TW/Disclaimer: Major Depressive Disorder, Autism, Sexual Assault, Dissociation, PTSD, OCD, Paranoia, ADHD, Depression, Anxiety, Insomnia, Hospitalization, Suicidal Ideations, Bipolar Disorder, Overdose
If this article might trigger you in any way, please do not continue reading!
In this article, I collected testimonies from a range of people of different ages, ethnicities, and genders that have undergone/are going through a journey with their mental health. The intent of this article is to spread awareness, dissipate stigmas around mental health, and to hopefully be therapeutic to the participants and readers of this article. The article is arranged in a free interview format, where everyone was able to tell their story, ask questions, and/or share their methods of navigating life.
I felt scared for the longest time in the worst part of my mental health journey to get medicated due to having to fill out applications for STEM-related jobs asking if I have a disability and putting anxiety as one of them. It made it seem as though having anxiety made me a liability to companies. People told me if I was caught lying I’d be fired or not considered for the position anymore. It’s like you have to prioritize your mental health or have a safe cost of living. Not to mention I had to spend a lot of my personal money never buying my prescribed medicine under health insurance because I was told that when there are traces of it on my health record my health insurance could go up.
It seems as though The United States system doesn’t want individuals to consider mental health regardless of the awareness of therapy, health insurance prices increase and jobs disappear for you and not to mention uneducated family members calling you “crazy”. It’s like the system, workforce, and even family members begin to see you as a liability for asking for help.
Everyone is going through their own form of figuring out ways to better their mental health behind closed doors. Regardless of the positive awareness of mental health in media today, the American healthcare system and the government still stigmatize mental health financially and jeopardize job opportunities for those seeking help.
I think that there is a difference between mental health and mental illness, societally in the usage of the terminology mental health and mental illness. I think the connotation of both terms matters. Whenever I have heard mental illness used it was from an archaic stigmatized context of someone being “crazy”. But I feel as though using the word mental health can help others face the stigmatization and view the process of getting help as maintaining any bodily form of health.
I mainly struggle with anxiety, disassociation, and the issue of needing prescribed anti-anxiety medications due to the harsh side effects of weight gain, stomach problems and general fatigue, and body image.
Added thoughts: What are strategies you have found to better your mental health?
Not listening to “grind culture” and taking rest days in both work and personal life commitments. Working with a therapist or even yourself to determine new boundaries to keep with others to prioritize yourself and to evaluate if walking, running, journaling, and or working out etc. is your form of everyday self-care consistency is key. Prioritizing your mental health can feel like a loss of relationships and friendships but communicating with your friends what you’re going through, and how much time and space you need can be great to clear any guilt or strengthen relationships in your life in the pursuit of you wanting to take care of yourself.
I wish people knew more about the importance of mental health. It’s not just about whether you’re depressed or not. Taking care of your mental health is the same as going to the gym or eating healthy, and as you get older, you have more of a responsibility to take care of yourself in this aspect.
I believe mental illness and mental health are similar, but not the same. Everyone has a sense of mental health, whether it is good or bad. Mental illness on the other hand is something someone suffers from, and in a lot of cases can be out of their control.
The main thing that I suffer from with respect to my mental health is anxiety. I used to struggle with my anxiety and that affected my mental health for a while because it caused me to stress or pull myself out of environments I wanted to be in, but couldn’t. Talking to others has helped me overcome this, but it’s still something I deal with.
I’ve always dealt with anxiety and it wasn’t until I started talking to my friend about it that I realized that it wasn’t a “normal” thing like I thought. That being said, in the same way that you don’t have to be overweight or out of shape to go to the gym, you don’t need to be depressed or struggling with your mental health to start talking to someone. Taking care of your mental health is something everyone should be doing.
I wish that people knew that those who face mental health issues can be fine one moment and then struggle the next. I believe that is the hardest thing to deal with. You work so hard to provide a positive space for yourself and when it crumbles down, you have to start from square one. People may think you’re being dramatic or just choosing to be unhappy, but in all honesty, it’s hard to look at things from a different perspective.
I overthink a lot which leads to depression/anxiety. I’m always feeling like I should do more or I’m not good enough. It makes some of my day-to-day activities not enjoyable. I’m currently in therapy because I want to learn how to overcome my obstacles. I want to be more kind to myself and be okay with just taking things on a daily basis. I often struggle with FOMO so I feel the need to rip and run everywhere. I want to be more comfortable with enjoying my own space and romanticizing each moment.
I feel that a lot of people who have never dealt with mental health issues sometimes look down on the people that do have mental illnesses since they do not understand what it's like to deal with these issues. I've heard a lot of neurotypical people say they think people with depression are just lazy, people with anxiety need to get over their fears, and people with OCD are only people who are neat freaks and count numbers. It's not as simple as that, and each mental health problem should be handled case by case by a professional since what works for one person won't work for the other. A lot of people who start their mental health journey don't realize that psychiatrists and therapists are different and each doctor can help in a different way. Some therapists will only hear you out while some will give you advice on what you can do and some will just show you techniques to handle your mental illness better.
