20 Signs You Grew Up With Mental Illness


Growing up, we often aren’t taught about mental illness. So if you’re experiencing a mental health struggle, especially as an adolescent, it can be all too easy to believe you are alone in the way you feel — especially if the parents and adults in your life seem to believe it’s “just a phase.”

But there’s nothing wrong with struggling with your mental health — and no one is “too young” to feel that pain. The reality is, many kids and teens do experience mental illness, and we need to talk about it, know the signs and acknowledge their experiences. 

To find out more, we asked our mental health community to share, in hindsight, how mental illness affected their childhoods — for better and for worse. No two people are alike, so it’s important to remember that no matter what your experience growing up was, you are not alone in your struggle.

Here’s what they shared with us:

1. “I have always been hyperaware of what those around me may be feeling. Having borderline personality disorder, among other disorders, I could always pick out the smallest hints that someone may be upset or annoyed. Then I distance myself.” — Mia C.

2. “I always pushed people away before they had a chance to reject me because I was so accustomed to rejection from my dad and my mother. I never let anyone get too close or get to know the real me. I’ve only had four people in my life [who] knew the real raw me and loved me anyway and I’m almost 44.” — Julie L.

3. I never planned for my future or tried in school because I was convinced I wouldn’t make it to be an adult. Now that I am an adult, I’m sorta lost.” — Erica L.

4. “One thing I did? Decided not to trust anyone anymore. Because people didn’t understand, people let you down over and over again. So I don’t trust easily or sometimes at all anymore. One good thing I am often told is I’m not a judgmental person and people often like to talk to me about anything because they know I don’t judge them. Perhaps this is because I have been badly judged my entire life.” — Sophie S.

5. “I never judge a book by its cover. Just because someone seems fine doesn’t always mean they are. I know firsthand as a ‘high-functioning’ psychotic. I try to cut people slack and not judge quickly (except when my head does it’s thing and I get suspicious or paranoid).” — Jace P.

6. “I was/am an outcast. Too weird, too blunt, strange. I don’t know how to talk to people as a ‘normal’ person would. But I also love way too hard.” — Sarah W.

7. “I always had more compassion for people going through a hard time emotionally. I always try to be someone they can come talk to and trust, because I know how lonely and hard it is.” — Jennifer S.

8. “[I’ve] always had the underlying fear of abandonment. Maybe it happened once too often or just put a scar on my soul. It occurred more and more. I felt it was destined to occur.” — Tracy A.

9. “I performed sometimes very complex rituals to prevent my horrible — what I now know to be intrusive thoughts — from coming true. I stayed outside or in my room a lot. I listened to a lot of music and drew and played games to distract myself. I also ran a lot when I grew up some because it helped me release my energy. I got along with most people, but I didn’t have many close friends. I also had trouble planning for the future, because I felt the future was full of horrible things. I’m still scared of planning too much. It’s hard for me to see ahead because I can’t see myself being here so many years ahead sometimes.” — Serena O.

10. “I got really good at hiding my true self and feelings. After constantly hearing stuff like: ‘No one wants to be around someone who is sad all the time,’ [and] ’If you keep cutting yourself we’re taking you to counseling again,’ I learned to hide every part of me that wasn’t socially acceptable. People constantly tell me how ‘chill’ I am but I’m really screaming on the inside 24/7.” — Hannah L.

11. “I became a mental health advocate. Since high school, I’ve been speaking out about mental illness and the importance of incorporating mental health education into the junior high and high school health curriculums. I’m now an intern at NAMI Iowa and will be writing a blog about living with depression, ADHD, anxiety and borderline personality disorder. I would not be the person I am today, had I not grown up with mental illness.” — Sarah A.

12. “I live inside my maladaptive daydreams… I remember my first in kindergarten.” — Marybeth L.

13. “As a kid, I withdrew into myself as a coping mechanism. Even just having a general conversation with someone would nearly reduce me to tears because they would be intruding in on my little protective bubble I had placed around myself. Nowadays, I make it a habit to let people know they can talk to me if they need to, even if I come across annoying. I want people to know they don’t have to experience things alone and they have a friend in me.” — Sarah C.

14. “Searched for love in every direction I turned. It didn’t work out so well for me. It did however, teach me how to protect myself from people. It’s not 100 percent foolproof, but it’s kept my circle small.” — Joanna G.

15. “I legitimately always walked on egg shells as a kid because my anxiety was so bad I always thought I was going to be in serious trouble for small things. It’s not that my mother was horrendously mean, I was always so worried my brain would force me to think the worst. I also had a very small friend group and one best friend because I didn’t cope well in social situations. When me and that best friend would have any kind of spat, I shut everyone out for days on end because I didn’t know what to do or how to fix it.” — Brittany B.

16. “I turned to animals for love and trust. I would try to woo the most feral, and all the animals no one else wanted. Then I would help them to love and trust again. But never with humans until I was much older.” — Leslie P.

17. “Cried myself to sleep every night. Believed everyone hated me, and if anyone was laughing, they were laughing at me.” — Melinda R.

18. “I hated authority figures. I talked back often, and I was constantly in trouble at school. I would get mood swings and push away my friends without understanding why I was doing what I was doing. Only after being admitted into a mental hospital when I was 14 years old did I learn I was bipolar.” — Brandi R.

19. “I learned to keep my thoughts and opinions to myself. Because, I was never ‘good enough.’” — Hanni W.

20. “I took on the role of adult with the world on her shoulders. I avoided my issues to try and attempt to fix the issues of anybody who gave my life a little light and meaning. I buried myself so deep in the issues of those around me and ended up facing most of my demons there. However, these people returned the favor and not only did they help create the foundations of recovery, but they showed me I wasn’t alone in the journey either.” — Stacey P.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

Thinkstock photo via cat_arch_angel.

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