Once I began my college career, I felt symptoms of anxiety I had never experienced before. These weren’t the little butterflies in my stomach or sweaty palms I had experienced before when I was nervous. I could feel my heart pounding and the world around me going fuzzy to the point I thought I was going to pass out. Dizziness and nausea from the anxiety of being in class sent me running to the bathroom mid lecture multiple times. Sitting on the bathroom floor, struggling to catch my breath, I wondered my brain held so much power over me physically.
I think it is important that collectively as a society we work to normalize and spread more awareness that mental illness is more than just “something all in your head”. Doing so can help end the stigma over these mental illnesses and can help those who are struggling privately to ask for help. The relationship between our minds and bodies are more interconnected than we realize.
Many of those who suffer from depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder experience a variety of mental symptoms: inability to concentrate, high to low mood swings, low energy, change in eating habits, sex drive changes , feelings of sadness or anger, just to name a few. Many physical symptoms are included but not limited to headaches, sleep issues, muscle tension or soreness, stomach pain, nausea, pounding heart or increased heart rate, trembling, fatigue. I know that many people, myself included, have thought that their physical symptoms were not correlated with the state of their mental health, and therefore were unsure how to properly go about helping themselves manage. A large part of this issue stems from the fact that mental illnesses aren’t taken as seriously as physical illnesses.
Depression is the most common mental disorder in the United States. Not only can it impact mood and motivation, but it can directly affect the immune system, making it easier to get sick and stay sick longer. Weak immune systems are also more prone to the severity of allergies or asthma. Depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders can cause feelings of tiredness and fatigue. This persistent tiredness can easily cause declines in physical health. Anger, anxiety, and heart health are also interconnected. While young people don’t have to necessarily worry about heart attacks, anger and anxiety that occur in impulse control disorders can negatively impact their aging hearts. Genetics, biology, lifestyle, traumatic events, or environmental justice can all play a role in a person’s mental health. While people are ashamed or unsure of how to get help for themselves, their physical health is declining too. According to an article from psycom.net, people with depression have a 40 percent higher risk of developing cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.
Once I realized that my racing heart and nausea directly stemmed from anxiety, I was able to put steps in motion. I started to put more time and energy to caring for myself mentally and finding things I could do each day to help curve those symptoms. A large misconception is that mental illness is something people can heal from over the course of a few months or years. Most people suffering from mental illness will live with and learn to cope with that disease for all if not most of their lives. I’ve realized that my anxiety isn’t something I have to defeat, but rather it is something that is a part of me that I have learned to deal with and manage. The stigma and shame surrounding mental illness is toxic. 1 in 5 U.S. adults suffer from mental illness, but less than half seek treatment. An enormous portion of our population suffers silently from shame and the lack of encouragement in seeking treatment for invisible illnesses.
Establishing the fact that mental and physical health are equally important components to overall health is crucial. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. According to the CDC, U.S. adults living with serious mental illness die on average 25 years earlier than others, immensely due to treatable conditions. Breaking the stigma and creating an environment open and comfortable with mental heath discussion can not only create more acceptance of one another, but save lives before it’s too late.