You are Young, Worthy & Brave but Mental Illnesses Are Not Above You
YOU & MENTALL ILLNESSES: WHAT YOU DON’T NOTICE
Broken minds and broken souls are never easy to notice. When you walk through the school halls, you will notice the clothes or shoes someone is wearing before you will ever notice the sadness in their eyes or the blankness in their stares. During lunch time, you will notice the cute couples sitting together and the kind of food the cafeteria lady serves before you will ever notice the way the boy sitting next to you doesn’t touch his food because he’s “not hungry” even though he is or how the girl two tables to your left gets up to go to the bathroom immediately after eating because she feels like she ate too much. Sitting in a classroom with your peers, you will pay attention to what your friend is saying before taking a second look and realizing that her hands are shaking. As a society, we tend to notice surface things but fail to see what’s really going on.
1 in 5 children, much like you, suffer from mental illnesses (National Institute of Mental Health) such as depression, anxiety disorders, and eating disorders. Yet, only thirty to forty percent of them receive the treatment that they need, if any at all (National Center for Children in Poverty). Although many programs and organizations are spreading awareness about this ongoing and expanding issue and fighting for government funds, it is time you do something about it too.
It is important to realize that you can only do so much when it comes to mental illnesses. Always remember that you do not have the power to cure mental illnesses because there is no cure for them. You can only help those suffering and hope that your efforts are enough.
KNOW THE SIGNS
A huge part of understanding mental illnesses is knowing the signs. Knowing the signs will make you more alert of the things people around you do and whether or not something needs to be done about them. No, that does not mean that anyone who appears to have these symptoms has that particular disorder. This should not be used for diagnosing people; only certified doctors have the ability to do so. Instead, understanding these symptoms and noticing them in people will allow you to approach them and ask if they are okay. By doing this, they may open up to you about what is going on in their life or what may be wrong. Rather than being an outsider looking in, you will be able to act as an insider seeking help for someone else. Perhaps they do not have the courage to ask for help themselves or simply think they can fix it on their own. You knowing, then, allows you to reach out to someone who can help them further. By helping one person, you are helping the mental illness cause.
- Negative feelings and mood.
- Loss of interest in activities.
- Changes in eating and sleeping habits.
- Lack of energy and motivation.
- Thoughts of death or suicide.
- Irritability or anger.
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt.
- Shortness of breath.
- Dry mouth.
- Cold or sweaty hands or feet.
- Irregular heart beat
- Feelings of panic, fear, and uneasiness.
- Skipping meals or making excuses for not eating,
- Excessive exercise.
- Complaining about being fat.
- Constantly talking about losing weight.
- Eating large amounts of sweet foods or high-fat foods often.
- Constantly leaving during meals to use the bathroom.
- Excessive focus on eating healthy.
If you want to learn more about different mental illnesses and their signs, visit this link.
No matter what you do or are trying to do, having someone’s support makes a difference. Sometimes, you need someone to tell you that you are not as terrible as you think you are or that the thing you did wrong is not as severe as you think it is. Similar to you, other people need that same reassurance. People with mental illnesses tend to be very self-conscious and see themselves as worse than they actually are. When you make an effort to be their friend or help them, they are reassured that they are not as horrible because someone like you is their friend. Imagine it as having a bad day for many days in a row. Would the friendliness of someone else help? I bet it would. I know it would help me.
There are many ways to offer support to someone who is mentally suffering. It’s as simple as smiling at them, talking to them, asking them how they are doing, or getting to know them on a more personal level. In doing these things, they will feel more connected to you.
Other ways to offer support are:
- Check-in regularly: Talk to them during your free time at school. Ask them how they are doing. Ask them about their day. Ask them if they want to talk about what’s wrong. If they need a distraction, talk about something random. Share your happiest memory. Share your funniest memory. Share your most embarrassing memory.
- Make plans with them: Ask them to hangout, even if it’s as simple as going on a walk or going for some ice cream. Plan to eat lunch together, whether that’s in school or outside of school. Ask your parents to take you somewhere cheap and fun like roller skating. This can also be a good distraction for them too.
