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Opinion: Mental health misconceptions have detrimental effects

According to the Worldwide Mental Health Foundation, an estimated 950 million people worldwide struggle with a type of mental illness. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Despite the efforts in recent years to remove the stigma surrounding mental illness, there is still a reluctance to seek treatment for those affected by mental health issues. There is also a limited number of resources available for those who do decide to seek help, with these options varying in quality and effectiveness depending on location and the healthcare options available.  

According to the Worldwide Mental Health Foundation, an estimated 950 million people worldwide struggle with a type of mental illness. Mental illness is also the leading cause of people committing suicide, accounting for over 800,000 deaths per year. With stats like these, it’s evident that there still is a lot of work that needs to be done to better assist the millions who are struggling.  

As a person who has, and continues to struggle with mental illness, I feel it would be beneficial to share my experiences with my mental health journey and rationalize why there is still such a stigma attached. I should begin by disclosing the mental illnesses that I have been diagnosed with, which are social anxiety and depression. I’ve received varying degrees of treatment for both, from speaking with a counselor to taking sertraline, which is a commonly prescribed mood-boosting drug for depression and anxiety disorders. However, I didn’t rush into or seek these treatments myself.  

I believe my anxiety troubles began at a young age. Until my senior year of high school, I lived on the outskirts of Doña Ana County with just my parents. I was an only child, and all our neighbors were closer in age to my parents than me, and they either didn’t have kids, or their kids were also older than me. There was also the fact that my dad could only speak Spanish, which limited the effectiveness of my communication with him. My parents also decided not to place me in preschool, so I had very little interaction with other kids in my formative years.  

Before I was formally diagnosed, I already had a sneaking suspicion that there was something “off” with me. I struggled with talking to people and making friends, and big crowds would lead to me feeling nauseous and trembling violently. When I was at my lowest point, I couldn’t even gather the energy to leave my bed except for school, and that was only due to my mom forcing me to go.  

According to the American Psychiatric Association, more than half of people dealing with mental illness do not seek treatment. They fear the negative connotations associated with having a mental disorder. I am one of those people. Even at the age of 14, I knew it was better to figure things out on my own than be labeled “crazy” by my peers. It also didn’t help that the concept of mental illness was foreign to my parents, so they weren’t sure how to help me.  

Eventually, my mom forced me to go see my primary care physician and he would refer me to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist was friendly and easy to talk to, however, I wasn’t completely comfortable with her and withheld a lot of the things that had been bothering me due to the fear of her judging me. This would lead to little progress from the therapy sessions and would result in my therapist filling my sertraline prescription. The sertraline proved to be much more effective for me, although, the initial side effects were a challenge, leaving me lethargic and zombie-like.  

While the sertraline was successful in improving my mood, as well as calming my anxiety around other people, the side effects were prevalent, just not as strong as at the start. This would lead to me weaning myself off it, which isn’t a good idea unless you’ve consulted your prescribing doctor first, which I did not.

Despite that, both my social anxiety and depression are much more manageable now than they had ever been before.

NMSU’s Counseling Center has psychologists and counselors available to assist students with up to 15 free sessions of counseling every academic year. Students are encouraged to call the Aggie Health and Wellness Center at (575) 646-1512 if they need help regarding mental health or counseling. 

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to New Mexico State University, the NMSU Department of Journalism and Media Studies, Kokopelli, or any other organization, committee, group or individual.

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