We Should All be Mental Health Advocates


In this essay, I will try to prove that everyone should be a mental health advocate. Throughout this essay, I will include the facts, the figures, and moments from my life that have shaped my belief that “We Should All be Mental Health Advocates.” 


Part One: Being a Difficult Child 

When Googling the term “Difficult Child,” you will be bombarded with books and articles on how to deal with a difficult child. The term itself usually refers to children who have a hard time complying with their parents’ orders or have difficulties settling down. “Difficult Children” often deal with some sort of learning disability or mental health disorder that manifests itself in disobedience and outbursts. I was one of those difficult children. According to the Child Mind Institute (“an independent nonprofit dedicated to transforming the lives of children struggling with mental health and learning disorders”), around more than 17 million children have or have had some sort of psychiatric disorder. While growing up, from ages 5-9, I distinctly remember my parents attending conferences, reading books, and meeting with professionals in order to learn how to deal with their “Difficult Child” (aka me). When I was seven, I was first put in therapy to try to better understand some of the things I was dealing with. No astounding revelations or answers came from my first two years of therapy, partly because I was living in Singapore at the time, which is one of the many countries that suffers from major stigma around mental health disorders, along with many other countries in Asia. 


Part Two: Moving and the First Diagnoses 

In 2011 my family moved to the United States, Long Island, New York more specifically. Although I moved continents, I continued to see professionals. My parents found a psychiatrist near us, and I began seeing her weekly. During our first couple of sessions, after thoroughly evaluating me, she diagnosed me with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. OCD is an anxiety disorder characterized by obsessive thoughts and tendencies that can interfere with daily life. According to the International OCD Foundation (a foundation whose aim is to help those affected by OCD), in the US alone, half a million children have OCD. After being officially diagnosed, I started my treatment, which included different medications including Zoloft (a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor used to treat the symptoms of OCD and other mental health disorders) and Anafranil (a nerve pain medication and antidepressants used to treat OCD). 


Part Three: Society and Stigma 

When I first started taking medication for my OCD, I remember my mother advised me not to tell anyone what the medication was for. This was the first time I realized that taking medication for a mental health disorder was something to be ashamed of. The stigma surrounding mental illness is one of the many reasons those suffering choose to stay quiet. The stigma around mental illness comes from society’s view of people with any sort of mental health disorder. Stigma around mental illness included the early and widely accepted belief that those who were mentally ill were demonically possessed, and the treatments for such “conditions” included torture and isolation. America specifically deals with a long history of mental health stigma. From the late 1800s to the late 1900s, those who dealt with mental health disorders were commonly institutionalized. These institutions often suffered from underfunding which led to deplorable conditions in such hospitals and rampant abuse of patients. Another problem with these hospitals is that they often practiced what is now seen as out of date and dangerous treatments including lobotomies and electro-shock therapy (something still practiced, but in a safer and more successful way). In the US, there was even a medical condition known as Hysteria, commonly used to diagnose women who showed a range of symptoms, including faintness, anxiety, nervousness, and sexual desire to name a few. It wasn’t until 1952 that the American Psychological Association removed the term Hysteria because the symptoms are synonymous with regular female sexuality. Although mental health stigma has decreased over the past few decades, it has not gone away completely. Social stigma still exists and so does self-stigma, two things that prevented me from seeking the help I needed for a large part of my life. After my first diagnosis, I was content to keep quiet about the new feelings I had, mainly due to shame. 


Part Four: Opening Up and the Second Diagnoses 

It took me five years to open up again and make proactive changes in order to address the feelings I didn’t understand. I was around thirteen when I told my psychiatrist about how unhappy I felt. I was officially diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, or Clinical Depression. Now I was taking medication for OCD and Clinical Depression. According to Mental Health America (a community based nonprofit dedicated to educating America on mental illness), over two million youth in America have Depression with severe impairment, and out of them only 30% receive treatment. I began my medication for clinical depression, which included Zoloft, Prozac, Wellbutrin, Lamictal, and Cymbalta. 


Part Five: Oh Look, the Stigma is Back After my Second Diagnoses 

I was at the height of my insecurity. It was the end of middle school and I was scared. I was afraid to tell my friends that sometimes it felt like I was dying. I was afraid to tell my friends that I felt hopeless. And even though I was lucky enough to be surrounded by understanding and kind people, I was still afraid. I felt alone; I didn’t think anyone could or would understand what I felt. For a while I lived with this shame and attempted to carry the burden alone. Now, I look back and wish that I had spoken up sooner, but the truth is I was so unsure. I didn’t know a lot about mental illness, and I didn’t think anyone else did. I was never taught in health class about the most common mental health disorders that affect more children than cancer does. I never knew that mental illness was so prevalent. I didn’t even know what Clinical Depression was until I had to learn about it the hard way. When looking at how many people are affected by mental illness, it’s hard to believe that more people aren’t talking about it. It’s surprising that there haven’t been more efforts to educate on the subject. Just think what that could do- I think it could change lives, or at least mine. 


Part Six: Sharing my Story 

After about two years of hiding this big part of my life, I was moved to speak in a Quaker Meeting For Worship. I ended up sharing some parts of my own mental illness in order to inform and help others. The response I received from sharing that message effectively changed my life. I had people coming up to me saying that they understood how I felt and that they were thankful for my message. Never in my life did I think I could use this previously perceived weakness as a strength. After that meeting for worship, I wasn’t as afraid anymore. I continued to speak out and eagerly embraced my new role as a mental health advocate. This is when I learned that the problem is so much bigger than mental illness itself, but it’s also how we treat and understand mental illness. I work with Natural Helpers and Project LETS, I put up poster boards around the school, I attended a suicide prevention class, and I even ran an assembly. It seemed like things were looking up, and even though my mental illness still affects me emotionally, I didn’t have to be alone in it anymore. 


Part Seven: Unpredictable Absolute Insanity 

I wish that could have been my happy ending. I wish that things continued to look up in my life. But as life is unpredictable, absolute insanity can always be around the corner. My optimism kick didn’t last long, I was again confronted with hopelessness and general unhappiness. This chapter of my life was one of the darkest. It was the worst I had felt, and honestly there were a lot of reasons for that. And although throughout this essay I’ve been very honest, this is not something I think I am ready to talk about yet. A lot happened, very quickly I might add, and I began to spiral. The details don’t matter, but the point is unpredictability is a part of life. And if you’re like me and already struggle to get through the normal days, then the less than normal days can seem impossible. But they’re not, and if there is a light at the end of this infinite tunnel, I will wait as long as it takes to see it, because giving up is not an option. 


Part Eight: Looking Ahead 

Now that we are all caught up, I would like to restate my goal of this essay. With this essay I wanted to prove that everyone should be a mental health advocate. Not only because it affects such a large portion of the population, but also because those affected feel like they should be ashamed. Even if you don’t personally struggle with mental health, getting the message out is just as important, because those who suffer in silence benefit from a helping hand.