Also, after getting mental health help for the past 6/7 years, I've realized if you have an issue, you need to be the one to speak up on getting help. A doctor, friend, or parent can't read your mind and everyone has different ways of handling different situations. If you don't know what to do it's completely fine to ask a professional, trusted friend, or family member. If you have something you think would help you mention it! Another thing that I realized about mental health is to not solely rely on meds for a quick fix. Yes, meds are extremely helpful but for many, they need a culmination of helping factors along with meds like therapy, good friends, recognizing one's triggers, and setting up guardrails in your life.
The main things I struggle with are anxiety, depression, OCD, and ADHD.
I feel as if America is too focused on fixing problems rather than preventing problems. It may be because we're in a capitalistic society and it's more profitable to fix sick people rather than keep healthy people healthy.
I wish people knew just how serious mental health is. No matter how small or big the reason behind it is, like trying to explain to someone why you feel a certain way and they shut you down. I wish everyone would just stop and listen when someone is crying out for help. Because even in our darkest days we remember the ones who listened and didn’t. Not being able to talk to someone about your mental health, won’t do anything but make it worse. So I just wish people would LISTEN.
When you’re talking about mental health that affects everyone, it's in your everyday life. Mental health can be affected by certain life events, death, or just anything dealing with life in general as I stated before. Mental illness is dealing more with being diagnosed with a disorder and not everyone goes down that path. So when describing the two you could easily say everyone deals with mental health but not everyone deals with mental illness.
The main things I struggle with would probably fall under both categories. My mental health is rocky. It stems from a lifelong hurt. Losing all my grandparents before they could see me walk really messed me up in the head. From heartbreak, I know some would debate that it doesn’t affect your mental health when indeed it does. Loving someone hard and giving them your all for them to break your heart, in the long run, will have you in a dark place that some can’t make it out of. Then to touch on the mental illness side I have bipolar disorder and it really gets in the way of my everyday life. I won’t even lie and say I’ve been doing good over the past few months, but over the past few days, I have been doing good. Something I wish I noticed earlier in life is that God can get you through anything and that’s who I want to thank for my recent good days with plenty more to come. Depression ties in with the passing of all my grandparents.
It’s something that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to shake back from but I hope to be able to cope with it better.
Added Thoughts: What do you do to maintain or improve your mental health?
Short and simple, I pray. By all means, I can get through anything as long as God is by my side.
I wish people understood how much energy mental illness consumes in your day to day.
On days when I struggled to eat and get out of bed, I used to be very hard on myself. I had to realize that having constant suicidal ideations, or suffering through a bipolar episode, or waking up from a PTSD-induced nightmare were all major energy zappers, and it made sense that I couldn’t hop out of bed with the same cognitive and emotional capacity as my peers.
When I think about graduation, I wish people understood how badly I also wanted to use that time to share my testimony along with my accomplishments. How the accomplishments meant nothing without the testimony. How constantly draining, isolating, and defeating school was while battling trauma and mental illness. I wish I could tell people that graduating feels so much sweeter to me because I was also in the hospital my senior year for an intentional overdose.
On January 1st, I asked God to carry me to the coliseum stage, because I felt like despite everything I tried, I still could not make it. I wish people knew that you can have a better life even when you get that low. I wish they knew that even if struggles still happen, you can have a better village, a better environment, and better skills to deal with the bad parts of life. I wish people knew that severe mental illness isn’t a death sentence, and there are people that need you here with us and are ready to celebrate with you at the finish line.
I have struggled with mental health issues for as long as I can remember. I didn’t have a name fas or it as a child, but now that I’m an adult I can put a name to the things I would experience. I would throw tantrums if I was late in elementary school, cry when it was time to express how I felt, get irritable when things didn’t follow a routine, and think about things that normal little kids didn’t think of. So many things made me feel weird or different. I also would be overcome by what I would describe as “darkness” and be consumed by crying spells or writing dark things in my journal in middle school. When I got my anxiety, depression, and PTSD diagnoses, things started to make sense for me.
I wish people knew that mental health issues are not negative, they’re something that cannot be prevented. People can’t just wake up and choose not to be anxious or depressed, they just learn how to cope. Also, PTSD does not just affect veterans, so many civilians face this from trauma. I struggle with relinquishing control over the things that are not in my control. I have to learn to control what I can.
If I could tell little me anything, I would tell her that it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to feel different from everyone else. Open up to your parents in a way that will be made to make you feel whole.
