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A Voice for Mental Illness

My name is Liz and I am a voice for people with mental illness. All through school I was a star student and highly involved in extra curriculars, so no one really realized how much I was struggling emotionally. It wasn’t until my first year of teaching Special Education in a severely cognitively impaired classroom that I hit rock bottom. I received my first diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder – Severe. Over the next ten years I had many ups and downs, and my diagnoses grew to include Bipolar and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Since that time, I have had dozens of in-patient psychiatric hospitalizations, brain shock therapy, and attended a residential treatment program out of state. But now I am taking my life back. I am ready to stand up for myself and others who struggle with mental illness. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 5 US adults live with mental illness each year, and 1 in 20 US adults experience serious mental illness each year. With these statistics, you, or someone you know is affected by mental illness. But do you really know what that means? What are the challenges we face? Do you know how to best support us? Here are some truths about mental illness to get you started: · For people with mental illness, physical ailments are ignored at times because doctors think the symptoms are all in your head. People with mental illness are often nervous to ask for help or to go to the doctor because they were ignored in the past when there really was a problem. · In America, the more money you have, the better the treatment you get. Makes sense, right? The problem is that the more severe your mental illness is, the less you can work. Less work means less income and limited insurance options. So often people with minor illnesses have much better access to care than those of us who are really struggling. · Having the structure of employment is helpful in coping with mental illness but maintaining a full-time job can be challenging. There are organizations and group homes that mimic a structured day in a workplace, but when your illness is really acting up it may be difficult to get out of bed, take a shower and get out the door. · Although you might exhibit symptoms early in life, most mental illnesses are not diagnosed until the teen years or early 20’s. For me, it wasn’t until I had graduated from college! This means you don’t get the support you need, and people might be frustrated with things you say or do because they don’t understand your illness. · When mental illness symptoms worsen, you are often hospitalized. Some hospitals are well-run and supportive, while others are terrible and do more harm than good. You never know which one you are going to end up at, and you are likely to be there for at least two weeks. This is the part of the disease that I dread the most. · Treatment for most mental illnesses involves taking multiple medications, which can both be expensive and have significant side effects. Some of the most frustrating side effects I have experienced are tremors and weight gain. They make it even harder to comply with your medications, and it can become a vicious circle. Although mental illnesses are incredibly common, there is so much that people don’t know about this world. Over the upcoming weeks I pledge to write on different topics to enlighten you and start a conversation. My goal is to publish a workbook, filled with these short stories and poem along with discussion questions to journal about or discuss with friends. If you are excited to go along with the journey, please follow my blog and share it with people who may benefit from it. Together, we can make a big difference in the conversation about mental health!

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