How to talk about mental health

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I have anxiety. While this might not be a big deal to some, this fact is something I have wrestled with for the past five years and for a while I wouldn’t talk about my anxiety with people outside of my family.

Anyone who struggles with mental health knows how personal it is and that wasn’t information I wanted to share.
I felt like the majority of people didn’t understand what I was going through, or had major misconceptions about what having anxiety is actually like. Although I’m still uncomfortable, I feel like I have to discuss this topic. If I am constantly going to emphasize the importance of talking about mental health, then I should use this platform to discuss it as well.

First and foremost I want to stress one thing: if you are struggling please reach out to a mental health professional. I have been going to therapy for almost all of high school and I can’t imagine where my life would be without it. Or if you are in need of more immediate support please call a mental health hotline. The important thing to know is that you are not alone and there are trained professionals who can help you with whatever you are dealing with.

Our society is full of misconceptions, false information and stigmas when it comes to mental health. My only hope for this piece is to start some form of genuine discussion and hopefully begin to decrease the stigma and further our overall understanding.

I want to make one thing clear: mental health is not a personal failure, it is not your fault and you are not weak for having these issues. Also, I am by no means perfect, I still struggle with how to talk about mental health and feeling weak myself. I am only sharing what I have learned through my own experiences in an attempt to help others.

One thing that is necessary for a conversation about mental health is to be conscious of the words you are using because language is important. I know this is something you’ve probably rolled your eyes at when your English teacher says it but when it comes to mental health it really is important.

A common misunderstanding in society is the difference between being anxious and having an anxiety disorder. They are not the same and should not be treated as if they are. It is normal to experience occasional anxiety but having an anxiety disorder is much different.

According to the National Institute for Mental Health “Anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. The symptoms can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, school work, and relationships.”

Tips or techniques that are often used when someone is anxious are not going to be solutions for struggling with an anxiety disorder. I’m aware people are often times just trying to be helpful, but when someone says I should take a bath, try some breathing exercises or listen to some music it feels like I have a broken arm and they’re giving me a bandaid.

Further, please avoid phrases like, “let’s not blow this out of proportion,” “it’s all in your head,” “you just need to push through it,” “don’t think about it,” or “try and calm down.” No matter how well-intentioned, they can be incredibly hurtful and cause more anxiety.

The same is true with panic attacks. Too often people claim they’ve had a panic attack over something superficial. Saying “When I saw how much ticket prices were I almost had a panic attack,” is not an actual panic attack. Mental health is a serious issue and should not be used as a punchline. Not only is joking about it extremely insensitive, but it can also be triggering for some.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, “Anxiety disorders are the most common of mental disorders and affect nearly 30 percent of adults at some point in their lives.”

So please know if you are struggling with any form of mental health you are not alone, help is available and what you are experiencing will not last forever.