Teach Your Kids to Talk About Mental Health

My mental illness is a disability I’m very, very aware of. I’m made aware of it every day. I’m made aware of it when I sit in class and cannot sit still without a million of thoughts racing through my mind. I’m aware of it when throughout the day, my entire body urges me to crawl back into bed. I’m aware of it when people treat me like a bomb ready to explode, when all I want is to be treated like a person. I’m aware of it when sending a simple text makes me sweat until my palms are soaked and my hands shake. I’m aware of it when I have to leave the classroom to cry. I’m aware of it when everyone in my life tries to fix my problems, or calculuate my thoughts and my feelings down to one experience or event, when in reality it’s a daily routine. I’m aware of it when it’s hard to get about of bed. I’m aware of it when I look down and see that I’ve scratched so much at my hands that I’m bleeding. I’m aware of it when I’m alone, I’m aware of it when I’m with people. I’m aware of it on the days I’m feeling good, because I’m afraid that the next day, I won’t be feeling good. I’m aware of it on the days I’m feeling bad, because I can feel all eyes on me, staring at me, watching me fall apart. Little do they know that the days when I cry, when I shake, when I waver, are the days that I am fighting the hardest. The days when I smile and when I laugh I am still fighting, the war is just not raging as loudly on those days. And most of all, I’m aware of it when people don’t know how to help or talk to me.

Over the past few years of my life, I’ve been diagnosed with Panic Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Seasonal Depression. Want to know what a panic attack feels like? It feels like a train hits you full of every feeling of insecurity, anxiety, and depression I’ve ever felt. It feels like the world gets too bright, too loud, and too crowded all at once, and all I want to do is plug my ears and close my eyes. It feels like drowning in a tank that everyone just walks past, not noticing. The worst part, though, is the lack of understanding and compassion from others, who try to equate my experience to “over-reacting,” while in reality it’s a chemical imbalance in my brain that sends pangs of anxiety throughout my body in very unexpected and unpredictable circumstances.

I was lucky enough to receive training on how to talk to others experiencing these feelings and thoughts through a volunteer program. That, in addition to the fact that I live it every day. Of the plethora of problems with our education system in the United States, I think that a large problem is the things that we teach our kids. We know how to measure the angles in a triangle, but we don’t know the difference between OCD and Panic Disorder. We know how to properly cite with MLA citation, yet we don’t know how to spot the signs of depression in a friend, or what to do if we do spot those signs. We can draw a parallelogram, but we don’t know how to talk about the faded red lines on the arms of our best friend. It’s like the system is built to make us alone; to make us afraid and unable to help others.

We should teach our kids the warning signs, teach them to listen to the whispers that echo from the eyes of those suffering. The halls of my high school are filled with my demons  because not even I was trained to fight them. We need to arm our kids with weapons of self love and compassion to fight off their own demons and the demons of their peers. I’m tired of the neglect of mental health in this country, and I’m tired of my disability being overlooked, devalued, and invalidated. I’m tired of seeing articles that question my experience, and I’m tired of explaining myself. If our education system is so progressive, then mental health should be included, valued, and understood on the same level that physical health is. My experience is valid, and so is that of everyone else. I hope that you can all see that too. One in four people suffer from mental illness in the U.S. It’s not invisible, it’s present everywhere, and America needs to wake up to that.

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