share your story, please send us an email at [email protected] to contact our Editor-in-Chief.