- Avoid judgmental or rude language: Be realistic. Don’t tell them to get over it. This is not something a person can easily, or ever, get over. Don’t make them feel worse than they already do. Don’t blame them for something they can’t control. Don’t talk bad about them with your other friends from school. Don’t call them “psycho”, “crazy”, or “weird” because of the way they are. Always be a good friend.
- Congratulate them on their progress: Let them know that you are proud of them. If they’re smiling a little bit more than usual, tell them. If you see improvement in their eating, tell them. If you notice their coping methods during anxiety or panic attacks are better than they used to, let them know that you are proud of them.
- Encourage them to seek help whether that’s telling an adult or going to a mental illness health care facility: This can be a little tough, especially if you are younger. Maybe give them some examples of how they will benefit. Tell them about the anonymous help lines. Do some research with your parents about mental health care centers. Offer to go with them. Offer to have an adult they are comfortable with go both of you. Be fearless with them.
What may seem like something little can go a long way. I know you are still young, but you can still make a difference. Don’t forget that.
TELL AN ADULT
Sometimes you will come across people who are willing to accept help. A lot of times, though, you will also come across people who will not want help because they don’t think they need it. Yet again, some know they need help but refuse to accept it. Regardless of whether they accept your help or not, you need to encourage them to seek better help. If encouragement is not enough, you will end up having to do it for them. One of your options is to tell an adult that you know will act immediately.
I know it seems frightening, but it’s something you have to do for them. Consider telling your parents. Tell them what you know. Tell them about their mental illness. Consider telling them about some situations you can remember where they were doing really bad. Give examples of what is happening. Share your fears about the situation. Answer their questions. Lastly, it is okay to cry and not be calm.
If you cannot tell your parents, tell a teacher, a school counselor, an older friend, your grandparents, your principal, your librarian, your youth minister, your pastor, your priest, or anyone else you can possibly think of.
Other times, you may find yourself not knowing of an adult that will act appropriately. This is the hardest part: not having enough power to do anything more. Just keep in mind that it is not your fault when those who are older do not do more to help, especially in situations like these. You have done anything in your power, and that is enough. If this is the case, continue doing anything that you can. If it becomes too hard or something horrible is happening, consider calling 911.
Just keep in mind that if it all becomes too much, it is okay to let go and let someone else fill your place. No, this doesn’t mean that you are a horrible friend. Sometimes we can only handle so much, especially when we are younger. Simply do the best that you can because by doing so, you are helping the mental illness cause far more than most people.
Last but not least, educate others. Tell others what you know about mental illnesses. If they say something that is not true, tell them that they are wrong. Educate them on just how many mental illnesses there are and how many kids and teens are being affected by them. Share your thoughts on how to help others. Teach others how to cope with having a friend with a mental illness.
Do not fall into the stigma. Show others how people with mental illnesses are not violent, crazy, psycho, unpredictable, or anything like that. Let them know that children suffer from these too. Tell them about your friend and how big of a heart he has. Tell them about how he laughs and smiles like all of us do. Give them information on how hard he works, if he is in school or has a job. Let them know that he’s perfectly capable of being a hard worker like us. Share your favorite memory with him. Tell them about how bad he was before he got help. Mention how therapy wasn’t a waste of time for him. Tell them about how your friend isn’t “making anything up”. Explain to them about how what they are feeling is real.
Tell them everything. Do not leave anything out. After all, knowledge is one of your best friends.
LET’S HELP EACH OTHER
Mental illnesses are not something that you can solve. You cannot put a Band-Aid over a mental illness and expect it to fully heal. Mental illnesses will not magically disappear. Even if the person gets better, the illness will always remain. Some people will never recover, and others will never want to get better. Mental illnesses are not something small; they are huge storms waiting to take over your generation. They will not go away just because we want them too. They will always linger, no matter what we do. No, I am not telling you to go out and defeat the impossible. I am telling you to go out and help those around you because helping goes a long way. We cannot get rid of mental illnesses; we can only minimize the effects and encourage people to get help. It only takes you, me, and everyone in the world. We are capable of making a difference, and mental illnesses are a good place to start.
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