I've learned that just being without mental illness doesn't mean you have good mental health. Mental illnesses are often times clinically diagnosed disorders while mental health can simply be how we feel at any given moment. Both can affect how you act or think. I wish more people understood that poor mental health or mental illnesses look different for everyone. For example, for months I experienced high-functioning depression. With no motivation to get out of bed each day, I still made it happen. On my lowest days, I could still crack a joke and carry on. I do credit my ability to function during that time to my beautiful baby boy. He was the only reason I was able to show up for myself allowing me to also show up for him.
Unfortunately, that’s not every parent’s story. Even the tantalizing smile of their amazing boy or girl isn’t enough to keep them going. I do admit that some days it is still hard to remain present, but all I can really do is believe things will get easier and keep it pushing.
I feel like there is a growing understanding of this now, but one wish I’d make in regard to mental health there is no specific way it reveals itself and exists. Growing up in my community, I was raised with the belief that everyone was either “different” or “normal” and you could tell the difference. As I grew I quickly realized that mental health issues can affect any and all people, with no discrimination whatsoever. I feel like if the misconception that there is a specific way someone with mental health issues looked, it could make it a much easier conversation to discuss across all communities.
I believe there is a clear difference between mental health and mental illness as the former remains constant and can vary at all times, while the latter has an impact on an individual's behaviors and ability to function.
A big struggle I’ve had my entire life was with accepting any of my mental health issues, as I was taught to push through any issues I could’ve experienced. As a result of being raised to suppress and repress almost everything, it took me longer than it should’ve to finally seek help with my concerns. After so long, just this year I finally began therapy as a means to gain understanding and help for what troubled me. Recently I have been diagnosed with severe depression, severe anxiety, paranoia, insomnia, and PTSD. Given the upbringing I had it wasn’t surprising to have heard this, and in all honesty, the struggles I’ve had with them have become a lot easier with my acknowledgment of them.
Mental health awareness could be better discussed in a large variety of ways. To begin this process, I feel it is essential for everyone to more openly discuss issues they might have, learn and address early signs of a change rather than ignoring them, and as a people better practice patience and empathy for one another. As we are now the leading generation, I feel it is most important to start these discussions as early as possible and implement these practices in our early education systems as a requirement; in doing so we can ensure understanding throughout generations along with learning positive coping behaviors and treatments.
I wish that more people understood that the slightest imbalance can deter someone’s mental health. People often believe that you have to be chronically ill and you don’t. Even the most minuscule disruption can lead to a domino effect on people’s mental health. I do believe there is a thin line between mental health and mental illness as many mental illnesses can be hereditary. But the two terms are more so, one and the same. Without a strong, balanced mental, it can leave someone susceptible to mental illness.
In December of 2021, I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and PTSD. I noticed a decline in my academics, I was developing horrible habits such as sleeping around and sleeping in a lot. The biggest issue that I faced was my overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and failure, which I later found to be symptoms of suicidal thinking. But I've talked to a therapist, and psychiatrist, and have found better ways of managing anytime I feel like a depressive episode is coming on.
I used to think I was introverted, but in reality, I just didn’t know how to speak and connect with people (and still don’t). I have spells of laziness (burnout) where I would go through the motions and succeed at them, but not be good to myself and listen to what I actually need to do (like working and staying miserable at a job, or literally dropping out of school with good grades). I have hyper-fixations and weird time conception. So like currently I am hyper-fixated on being uncomfortable, traveling, and wanting peace and not having a job and being able to JUST live. Before I decided to just say forget it and travel I was about to buy a house. Before that, I was needing to become so independent. I could stop connecting with my family and leave from under my mom because she was not good for my mental health, which caused me to move out way before I should have.
I have sensory problems. Can’t wear certain clothes, can’t be around certain smells, and I don’t sit up straight because it’s “ uncomfortable” to do so. I recognize a lot of patterns… which has completely convinced me that I can tell what’s going to happen before it does and I am almost always right. I become obsessive over anything I find interesting, even people but not in a weird way. Just in the way that I want to know every. Single. Thought that they have and how they function. I lash out uncontrollably even when I know that’s what I am doing at that moment. I have repeating behaviors, so I won’t shut up about a topic or a TikTok until I hyper-focus on another one. And there’s definitely more I just can’t think of them right now. But literally, all the signs of what I do, are traits.
My main struggle is that I am autistic. I was recently diagnosed and it was ignored by my family. It has caused me to be put in many situations that I should have never been in. It also has caused me to be burnt out in jobs, not have help in school, etc. By saying situations I should have never been in, I mean socially and academically. It has caused me to be oblivious to social things and standards. Like I have been sexually assaulted more times than I can even remember. It also caused me to drop out of school midway through with a 3.7 gpa.
I honestly do not believe I would have even gone to college knowing what I know now. So for me being a late-diagnosed autistic person has completely changed the future lifestyle I want and will live. And I will definitely be hyper-aware of everything going on around me now.
