By: Jenna Piotrowicz
October 23rd, 2022
This article is part of our Summer 2022 magazine. Click here to read the full edition.
Mental health has been talked about more than ever before as awareness continues to spread and stories are shared. However, many still feel invalidated in their own mental health.
When suffering from a mental illness, some people compare their feelings to those of others. This may lead them to think their experiences aren’t as bad, so they feel unworthy of seeking help. When a person begins to compare their experiences against someone else’s, they make a harmful mistake. Every person has unique struggles, and their thoughts and feelings are valid, regardless of whether other people share them.
Claire Henderson, Sara Evans-Lacko, and Graham Thornicroft, members of the Health Service and Population Research Department at King’s College London Institute of Psychiatry, said, “Globally, more than 70% of people with mental illness receive no treatment from health care staff. Evidence suggests that factors increasing the likelihood of treatment avoidance or delay before presenting for care include lack of knowledge to identify features of mental illnesses, ignorance about how to access treatment, prejudice against people who have mental illness, and expectation of discrimination against people diagnosed with mental illness.”
Michigan State University student Ally Gilbreath understands these feelings of prejudice and ignorance well.
“Freshman year of college, I began to feel really overwhelmed,” Gilbreath said. “And I noticed that these everyday tasks that were simple and easy for everyone were not easy for me. I waited a long time because I didn’t realize I had a problem until I lived on my own.”
Gilbreath’s experience highlights the lack of knowledge presented to young adults about mental health symptoms and signs. Many continue to struggle because they perceive it to be normal. If they do seek help, the process of getting a diagnosis isn’t easy either.
“I had to go through a five hour evaluation, and it took a long time to even get into the office. This whole time I was waiting and still struggling,” Gilbreath said. “But once I got my diagnosis it was really helpful and allowed me to understand myself more. I wasn’t just lazy or disorganized; there was something going on.”
Even after taking the step to get help, issues with the process of medication and treatment remain. Many people still feel invalidated years after their diagnosis.
“Getting the correct medication is not easy at all either. I feel like a criminal every time I get a refill on my medication; they make you sign a waiver and everything to make sure you’re not selling it, and make me go in every single month,” Gilbreath said. “So, not very friendly towards people struggling with ADHD. That seriously needs to change. The medical system continuously fails those with ADHD, especially when the symptoms aren’t the most common ones. It’s super invalidating that I have to jump through all these hoops just to get my medication.”
Mental health awareness continues to rise. However, a need for greater progress remains. In regards to Americans’ outlook on mental health, Gilbreath said, “It’s more recognized, but I don’t think the outlook has improved. Society values productivity and responsibility, something that people with certain mental illnesses struggle with. I don’t think we have improved to the point of realizing that some people can’t conform to these societal demands without looking at it as an excuse or as laziness or irresponsibility.”
Gilbreath mentions the lack of research in regard to women with ADHD, which connects to their underdiagnosis—women’s ADHD symptoms often look different than those of men, who are traditionally studied. This is a direct cause of the invalidation of people simply seeking help. People may recognize the mental illness but are unaware of its symptoms and how it can affect a person’s life.
“I think that has a really damaging effect on people who are neurodivergent,” Gilbreath said. “The education and understanding has not improved. There’s still people that don’t even think that ADHD is real. It’s so frustrating that I had to diagnose myself and vouch for my own feelings, and still to this day, I’m the one researching my own condition to better understand myself because it is so under researched.”
MSU student Emma Scheib reflected on her own mental health experience as well.
“I waited about 3 years before looking for help after cracking under the pressure of college and being completely online,” Scheib said. ”I waited so long because I was under the impression that it was normal to feel unmotivated and exhausted all the time because I had been feeling like that for such a long time.”
Many feel there is a significant lack of knowledge presented to young adults, making them completely unaware when they are showing signs of a mental illness.
“Seeking help was extremely difficult for me because it meant something was actually wrong, and I didn’t want to accept that I genuinely did need the help,” Scheib said. “Expressing to someone why I was needing help was almost uncomfortable. Looking back, I am extremely happy and proud of myself for reaching out to someone because I’m doing so much better than I was a year ago.”
According to Mental Health America’s “2022 Key Findings Report,” in the United States, “fewer than 1 in 3 youth with severe depression receive consistent mental health care.” Connecting with doctors and medical staff is crucial to receiving the best treatment and care for mental health. Finding a doctor one feels comfortable with and validated by can make the biggest difference in a person’s life.
“I think society is becoming much more accepting of the fact that almost everyone in the human population does suffer from some form of mental health issues, regardless of how severe those issues are,” Schieb said. “My doctors made me feel extremely secure, and I could trust them with anything without judgment, and the only judgment I felt was in my own head.”
Jenna Piotrowicz is a junior majoring in professional and public writing, aspiring to be a writer or editor in her future. In her free time, she enjoys watching movies, TV shows and working on her own screenplays, hoping to create the next big feature film.