What 7 Women Wish They Knew About Their Mental Health As Teens
Dealing with mental health issues on top of all the normal, awkward things that come along with being a teenager can make this transformational time in one's life even more complicated. I'm sure many of us wish we understood more about mental health when we were younger, so we could not only seek out support when needed, but also feel less alone when struggling with mental illness.
Though the National Alliance on Mental Illness reports one in five young adults between the ages of 13 and 18 in the U.S. struggle with a mental health disorder at some point in their lives, mental health stigma remains one of the largest barriers to treatment. While research suggests that college-aged adults are more likely to see getting help for mental health issues as a sign of "strength," a 2017 survey found that still less than 50 percent of people in the U.S. could identify the symptoms of an anxiety disorder — despite the fact they are the most common type of mental illness in the U.S. As Psych Central reported in 2015, the ignorance surrounding mental illness has an even more detrimental impact on teens; studies have shown that mentally ill teens experience a disproportionate amount of discrimination and "social isolation."
So, if you had the power to go back in time and address the misconceptions about mental illness you had as a teenager, what would you say? Bustle spoke with seven women wish they understood about their own mental health issues when they were younger.
"I wish I understood as a teenager with mental health issues that I was not alone. I felt like no one experienced what I experienced, and because of that, no one could help me. I didn’t reach out to anyone, and I just let my mental health issues take over," explains Gabi, a special education teacher. "If I had realized that many people suffered the way I did, I may have been more open and active to find treatment before my disorder became life-threatening."
"What I wish I knew about my mental illness as a teenager is that is wasn’t my fault, and that I didn’t 'deserve' it," says Tina, a recruiter. "I needed [mental health] treatment, and my parents denying it to me was a form of neglect."
Alexandra, a reproductive rights activists, tells Bustle that as a teen, she always felt alone in her mental health struggles. "I grew up with mental illness in my home and I felt like we were the only family dealing with it. It’s extremely isolating, so what I would have benefited from knowing as a teen was just how common mental health issues are," she explains, adding her experience is "why combating stigma by openly talking about mental health is so important."
Deb, a Spanish/English Interpreter and activist, explains she wishes that self-harm behaviors were more widely understood when she was younger. "When I was self-[harming] as a teenager, I wasn't just being 'dramatic,' or trying to be the center of attention. It was a silent scream for help," she says. "Every time I tried to open up about my struggles to a family member or an older adult, I'd be shut down and told that 'it's just a phase,' or 'part of being a teenager,' and that I'd 'grow out of it,'" she explains. "It was hurtful, condescending, and left me feeling more alienated. [...] We need to take young people seriously when they attempt to speak up about mental health."
"When I was a teenager, I had chronic depression and anxiety. These are health issues that still plague me to this day, but that are managed with an antidepressant. I wish there had been someone with a better understanding of managing my [mental] illness because my mother was in denial about it, and swore I didn’t have a problem — which made my anxiety worse, since I assumed I was just messed up," explains Amber, an actor. "I want other teens to know that if they ever feel 'broken', they should seek help."
Sarah, a Blockchain and A.I. Community Director, tells Bustle she wishes she knew that "being vulnerable" about mental health issues wasn't something to be ashamed of as a teenager. "I wish I had someone tell me I was still 'good,' and that my emotions were valid in that very moment," she says.
For Nicole, a sex and intimacy coach, understanding as a teen that mental illness can look different for everyone would have helped her seek appropriate mental health treatment at the time. "We see mental health as very black-and-white, as if mental was something you could just 'test for' in a standardized way. When in reality, there are all sorts of in-betweens that no one talks about, like the degree of severity, or the very subjective nature of it overall," she says.
She adds that, "Sometimes people feel excluded from conversations if they don’t meet some generalized 'standard' of mental illness. When in reality, it looks different in me than it does for you, or even over the course of a day in myself."
Though mental health disorders are extremely common, these women's experiences show our society still has a long way to go when it comes to making sure young women struggling with mental illness feel safe and supported enough to speak out.
If you or someone you know is considering self-harm or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.