Mental illnesses or disorders affect people from all ages and places. They’re more common than diseases like cancer, diabetes, or heart disease. Everyone hears about them, but most don’t understand anything about them. This newspaper is mainly written and read by teenagers – people going through some of the most turbulent, confusing and dramatic times of their lives. Some studies show that as many as 1 in 5 teenagers have a mental illness of some form. Here’s an article on the ones you’re likely to hear about – depression and anxiety disorders.
First, some definitions:
Mental Illness: A mental health condition that affects the behavior, moods or temper of an individual. Examples include anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and even addictive behaviours.
Depression: A medical condition where a person often feels sad, hopeless, and unimportant and may struggle to go about life in a ‘normal’ fashion.
Anxiety Disorders: A sense of being worried, nervous, or uneasy with unusual frequency. Often about an upcoming happening or event – and can be made worse by an uncertain outcome. Incredibly common among teenagers.
It’s important to know that mental illnesses are not caused by flawed characters, personal weakness or a poor upbringing.
When a person is depressed, it doesn’t necessarily mean they feel like crying every minute of the day. It often manifests itself differently, through withdrawal from social circles or a lack of interest in old passions. It saps at a person’s energy and motivation, making them seem lazy and ‘down’. Depression can effect a person’s day-to-day relationships, such as friendships or romantic relationships.
There can be other symptoms of it too. (Just because these are the symptoms of Depression, does not mean that anyone displaying these symptoms is instantly depressed – don’t make yourself a doctor to that one friend who’s just over-tired, not depressed!) A change in eating habits – usually, a loss in appetite, but sometimes a massive increase is a symptom too. Lack of ability to concentrate, excessive mood swings (particularly vicious temper), increase in axiety or worrying, alcohol or drug abuse, trouble relating to people or situations, etc.
It’s an extensive list of symptoms – and those are a few basic ones.
What’s the danger in depression?
The problem is not being able to shut off the ‘dark’ thoughts that people who are depressed experience. They’ll put themselves down, be pessimistic about everything, and may conceal how they feel from their friends/family – which will, in turn, make them worse. As a depressed person withdraws into themselves, the frequency of feeling depressed – which usually comes and goes – increases. When it becomes too much, many don’t look for help – for reasons such as feeling ashamed, or afraid of confronting it and the issues behind it – people who are depressed can look to finding other ways of coping. This is where self-harm and even suicidal tendencies can come into play, and it’s dangerous now. More often than not, mental disorders don’t go away on their own, and if someone who’s ‘ill’ with one doesn’t feel comfortable talking to someone about it, the situation can escalate and end up out of the control of anyone involved.
Anxiety is very common for teenagers; what with exam pressures, the struggle for social acceptance, and the helpful wash of confusing hormones, it’s easy to stress out about things. Someone suffering from severe anxiety to the point it becomes a mental disorder can self-harm like a depressive person. They are also at risk of experiencing panic attacks. There is nothing in the world as terrifying as observing a panic attack apart from experiencing one. Someone having a panic attack will hyperventilate, may collapse, and be completely oblivious to the efforts of those around them to make them calm down. However, if someone experiences these, they’re very noticeable and it means people with anxiety disorders are more likely to be diagnosed and helped.
Anxiety disorders can be more specific, relating to social, general stress or specific disorders. A panic attack may not necessarily be induced by seeing/hearing/being around the object causing the stress, but by simply thinking about it! It’s a really difficult condition, and can result in people feeling miserable like in a depressive state.
Remember that mental illnesses are not caused by flawed characters, personal weakness or a poor upbringing.
After reading all that, it’s likely you’ll identify some symptoms with yourself. That’s totally normal, and doesn’t mean you have a mental illness. Everyone feels down once in a while, everyone gets stressed and panicky – especially at the beginning of the school year, when there’s so much change going on!
It’s also possible that you’ll have realised you have a friend or an acquaintance who you may think has a disorder. It’s a tough situation to be in, but the odds are it’s going to happen, or already has. The important things to do are:
- To be there for your friend. Be supportive, and talk to them about it. Don’t diagnose them yourself – that’s not your job – but make sure they know you’ve got their back, and that you feel like they’re kinda down in the dumps or stressed, and you want to help them feel better however you can
- Advise them to talk to their families or a counselor about it – especially if you are worried they’re self-harming, suffering panic attacks or having suicidal thoughts
- If they don’t want to talk to their families, or even talk to a counselor, encourage them to understand more about why they feel like they do. An example of a good website to send/show to them is here.
Mental disorders don’t make a person weak, nor do they mean that someone can’t pull themselves together. They’re difficult to understand, difficult to go through, and difficult to watch. I hope this article helped explain a little about them, and if you still want to know more, go check out the link in the ‘advice’ bit, look it up, or even ask me to send you some websites.