What Is Mental Illness, and How Is Friends Academy dealing with It?


The truth is, having depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness does not make you weird or crazy. 43.8 million adults in America suffer from mental illnesses in any given year. The sad part is that we are unwilling to acknowledge the fact that a large portion of our population is silently suffering because they are afraid, ashamed, or don’t even know that there is something wrong. The way we treat the topic of mental illness is one of the main reasons people don’t talk about it.

In the media we see examples of people with mental illnesses being labeled as different, we think therapy is only for the crazy and medication is for the sick. When people do share how they feel, they are just shut down, and people say that it’s all in their head or that they are just having a bad day. Because of this, mental illness is surrounded by stigma.

My hope for our community specifically is to get rid of that stigma through education and conversation. A good place to start is here. What is depression? Let me first make clear the difference between feeling depressed and having clinical depression. Feeling depressed is sadness caused by loss or something else, this is not the same as being depressed. Clinical depression, or major depressive disorder, is a mental illness caused by chemical imbalances in one’s brain that leaves one with feelings of worthlessness along with other symptoms. Around 16 million American adults have major depressive disorder.

What is anxiety? Again there is a difference between normal feelings of anxiety and an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders include; general anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. 46 million Americans have some form of an anxiety disorder.

Other less common mental illnesses include bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

The worst part is, only 60% of those who have mental illnesses receive treatment. So if mental health is such a big problem, why is no one talking about it? Fortunately, Friends Academy is starting a conversation, and hopefully it won’t be taboo in our community anymore. As we kick off the new school year, a new focus on mental health is emerging. A new initiative to educate the community on the complexities and the science of mental health has appeared, and will hopefully stay.

Many students of Friends Academy have voiced their concern about the way mental health is perceived around the school. Unfortunately, most students are unaware of the facts of mental health, but that will soon change. October 11th was National Depression Screening Day, a day for raising awareness of mental illnesses, and a bulletin board went up in Frost Hall with facts and resources for depression. This is just the start of the move to educate the masses on mental health and its complexities, because there is still a long way to go.

Some areas where we can improve at Friends is in the health department. Unfortunately we haven’t talked about mental health in those classes, and a change in the curriculum is needed. Many high schoolers suffer with mental illness and aren’t equipped with the right tools to get help. If we started teaching students about it earlier, more people would understand the signs of a problem and know to get help. If we had more conversations on the topic, the stigma around mental illness could disappear.

This is just a start, as the year goes on so will the conversation and Friends Academy will hopefully become a safe place to talk about the issues at hand.