The real side of mental illness


Riley Laurence and Jordan Toomey

“Pre-cal makes me want to kill myself.”

While walking in the halls recently, I heard this statement accompanied by the laughs of the speaker’s peers, and it shocked me. Well – it should have shocked me, but sadly that is a common thing to hear in today’s society.

Mental illness is defined as a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. However, there is a prejudice attached to mental illness that says that mental illness is real, but only affects a few people–not those around us. This way of thinking allows people to downplay the importance of a situation that is life-draining and very well could be life-threatening. We, as a society, have become so conditioned to generalizing actual life-changing mental conditions that we forget that people really suffer from them.

Considering the fact that I have been diagnosed with major depression and generalized anxiety disorder, it seriously frustrates me when ignorant kids misuse these disorders and assign them to normal human feelings, because it wouldn’t be called a disorder if it was normal. Suicidal thoughts/tendencies are one of the defining symptoms of depression, so when people say things like “I have a test tomorrow, I’m gonna kill myself” it makes me stop to wonder why people can take something as serious as the taking of one’s own life and turn it into a joke to express how hard a class is.

Having actually been diagnosed with anxiety, it also frustrates me when people I am exposed to everyday don’t think my condition is deserving of recognition and awareness. Mental illness can shape a person’s life, it can rule it, and it can destroy it. And because of all that, having anxiety means fighting a battle everyday to make sure that my illness doesn’t win.

Even if I spent months writing this article, I could not describe to you how awful and debilitating depression/anxiety is, but I will try. Suffering from anxiety is like drowning while you watch all of your friends breathe while yelling at you to just swim, while suffering from depression is trying to swim while the voice in your head is telling you to just give up. For the people that are watching, the answer seems obvious. If you just swim to the shore, you’ll be fine. But depression is the devil on your shoulder that tells you that no matter how hard you try to swim, it won’t do any good, and anxiety is the part of that devil that tells you that everyone is making fun of you for trying to survive.

Depression is not being upset that a significant other broke up with you, or how upset you are with yourself after you’ve bombed a quiz. Depression is not crying when your grandmother dies or being upset that your favorite TV show ended. Depression is a terrible sickness of the mind that warps you into a person that you are not comfortable with, but don’t have the motivation to change. Depression is like living in a world surrounded in fog where you don’t know when and if you’ll ever get out, and anxiety is the overwhelming false realization that you will never get out. Depression is literally having to force yourself to get out of bed because you can’t bring yourself to face life like a normal person can, and anxiety is the factor that prohibits you from talking to strangers at school. Depression sucks every bit of happiness out of your life, while anxiety simultaneously sucks the calmness out, and they force you to put on a brave face and go to school and do your assignments and smile even when it gets to the point where there is a physical aching in your bones from the sadness you feel and a deep hatred of yourself for not being able to be like normal kids.

Anxiety is not being afraid of a presentation, or butterflies when you talk to a cute boy or girl, or a vague awkwardness when ordering something at Starbucks. Anxiety is when you’re alone in your room with your head in your hands, paralyzed with fear, of anything–everything, while depression is the feeling that you’re just not worth it. Anxiety is when you hyperventilate during a test that you studied for but somehow you’ve forgotten everything and now you can’t finish it because you can’t think through the panic, while depression tells you that you couldn’t have done it anyways.

These awful disorders should not be used to describe normal human emotions because they are not simple, but rather complex distortions of normal human thought.

So, what’s the big deal?

Like most mental disorders, if you don’t have it, you’ll never fully understand it. This is, I think, the barrier that causes people to make fun of these mental disorders – or to make fun of anything, really. The biggest problem is, people don’t see why saying things like this could be seen as making fun of someone. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard people say something like “Ugh, my anxiety is so bad after that presentation” or “I’m literally gonna kill myself if you don’t shut up.” And each time, I look at them, and tell them not to say things like that.

And each and every time, they look back, faces blank with shock, and ask, “Why?” Well, let me tell you just why.

Nobody says, “Wow, that test just gave me cancer.” Nobody says, “That presentation gave me AIDS.” Because you aren’t supposed to make fun of disease, right? What if someone around you has cancer, or knows somebody who has it and has died from it? What if somebody around you knows somebody who has died from AIDS? What if they get offended?

A mental illness is a disease, and guess what? There are people affected by them all around you. Just because they don’t wear a badge on their chest that screams “I have an awful anxiety disorder,” or “depression haunts my every waking moment,” doesn’t mean that they don’t suffer from it. Making fun of or downplaying an illness that someone else fights every day is not okay, and should not be tolerated.

Mental illnesses are not controllable, sometimes even with the aid of medication. They can’t be “trained out”, and those suffering from them can’t “just get over it.” Just like any other sickness, depression, anxiety, and other disorders can happen to anyone. It is very real, and it is very exhausting and life-draining.

We need to change the cultural norm of society in regards to mental illnesses. I realize that most of the people saying these kinds of things mean no harm by it, and that they probably don’t even realize that what they are saying is offensive. To me, that’s the saddest part. If you don’t have anxiety or depression or schizophrenia or any other mental illness, you probably don’t realize how incapacitating they really are.

Take it from me: mental illnesses can be life-ruining. And ruining a life is not something that should be casually mentioned in conversation, even in a joking manner.

So next time you are about to say “Oh my gosh, Chemistry makes me suicidal,” or “I’m literally going to have an anxiety attack if I have to present my project,” please be aware that there are people around you that could be suffering from the very illness you are making an immature and ignorant joke about.

I’m not asking you to take a class on the side effects of mental illness. What I am asking is that you be aware that someone around you may be suffering in silence. Think before you speak, for the sake of those who are suffering, and to prevent yourself from coming across as ignorant and apathetic.