It’s common to have ups and downs in high school, but sometimes these problems are more serious than having an uncharged iPad and balancing a social life. I dealt with my own downfall during sophomore year when I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder. My journey of recognizing my challenges, seeking help, and solving my struggles has inspired […]
It’s common to have ups and downs in high school, but sometimes these problems are more serious than having an uncharged iPad and balancing a social life. I dealt with my own downfall during sophomore year when I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder. My journey of recognizing my challenges, seeking help, and solving my struggles has inspired me to write about mental health awareness here at CB.
Although they cannot be physically seen, mental illnesses are very real. They are common amongst students, but are not commonly conversation starters.
About 20% of youth from the ages 13-18 deal with mental illness — the most prominent disorders plaguing students are anxiety and depression. Anxiety disorder is classified as having feelings of anxiety, worry, or fear strong enough to interfere with one’s daily life. The disorder takes on many forms and frequently occurs as socialized and generalized anxiety — I have both. Depression is seen as having a low mood or loss of interest in activities, causing interference in one’s daily life.
Having a mental illness can feel hopeless, but there are ways to help. I interviewed wellness counselor Mrs. Emily McDougall to provide professional advice for our CB Community and inherited tips from psycologist Dr. Breanna Winder-Patel that have changed my life and perhaps could change yours, too.
Students go to the wellness counselor for a number of reasons, but according to Mrs. McDougall, anxiety would top the list
“Then from there, there’s depression, and then under that there’s dysthymia which is a lower grade of depression,” she says.
If you are mentally struggling, the most important thing you can do is get help. Students believe they can weather the rough patches alone, but that’s not always the case. It may seem like common sense to find help, but it can be tough to pursue when you feel like you will become a burden to whomever you tell.
“A lot of people put a mask on when they’re in pain because it feels like it’s easier,” Mrs. Mcdougall explains. “Acknowledging that there is a mask and talking with someone you really trust [and] being willing to be slightly vulnerable to let someone know you’re in pain is a start.”
Mental illnesses can be genetic, biologic, environmental, or a combination of these. One cannot snap out of a chemical imbalance, so getting the correct treatment is the only way to obtain wellness.
Some methods to help improve your mental state are the same whether you have anxiety or depression. General self care, like getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, and acknowledging stresses are all simple fixes. Medication, along with therapy, are also preferred practices for improvement from anxiety and depression. However, there are more focused methods to help treat specific mental illnesses.
Anxiety tends to make people worry. Worrying comes with negative, irrational thinking traps that tend to bring you down instantly. In school, there’s an endless amount of worries anxiety can probe you with: Do your classmates like you? Do they think you’re weird? Are you going to fail that chemistry test next set?
The only way to combat these negative thoughts is to think realistically. Ask yourself what evidence you have to support these thoughts. There probably isn’t any.
“[You could be] walking to the cafeteria and feeling like everyone’s looking at [you] or feeling like nobody likes [you],” explains Mrs. McDougall . Once those thoughts occur, she suggests to ask yourself, “‘How do I know? What makes me think this is true? How can I prove this to be right?’ If [you] can’t prove it right, most likely it’s not.”
Anxiety can become overwhelming and take over your headspace. When this happens, it is important not to get lost in your thoughts and instead bring yourself into the moment. Focusing on your senses instead of your thoughts can be helpful.
Mrs. Mcdougall says that if you’re going into a test thinking, “‘Oh my gosh, I can’t do this, I’m going to fail,’ [Notice] that that thought is not productive or helpful.”
“If [you] can’t change that thought, just focus on something else in the environment,” she advises. “Try to take some deep breaths and tune into the sound of the clock ticking or notice how [your] pencil feels in [your] hand. These are mindfulness techniques because they bring you back to the moment as opposed to getting lost in your thoughts.”
Another piece of anxiety advice is called the FEAR Plan. I learned this step by step process from Dr. Winder-Patel and use it on the daily.
Step 1: Feeling frightened: What are your physical symptoms (heavy breathing, racing heart, shakiness)?
Step 2: Expecting something bad to happen: What thought is causing your physical symptoms?
Step 3: Attitudes and actions that can help: What can you do to reassure yourself (looking for evidence, realistically thinking)?
Step 4: Results and rewards: Has your anxiety gotten better? Hopefully, that’s the result.
With depression, motivation and joy can be hard to find. It is important to make yourself feel as good as you can, so go ahead and treat yourself — plan something to look forward to every day.
Mrs. McDougall suggests you, “plan to do something that’s fun, even if in the moment it doesn’t feel like fun. Literally have something on your calendar each day that’s kinda fun, it doesn’t have to be big.”
Going for a walk, getting your favorite food, reading a book — these are all simple tasks that could bring joy. Find something small that brings you happiness or at some point did. Journal writing or drawing can clear your mind as well, as it gets thoughts out of your head.
Sleep and depression can be a problematic duo.
“Depression and lack of sleep are best buddies,” Mrs. McDougall says. But depression can sometimes make you want to sleep more. If the depression is stripping away your motivation and calling you to sleep, it is important to stay as active as you can.
Mental health is not a topic to shy away from. It’s important to take action if you think you could be suffering from a mental illness because it’s not something to be tackled alone. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and get the support you deserve, because there is no shame in seeking help.