Written by: Stella Khezri, LEx Intern
Did you know that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S? (Source) It is ranked above several other uncontrollable conditions, but is arguably the most preventable of the whole list. If we have effective treatments for it, why does it still hold this spot?
People neglect to realize that mental health is a real and pressing issue. Maybe they just think it won’t affect them – after all, “optimism bias” is a phenomenon that causes people to think that they are somehow at a lesser risk of experiencing a negative effect compared to other people. Regardless of this delusion, failing to recognize mental illness as a reality for yourself or a loved one can really have a negative impact on life. That’s why it’s important to be a leader in the area of mental health awareness, especially this October as it is Mental Health Awareness month.
I personally have had plenty of experiences with mental illness. They say you make friends with people who are similar to you – so as someone who has suffered with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) for most of her life, many of my friends wound up having issues of their own. It was not only a battle for me to realize that I had a problem, but once I reached that acceptance, I wanted to help my friends as well. It isn’t easy to look at yourself from an unbiased perspective and tell yourself that you have a problem. We all want to see ourselves in the best light, but unfortunately that just isn’t how reality is. Having a support system is one of the most important parts of treating mental illness, and truthfully it isn’t quite the same without one. For most of my time suffering with OCD, I didn’t have anyone. My parents didn’t even recognize it as a genuine issue until college, despite the fact that there were many obvious signs. My condition is related to a specific phobia – emetophobia. Somehow, my parents did not realize that I should get help even though I refused to eat for weeks on end because I felt sick, and I worried that the food would just end up being contents for my stomach to immediately expel. They disregarded the panic attacks in restaurants on vacation, and felt normal asking the waiter if they had a brown bag at the back for me to breathe into.
I can’t say I blame them for anything. They did try to help to the best of their abilities, and they took care of me when I wasn’t well. Still, they fell victim to their intrinsic optimist bias and figured it would be something that I would just grow out of. They tell me now that they genuinely thought I would get over it and are happy that now, through treatment, I am making so much progress. Thankfully, the nights of sitting in bed and wondering what was wrong with me are now over, and I want to help others realize that mental illness isn’t really an “illness” at all if you don’t let it be. The first statistic I presented on suicide is a perfect example of this. Isn’t that statistic terrifying? Presenting mental illness in this way presents it as a big, scary thing that only means pain and suffering. People see it and immediately say, “I don’t want that”. So they just refuse to get it. Simple, right? It’s a pity it doesn’t work that way.
This month, I encourage you to reflect on mental health. Remind yourself that 25 – 50 % of people who get treatment for their illness show improvement within a 10-year period (Source). Remind yourself that mental health isn’t scary, and that it is treatable if you learn to accept that it is a reality. It is just as unpreventable as any other cold or illness, but it is just as treatable. It is also just as prevalent – do not think you’re alone with your diagnosis or suspected diagnosis. Awareness is the first step! Taking time for your mental well-being is the second.
About The Author
Stella Khezri is a 2018-2019 LEx Intern double majoring in Psychology and Communication and minoring in French. She will be graduating in May 2019, and is a proud advocate for mental health awareness. She has been part of the Department of Leadership and Experiential Learning since 2016 as a member of the Leadership Living Learning Community, and then in 2017-2018 as a Mark Captain. As an out of state student, she credits her positive experience in college partly to the support and friendships that she has found within the department and encourages others to get involved as it will have a positive impact on their well being.