Mental illnesses underestimated, despite increasing prevalence


Positron emission tomography (PET) scans can compare brain activity during periods of depression with normal brain activity. Graphic provided by Mayo Clinic

Samantha White, Contributor

Mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, are just as deadly and life changing as cancer; however, most people do not treat it as such. There is more to these illnesses than just feeling blue.

“When we are depressed, it is our irrational yet inescapable thoughts that kill us,” said medical doctor and writer for the Psychiatric Times Elizabeth Griffin. “They completely mutilate our normal thought process and destroy our well-being.”

Mental illnesses are blind to age as well, affecting children and teens alike.

“50 percent of all lifetime mental health illness begin by age 14,” according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website.

NAMI also mentions that anxiety disorders and depression are among the most common mental health disorders in youth, listing suicide as the third leading cause of death in young adults ages 10 to 24.

If so many people, especially youth, are struggling with mental health issues, then understanding how it manages to fly under the radar is confusing.

“I think a lot of people treat [mental illness] like it’s something people use as an excuse,” said senior Jenah Creecy, who recently brought awareness to Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) with a video of her spoken poem.

Instead of being labeled as a “slacker” for using a mental health issue as an “excuse,” these victims often suffer in silence.

“Struggling with a mental health issue can make you an outcast or make you feel alienated,” said Jenah.

And because the culprits causing this deep pain are thoughts, some think a remedy would simply be self-control. However, telling someone with anxiety to calm down or suggesting to a person suffering with depression to cheer up does not make a difference.

The brain is complex; therefore, treatments are as well.

“A mental health condition isn’t the result of one event, research suggests multiple linking causes,” according to NAMI. “Biochemical processes and circuits and basic brain structure may play a role, too.”

Depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, self-harm, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and the list goes on and on of the taboo topics people tend to avoid.

Obviously, these matters should not be the main subject of every conversation, but they definitely should not have such a negative stigma to deem them unspeakable.

Rather than suffering in silence, individuals struggling with mental health problems should feel empowered to speak up to seek help and support. This can only happen if society acknowledges acceptance.

“Society prefers to pretend that the issues don’t exist rather than educating themselves and others,” said Jenah.

Imagine living in a world where people no longer shy away from seeking aid in fear of rejection. No longer would mental illnesses be swept under the rug.

“My ADD has made me better,” said Jenah. “I think people who have different learning disabilities or mental health problems can relate to that, especially when they have a good support system.”

Positron emission tomography (PET) scans can compare brain activity during periods of depression with normal brain activity. Graphic provided by Mayo Clinic