When I was 14, I was diagnosed with depression. I had spent the entire school year feeling empty, like each day was a hopeless endeavor in a life that wasn't worth living. When I wasn't in school or at play practice, I was sleeping. Previously an honor student, I struggled to maintain Bs and Cs. I frequently contemplated suicide, envisioning the scenarios in which I could take my life while inflicting the least amount of trauma on my family.
It wasn't situational; I had absolutely no reason to feel that way. I had a loving family, plenty of friends, and came from a privileged upper-middle class background. I didn't understand why I couldn't just be happy or at least maintain some semblance of normal, which compounded my feelings of guilt and shame.
I told only a couple of friends what I was really going through because I was afraid people would think I was "crazy."
I was lucky to have such supportive parents who believed me and sought treatment for me at a young age, but when I was diagnosed, I wasn't really sure what depression was. Sure, I had seen the Zoloft commercials with the sad little rock under a rain cloud, but I didn't understand how the psychotropic medication I had been prescribed was helping my brain. I saw a psychologist a few times a month, but how was that hour we spent talking in therapy going to help me in the long run?
I told only a couple of friends what I was really going through because I was afraid people would think I was "crazy." Mental illness wasn't something we covered in school, and celebrities and high-profile people didn't openly discuss mental health. The only access I had to the internet was through a slow dial-up connection (it was the early 2000s, after all). Social media as we know it didn't exist yet, so I didn't have anyone in my peer group to reach out to. I felt so isolated; I thought I was the only high school freshman who had ever felt this way. Even in my mid-20s, when my bipolar II diagnosis explained my roller-coaster bouts of severe depression and hypomania mixed with anxiety, I still wasn't sure what that meant for my future and the career I had worked so hard to build.
Now, more than 16 years after my initial diagnosis, brave celebrities are igniting the conversation about mental health and paving the way for others to share their stories. Michael Phelps has been open about how therapy has impacted his life, and other athletes are using their high-profile status to shatter the stereotype that mental illness is a sign of weakness. Former Disney star and recording artist Ashley Tisdale is set to release a whole album influenced by her experience with depression and anxiety. YouTuber Jouelzy, who founded #SmartBrownGirl, is encouraging black women to talk about mental health. Ban.do creator Jen Gotch, who has been open about her bipolar disorder, uses her platform to educate others and raise money for mental health charities.
But we still have a long way to go. Depression and anxiety have become more mainstream, but many people still don't understand what it's like to live the nuances of everyday life with these disorders: how it affects your ability to parent, what a panic attack actually feels like, and what it's like to meet strangers on the dating scene.
Then there are the serious mental illnesses (SMI). Postpartum depression (PPD) is part of the lexicon, but postpartum psychosis remains a frightening and misunderstood condition. Schizophrenia is shrouded in outdated stereotypes reserved for Lifetime movies, and borderline personality disorder — not a serious mental illness, but debilitating nonetheless — is associated with vindictive ex-girlfriends and manipulative ex-boyfriends.
Odds are, you or someone you love has been affected by mental illness.
At POPSUGAR, we are committed to erasing the stigma surrounding mental illness. Women experience depression at roughly twice the rate of men, and anxiety is also more prevalent in women. For Mental Health Month this May, we have curated a mix of first-person essays, reported features, and interviews to shine a light on what it's like to live with a mental illness. Our goal with this project is for our audience, who is made up primarily of young women, to feel their experiences reflected back and realize they are not alone. Our staff and network of writers worked hard to collect and tell these stories in order to help the nearly 44 million Americans who have a mental illness feel less isolated. Please check back throughout the month as we continue to cover mental health and mental illness in 2019. We are using our platform to educate and inform, while also elevating the voices of those whose stories need to be heard.
I wish these stories were available to my confused 14-year-old self struggling to understand her illness. But as an adult woman who still copes with it today, I have found solace in the authenticity and candor — and hope you do, too. Odds are, you or someone you love has been affected by mental illness. Through this project, I hope you feel encouraged to reach out and seek help if you need it. Taking care of your mental health is just as important as taking care of your physical health. You are not alone. You matter — and your mental health matters.
If you are feeling anxious or depressed and need help finding help or resources, call the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (1-240-485-1001) or the National Alliance on Mental Illness (1-800-950-6264). You can also text "NAMI" to 741741 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal ideation or are at risk, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has several resources and a 24/7 lifeline at 1-800-273-8255