Mental Health Awareness Month: How to Keep Awareness all Year

By: Jadyn Cicerchia

As some may know, May has been officially named Mental Health Awareness Month for some time now. It is so important that as a society we have been able to push the stigma around mental health and raise this kind of awareness around it. However, mental health is an issue that most do not deal with for just one month, they deal with it all year. Mental health is not something we can forget about after May. Though we have progressed in the way we deal with mental health, I feel that it is something that is still not treated properly. A lot of people do not understand how detrimental mental illness can be. Yes, normalizing having a mental illness and getting help is awesome, but what happens if it becomes too normal and is just brushed off? If you were to break your leg, no one would expect you to go to soccer practice, but if you have a panic attack or suffer from depression, most expect you to suck it up and move on. Both physical and mental issues can cause the same amount of pain, just in different ways, so why should they be treated differently? Today I have decided to take you on a trip down mental health lane and we will discuss how certain mental illnesses affect a person, and why the two most common ones are the ones that are ignored the most. I hope that people will learn to recognize the serious side effects of mental illness.  


Anxiety disorders are the most common category of mental health disorders in America. This category includes generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and social anxiety disorder. While all of these are differing conditions, they have lots of symptoms in common. I would also like to point out that a lot of time anxiety is not taken as seriously because it is such a common term. First of all, a lot of people have it, and second of all the word is used too often. “Having anxiety” about a test or a big performance is just extreme nerves, which is something everyone goes through at some point. Being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder is much more serious and people often get them confused. Those suffering from a disorder can get grouped into the “it’s just nerves” category. Living with an anxiety disorder is not panicking when you are in a nerve wracking situation, it is being stuck in a constant state of panic, all day, every day. When living with a disorder, the anxiety does not pick and choose. You could be having the time of your life at the beach with your best friend, and suddenly have a major panic attack. For a week straight, your heart could be racing and your breathing is uneven. Panic attacks are serious! They include symptoms that often happen all at once, such as dizziness, sweating, trembling, nausea, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and even sometimes faint or hospitalization. Besides just panic attacks, anxiety disorders can become debilitating. One can lose the ability to concentrate on anything except worries, they might completely isolate themselves to avoid triggering panic, anxiety can force someone to skip school, miss work, or fail a test. People with anxiety disorders are also often in a constant state of exhaustion, for they deal with strain on their mental and physical health daily. Anxiety disorders cannot be dismissed as healthy nerves, they should be treated properly. 


Major depression, Dysthymia, Bipolar disorder, and Substance-induced mood disorder all fall under this category. Today we will mainly be focusing on major depressive disorder since that is the most common under this category. Depression is a constant feeling of sadness or numbness. It causes loss of interest in daily activities, lack of sleep and energy, weight gain or loss, feelings of worthlessness, suicidal thoughts, and even self harm. It makes just living through the day really difficult. Unfortunately, this is another instance where a word is used far too often in the wrong context. The amount of times a day I have heard someone say something like “I was so depressed the Starbucks line was too long” is too much to even keep track of. You are not depressed, you are temporarily annoyed and disheartened. It is not something that should be so trivialized. Our culture also often sees depression and laziness as the same thing, for depression causes symptoms that may make someone seem like a “slob,” or “negligent” to an outsider. Because of this, people who open up about their depression are often met with indifference. They are told to snap out of it, or to just try and have a positive attitude. Depression is not a choice, it is not simply being in a bad mood, it is a real and serious  mental disorder. It is actually very common for people struggling with depression to forget about personal hygiene, which is something else that confuses people. When someone is unable to experience joy and feels completely and utterly worthless, it can truly be too much to care about brushing their hair, or showering, or picking up their room. This is not the sign of a lazy person, it is the unfortunate consequence of someone fighting an exhausting mental battle. Just try and remember that people are not actively trying to be depressed, and no one deserves to be ridiculed for their suffering. Telling someone to take control and “be happy” is not always the answer.

Now that I have taught you about the reality that a lot of people struggle through everyday, I hope you can have a new perspective on what someone may be going through. Mental illness can be a lot easier to hide than a broken leg, but that doesn’t mean it does not hurt just as much. Mental disorders are not at the fault of the person, they are passed down through genetics and the environment around them. Mental health is something that we are on our way to making great strides in, but there is still so much misunderstanding. So, I thank you for allowing me to educate you, and encourage you to think next time you want to throw out words like anxiety or depression when that may not actually be what you are experiencing.