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5 Things I Wish I Knew in High School About Living With a Mental Illness


Starting a new school, or even a new school year, is a challenge for anyone, but living with a mental illness can make this change even more difficult. Even waking up to go to school every day is a huge challenge, and then the school work and social interactions that come with it. It’s common to feel like you are going through the motions and no one sees you struggling or cares enough to pay attention. Specifically, living with major depressive disorder (MDD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) had a major impact on my high school experience. As someone who, in high school, lost people close to me by suicide, it’s important to know these things going into a new school year.

1. You are not alone.

As cliche as it sounds, I can promise you that you’re not the only student feeling this way. I spent many days in high school looking at the other students around me and wishing I could be like them. As humans, we have this ability to put a mask on and this is what I realized a lot of students were doing. It wasn’t until I reached out and started talking about the things that make me who I am, especially my mental illness, that I realized there were so many other people who related to me and who were also afraid to show who they really were.

2. There are adults who want to help and can relate to what you’re going through.

Often, as teenagers, we look at successful adults and don’t think we’re ever going to make it there. Adults can wear a mask just like a teenager. Just because your teacher, counselor or any school staff member seems put-together now, that doesn’t mean they didn’t experience similar things when they were a teenager.

3. Start the conversation.

As hard as this is, if no one in your school wants to address mental health, it can start with you. You’d be amazed at how many people this would help and how much you can accomplish as a community.

4. If your mental illness affects your grades, it is not a personal failure.

On the bad days, my depression and anxiety made it difficult if not impossible to pay attention in class. My mind was always racing. At times I wouldn’t even care about my grades because I didn’t think I deserved good grades. I had no energy to do homework; the minute I got home for school, all I would want to do is sleep. Not doing as good as my peers or as good as I used to in school made me feel like I was failing in life. I couldn’t do the one thing that is my main focus at this age. It took me a while to accept the fact it wasn’t my lack of trying or my lack of knowledge that made school difficult for me. It was the chemical imbalance in my brain. Once I accepted the fact I was going to have to push myself even more than the other students, I started to succeed. I couldn’t let my mental illness win.

5. Reach out.

This is the most important piece of information I wish someone told me. It all starts with reaching out and sharing your story. There are people there to help you. There are people who can relate to you. Take advantage of the help that is available to you; you won’t regret it.

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