When people say they are understanding and accommodating of mental health, don’t take their word for it. See how they really behave, and that says everything.
It was harder to finish this than I thought. When I sat to write my first post the words just seemed to flow naturally. Now today, I’m back at my apartment, and the amount of support I’ve had from people around me has been inspiring. So many have shared their own struggles, or just reached out with words of encouragement.
O.k. Here’s the beginning of my story. I was born to an all white family in an all white town in West Highlands, New York. Raised by my immature parents at their tender age of 29 and 31. My name is Mitchell by the way. I’m a full grown man they say but I don’t feel like that much at all.
I remember the end of pre-K right before entering elementary school vividly; the last day of class my parents picked me and my belongings from the year up at the school I was attending. (A very rare event, personally, for me, normally my parents reaped public school's transportation to save gas.) Nonetheless, this day was different. I was excused early because it was our last day as a class, and I was moving on to a different school in a district far from my peers. Being young this was disheartening but not for the average "I'll miss my friends" reason.
I am going to educate you a little on the basics of mental health so you can be aware of those around you-- I hope to persuade you to think before you speak, because you never know who around you is fighting the invisible battle of living with a mental health issue.
I was 21. I wasn’t new to the process but this was a first for me. The double doors closed and locked as I watched my mother who had just traveled an hour and a half as fast as she could to ease me in. It didn’t matter. I cried out the tiny windows of the double locked doors as if this was it. This was how it was going to end. I would never come back from this. Next, I was wheeled to my room. White as a ghost the formalities blended together like that first time you feel grief when you lose a loved one for the first time. I sat in the exam room. I watched the needle go into my arm for a blood draw but I never felt a thing. Blank. I could feel my eyes swelling with tears that I didn’t understand. Who was I? What had my life come to that I was locked on this hospital floor unsafe to be alone? The rooms were cold. When did I get this bad? Why? I laid down on the hard mattress with blankets that felt and smelt like cardboard. All I could think about what the fact I had become a visitor in my own body, in my own brain. I closed my eyes and wished this to go away, forever.
Mental Health Issues
When I was eighteen years old, I went to a psychologist, and the psychologist seemed as if they had no interest in anything I was saying. I was suffering from depression at the time, an illness not well understood by those that have not felt its effects personally. The psychologist, however, did not believe I had depression at all, even though I had nine of the eleven symptoms on the DSM-5 checklist for depression. My own personal experience with this illness sparked my interest in psychology.
1 in 5 adults in America experience mental illness. Nearly 1 in 25 adults suffer serious mental illness. One half of all chronic mental illness begins before the age of 14; 75% by age of 24. 1 in 100 (2.4 million) American adults live with schizophrenia. 26% ( 6.1 million) American adults live with bipolar disorder. 6.9% (16 million) American adults live with severe depression, 18.1% ( 42 million) of American adults live with anxiety disorders. 46.4% of American adults will suffer a mental illness in their lifetime.
There were many reasons why watching the first presidential debate was infuriating. Donald Trump’s childish tantrums and displays of disrespect were worse than usual. I’ve seen grade-schoolers with better impulse control and guests on the Jerry Springer show behave better than he did during his first live debate with the former Vice President.
I have spoken and written openly about my mental health struggles for years. In fact, my first poetry collection - Dark Nights into Brighter Days - is an honest account of my experiences with depression and anxiety during my time at university and beyond.
As human beings, it is often difficult, if not impossible for us to wrap our own minds around something that we cannot see or do not understand. In large part, that is how certain stigmas are born and cemented into society. That, coupled with failure to educate or refusal to learn is why a dark cloud still hangs around the subject of mental illness.
Why am I passionate about neurodiversity?
I was diagnosed with Autism at the age of two and have lived with it my entire life. Years of attending inclusive school programs, counselling services and dealing with multiple challenges increased my ability to put myself into neurodiverse peoples shoes. People who are neurodiverse face many challenges every day: bullying, problems in the workplace, social problems, depression, anxiety, learning challenges, being denied certain opportunities and being underestimated. However, people's challenges vary from person to person. Not everyone who is neurodiverse has the same obstacles and strengths. Every person is different based on their family status, health status, culture, race, place of birth, place of residence and many other variables. The first time I started learning about neurodiversity was in Grade 9. My teacher did a presentation about neurodiversity and explained to the class that its like being a part of another culture rather than living with a debilitating disease or condition. After that day, I have been passionate about neurodiversity. The light that the teacher shone that day, really inspired me. It also motivated me to embrace my diversity and accept my peers for who they are. Learning about neurodiversity also increased my level of community involvement and ability to teach others. I am still learning about neurodiversity, even if I am out of high school. I think it is a valuable thing to learn and appreciate on a daily basis. Many people are still unaware of neurodiversity, which is why it is crucial to increase the awareness and ability to accept different kind of people.