Added Thoughts: Do you need certain experiences in life to become understanding and accepting of others?
This is one question that I constantly want to have answered by multiple people. Because it’s either you get to experience or you are just understanding. But also there is ignorance tied to it. When I think of people being mean or non-accepting, I immediately think that they are either conservative or believe heavily in the Bible. When I think of people who are very understanding and accepting, I think of people who either have trauma or grew up in the most healthy household ever imaginable. And both of my observations are wrong sometimes even though I continue to think about it.
Mental health and mental illness can fall hand in hand, for if you are feeling ill mentally, it will affect your mental health.
Between juggling my education, extracurriculars, social and familial life, and mental state, I have been tried in more ways than I could ever imagine these last 4 months. My mental health can either be at its peak or below the basement, but I remained thankful in all stages. I struggle with depression and anxiety, but I try my best not to let it get the best of me. Because it is a part of me, I embrace it and curb it in ways that are conducive to my happiness and health, and I hope to be able to help others do the same! I wish people knew that mental health isn’t just a concept, but it’s real and affects our reality. Once you start seeing the positive impact that prioritizing your mental health can bring, everything else starts to fall into place. You just have to take it day by day, and see it through!
I wish people knew how fragile each individual’s mental health can be so it’s important to genuinely be kind with everything you do & say especially with children. Also, how important it is to be educated on the matter because it can quite literally save lives, their own included. The state of a person’s mental health could change drastically at any given moment and it’s important for people to know what that looks like and how to show up because in those moments, community can be extremely beneficial.
I believe that mental health and mental illness go hand in hand but I definitely think there is a difference. The condition of one’s mental health can be affected in a number of ways and sometimes, it can lead to mental illness being developed or triggered which can cause a person’s brain to alter in more permanent ways. I think people tend to conflate the two often, especially in regard to people discussing certain tasks that they are physically unable to do when they are not mentally well. There are things that people can do that could significantly improve their mental state that an individual who struggles with mental illness may not have the capacity to carry out. I think when a person is mentally ill their brain causes them to function in ways that are not easy to rectify in the ways that people suggest improving one’s mental health.
I mainly struggle with how much things affect me emotionally and how things affecting me emotionally affect me physically and mentally. I’m a sensitive person overall and I think sometimes that leads me to struggle with my sense of self. In the sense that, I am never sure if my feelings/needs are valid or if I’m just being sensitive and as a result, being a burden to those around me, especially my loved ones. I never really feel secure in relationships that I have. A lot of times I have a lot of back & forth about if I should adapt to people or if I should continue to search for people & spaces that accommodate my emotional and mental needs as a person who struggles with mental illness. It’s extremely difficult, too, because a lot of the people I’m around have only acquired the knowledge surrounding mental health/illness because of me and I’m still learning a lot about it, too.S
And being that I’m still learning, I often struggle with asking for/accepting support and feeling like my struggles are a figment of my imagination that I am drawing out because “I want people to feel sorry for me” or “give me attention” or like “I just need to do more of something because I’m just not trying hard enough”; things I know obviously are not true but have heard people imply before I even understood what it meant to struggle with mental health. Also, although I’ve gotten a lot better about it, I still tend to struggle with my overall upkeep and hygiene. Sometimes I have days where all I feel capable of doing is sitting on the floor for hours without eating, drinking water, or freshening up which feels really bad especially when people ask if I’ve taken care of those things or when they offer to help me.
I feel like people that struggle with mental health should give themselves more grace. And understand that we have generational trauma and our parents' trauma that has influenced us and shifted how we process and think. So for the ones who are actually trying to do better, allow yourself some grace because that is a lot to work through. Just trying is enough and you’re doing great.
I think mental health is the awareness of issues dealing with the way you process, receive, and act on information. I think mental illness is when you allow the processing, receiving, and acting to become overly negative and harmful to yourself and others.
I struggle with anxiety to make choices, communicating, receiving affirmation and affection, and overthinking. This largely stemmed from my childhood and feeling alone, unheard, and abandoned.
A lot of the time we see ourselves through other people and we see the flaws of ourselves expressed through how we interact with them and how they interact with us. So In that same instance if we gave everybody grace, a space to feel comfortable to communicate and support through those hard times we could all help each other heal together. We could collectively communicate about the things we all go through and find and create solutions to them. I think that would be fun and release most of the burden of feeling alone and like you have to do everything yourself!
You are loved! Please use the following resources for help if needed.
Mental Health Emergency Hotline: 988
Suicide Prevention, Awareness, and Support: www.suicide.org
Crisis Text Line: Text REASON to 741741 (free, confidential, and 24/7). In English and Spanish.
Self-Harm Hotline: 1-800-DONT CUT (1-800-366-8288)
Interviewed and Transcribed by: Sarah Lucas