Depression and anxiety disorders afflict millions of people in the United States; an unsettling number of these individuals are students. Almost six percent of adolescents suffer from a lifelong "severe" anxious disorder, while of the 2.8 million adolescents who suffer one major depressive episode, 15 percent will eventually develop bipolar disorder. Living with a mental illness such as these changes a person's life entirely and provides its own distinct set of challenges. Perhaps one of the greatest obstacles is dealing with society's perception of depression and anxiety. People tend to reject what they cannot understand, and thus isolate individuals craving to be understood and accepted like everyone else. Students were asked what they wanted society to know about their anxiety or depressive disorder. Here are their responses. Some names will be kept anonymous to maintain the privacy of certain individuals.
1. Anxiety and depression should not be used as adjectives to describe temporary emotions.
Often we use words without understanding their full connotations. When I hear people say things like, "Oh gosh, I'm so nervous for this test, I must have anxiety," or, "I leave Florida on Monday and I'm so depressed about it," my skin crawls. Anxiety and depression are real medical conditions that people live with every day; they are not an excuse to exaggerate your circumstances. Sarah, a freshman at Purdue University, responded to this topic, saying,
"Sadness and depression are two different things ... Depression is a medical condition due to a chemical imbalance in the brain. Depression is not a feeling, it truly is an illness and should be treated as such."
Fresh U writer Claudia responded to this topic as well:
"I feel like saying someone has a mental illness is such a blanket statement yet it's used with anxiety, which is a lot more specific, interchangeably. People use it for everything and it has a pretty negative connotation."
All this said, do not use someone else's medical condition to describe your present circumstances. It is not only inconsiderate, but it makes those suffering with those conditions feel like an oddity.
2. Anxiety and depression cause individuals not to enjoy things that they normally would.
Friends of those who are depressed or anxious can have a tendency to become defensive or upset when their friend has an off day and doesn't want to hang out. Someone dealing with their mental state is not a personal attack on you; it simply means that having fun just isn't a priority at that point in time. An anonymous Fresh U writer candidly shared her personal experience about her depression:
"It's wanting to be productive, but not having the energy to get anything done. It's wanting to spend time with my friends, but being too scared to [be with] them and overthinking the social interactions I would have with them. It's wanting to retreat to my room and never come out, but not wanting to be lonely."
Anxiety and depression are incredibly mentally taxing for those who suffer from them. Next time they decline an offer to hang out, instead of getting upset, offer help. Reassure them that you are not upset with them and that their feelings are important. Even if that means simply telling them you care, it can make a huge difference for someone already feeling pressure to "make themselves better."
3. Anxiety and depression are not off-limits conversation topics.
There is a huge stigma against discussing mental illnesses in social settings. People do not seem to mind discussing physical conditions such as diabetes or a broken leg, but when it comes to things like anxiety or depression, everyone shuts up. These illnesses are part of who we are; we want to share how we are feeling with you. Purdue class of 2021 student Jordyn reached out through Facebook saying,
"I want people to know that they shouldn't be afraid to start a conversation with me about [my anxiety and depression] because I do want to talk about it ... I don't want to bring it up because I feel like a bother ... It's okay to ask me about it and how I am doing. It shows they care."
These topics deserve to be discussed and should be. The best way to get support is through building trust through an open dialogue. Reach out: you never know the difference you could be making.
4. Having anxiety or depression does NOT make someone crazy, nor is it a choice.
That word should never even come up in a discussion about mental illness. People with these conditions often feel like they are crazy, but they should never under any circumstances be told that they are. An anonymous college freshman submitted their story through Facebook Messenger stating:
"I've seen people just walk out of my life because I was depressed."
One of the worst things that can be said to a person with depression or anxiety is, "Well, just stop feeling that way." It seems like a stupid response but it is used all the time by individuals who are misinformed about mental illness. These conditions are not a choice. The only choice we have is how to handle and treat them moving forward. Support those with anxiety and depression by validating them with statements such as, "I understand that this must be very frightening for you," or, "Your feelings are real and valid; how can I help?" And never, EVER even imply that they are crazy or chose this life for themselves. It is hard enough already trying to manage all of those emotions without being ridiculed.
Anxiety and depression make up a distinct portion of the fabric of our generation; it is part of who we are, whether we like it or not. Instead of being ignorant, let's educate ourselves and stand with one another to improve our mental health. We all deserve to be understood for who we are; it's time to end the stigma against mental health. It all begins with us.
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