Written by Dila Sarikaya.
Graphic by Peyton Cabaniss.

**mental health trigger warning**

The first week of October is known as Mental Illness Awareness Week, which was established by Congress in 1990. However, mental illness — and the stigmas that come with it — have been around for decades and continue to exist today. During Mental Illness Awareness Week, organizations, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Mental Health America, create inclusive spaces for those affected by various cognitive conditions through meaningful events. These events aim to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness by allowing real people to share their narratives.

Those who are unfamiliar with the effects of a chronic condition can have difficulty understanding the day-to-day challenges that someone with a mental illness may face. In order to provide some insight, an anonymous UT student has shared his own experiences:

I first realized I was depressed … when I felt consistent sadness and saw a decrease in my weight and appetite. It wasn’t severe at that point because I was able to carry on with my life, but … in the last four years … I felt much worse.

In April 2018, I had a panic attack … This was the doorway for my anxiety to intensify. It started showing physically. Tightness in my chest, difficulty swallowing, skin irritation, tension headaches. The symptoms of and causes of my anxiety changed frequently, which made it harder to cope with.

Anxiety has made me focus on thoughts I don’t want to focus on. Intrusive thoughts that make it hard to distinguish what’s real and what’s not. It leads to feelings of depersonalization, emotional numbness and depression. It’s especially hard to deal with when it makes you constantly doubt what you really want. I can tell myself I want to get better, but there’s a feeling of doubt that that isn’t true. It even makes me doubt my sexuality. I feel like my identity has imploded and there’s no easy way to let it all out. I feel unsafe, worried and helpless.

I have been picking up new coping methods. I started with meditation and I’ve tried some mindfulness techniques. I can’t say I’ve seen real results yet, but … these techniques give me [time] to sit down and have the mindset I truly want to have.

I wish people treated anxiety more like an illness than a weakness. I feel like people who don’t have anxiety don’t really understand what’s happening to a person who does have it. I’m always trying to be understood by others. The feeling of finally being understood is what gives me the most relief.

Truly listening to and trying to understand someone’s story is crucial to progress collectively as a society. So many people around us experience thoughts and emotions that hold them back at the most unexpected times. We must help others by creating a more positive environment.

We may not realize that the people closest to us are struggling. Pay attention, reach out, have open conversations, and support one another. Sometimes all someone needs is a person who will listen.

Not everyone experiences mental illness in the same way. Reflecting on your own experiences in a safe environment can be relieving, as well as informative for others who are not aware of the way mental illness influences someone’s daily life. Let’s take this week to reduce the stigma around mental illness and strive to make every environment a safe space for open conversation.

For more information relating to mental health, feel free to utilize the resources below:

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