OPINION: Mental health awareness, a testimony

Why Mental Health Awareness month is important for everyone

By Alexander Shedd, News Assistant Editor

“Mental Health Awareness” is a phrase that is often thrown around, but not always truly understood. May is Mental Health Awareness month, of which many students may not even be aware.

There is still a stigma on mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Skeptics may claim that they aren’t real illnesses, and that everyone has bad days from time to time, or that it’s easy to just push through until you get over it.

However, as someone who was diagnosed with clinical depression, I can assure you that this is far from the truth. Although I am fortunate to not be as deeply affected as some, even at a milder level I have still sometimes missed work and class, been unable to get out of bed for hours into the afternoon, and back around the time I was originally diagnosed, had overwhelming thoughts of self harm or worse.

Depression is very much a real disease, and can often be genetic. My mother has it, and my grandmother before her. Thankfully, for me, the worst of it was in high school, when my parents were able to scrape together what little they had to afford me more than a year of psychiatric therapy and antidepressants. But it still comes back in waves. I could be fine for months and then suddenly have my entire demeanor flipped overnight in an episode that lasted anywhere from a few hours to a week or longer.

That is the nature of this disease. It’s irrational, and frustrating, and exhausting. Although stress and situational issues can exacerbate it, it’s an imbalance in the delicate chemistry of the brain, and can often come without any warning or trigger. Clinical anxiety and depression are severely underdiagnosed, and our understanding of them is sadly limited.

But those who suffer are not without hope. Mental health awareness is about support and understanding. In the years since my diagnosis, I’ve learned that the most important thing to have is a support network, whether it be friends, family, or a significant other. The people closest to you should understand that, while they can’t fix the problem, the best short-term aid is comfort, patience and an open mind, not pity or frustration.  

It can be nearly impossible to tell if a friend or loved one is suffering, as it comes with a drive to keep it bottled up and not show your pain for the sake of not feeling different or alienated. If you suffer from a mental health illness, don’t be afraid to seek help. Mason offers myriad mental health services through discrete and understanding professionals, such as Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and the Student Support and Advocacy Center. Sometimes, just talking it over with a therapist can do wonders. Other times, it may be worth looking into medication.  

Don’t give up. There is no shame in being treated, and there is nothing wrong with you for suffering. You’re not crazy, and most importantly, you’re not alone.

Photo by Allie Thompson