By SARAH MARTIN, News Editor
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) hosted a workshop on October 24th to help educate students on mental health illnesses, the stigma surrounding them, and techniques in helping individuals enduring depression or suicidal thoughts.
“Mental health conditions are medical illnesses,” said Allison Payne, a volunteer from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Just like some people have diabetes, some people have a mental health condition they need to take care of,” she added.
“They are common and treatable—they’re not somebody’s fault,” Payne continued, “and people love to blame. It doesn’t matter what the genetic factor might have been, it just matters that they have a condition. You don’t blame other people when the person gets cancer—you treat the cancer!”
“It’s as common as someone with dirty blond hair or hazel eyes,” said the voiceover in one of NAMI’s videos, “in fact, one in four people in the United States alone experience a mental health illness every year—more than 57 million people.”
Payne went on to say that of the youth in America experiencing a mental health condition, less than half will seek treatment.
“Inadequate health care, because no one notices, or because they don’t know what’s going on themselves they won’t ask for help.”
Payne continued to say that stigma is the biggest reason why people don’t ask for help.
“They know something is going on and they’re different, but they’re so stigmatized that they won’t ask for help,” Payne said. “But if you had diabetes and you are passing out because your blood sugar is low, you would get help. Treat (mental health) like a medical condition because it is.”
Payne read a list of warning signs for others to look out for when someone is depressed or potentially suicidal. “Sad or withdrawn for two weeks or more, extreme risk taking behaviors that endanger yourself or others, overwhelming fear like panic attacks or stomachaches, seeing or hearing things that aren’t real, or a drastic change in mood or behavior are things to look out for.”
David Andrews, a sophomore from Oakland University, was a guest speaker at the event and spoke of his journey in overcoming depression and suicide.
“I went from all A’s and in the National Honor Society to C’s and D’s in my junior year of high school,” Andrews said. “People asked me what was wrong and I would say ‘I’m fine’ or ‘I’m tired’—but I was far from fine and the tired I was feeling wasn’t from sleeping, it was because I was tired of living.”
Andrews said his family noticed the change in his behavior and took him to a psychologist that diagnosed him with Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Insomnia. A few months after being diagnosed, Andrews began to self-harm by means of cutting or punching himself. “I was hoping that some combination of destroying myself would make me feel alive again—would make me not feel like dying.
“The pain never vanished, even at school. I thought no one cared or no one would notice,” Andrews said. “But I had three amazing adults at Romeo High School: my baseball coach, my history teacher, and my counselor were a part of my support system. Looking at it now it means so much—more than I could really grasp at the time.
“But one day it became too much. That’s when suicide became more than just a thought,” Andrews continued. “I attempted suicide twice. I can’t tell you what it was like or what I was wearing, all I was focused at the time was me dying. It was all just a blur.
“However there was one thing do I remember, and that’s me writing my name on my suicide note. I don’t remember what the note said, but I felt like I was signing a check and it was for my life and it was to be paid by depression and anxiety.”
Andrews said that he realized he needed to take “a step forward from the darkness,” and getting to recovery required acceptance. “What it meant for me is that I had to come to peace with what happened. I had to realize ‘hey, something bad happened, but it’s okay now.’”
Andrews went on to say that he also had recognized things would be different from then on, but that’s O.K. that it’s different.
Payne said that the most important thing when someone is considering suicide is to take immediate action by either calling a suicide helpline, or stay by the person and work out a help plan with them that you’ll follow through together.
She says for individuals with depression, partaking in therapy (either cognitive-behavioral or group) and taking medication has a higher success rate than only doing one. “Others find it beneficial to do art or have a pet by their side,” Payne said. She also says instilling positive coping strategies such as exercising or getting involved in a club can help lessen the effects of depression.
For university students, Payne said she highly encourages those with mental health conditions to register with Disability Services to receive aid or help reduce anxiety in testing situations.
“We have to reduce the stigma around mental health conditions,” Payne said. “Call out those using stigmatizing language, share support on social media, and talk with your family and friends about being supportive.
“As a person you have a lot of power to be nice. If you just smile at someone you can make their day,” Payne began, “you might make them say ‘hey, someone cares about me.’ It can make the difference in someone’s life.”
For those who wish to know more about NAMI or mental health conditions, visit nami.org or email the University of Michigan-Dearborn NAMI President at firstname.lastname@example.org.