The Mighty Logo

When There's No Treatment Options for the Gray Area of Mental Illness

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

People assume mental illness is black and white. You’re either suicidal or you aren’t
suicidal at all. You either have severe and debilitating anxiety and depression, or you’re a little bit anxious and depressed. There seem to be all sorts of resources for people who fall in the black and white categories of mental illness, such as hospitals for those who are very sick, and therapists for those who need extra help dealing with things in their lives. But what happens to people who fall in the gray area of mental illness? Those who are on the cusp of becoming severely ill, but are just not there yet?

Two weeks ago, at the age of 17, I was admitted to the adult psychiatric unit at my local hospital. I was not admitted for the reasons most people there were admitted. I was not suicidal or psychotic. I was not a danger to myself or others. All I knew was that I needed help, and I needed it fast.

Three months earlier, I had one of the most terrifying experiences of my life: my first suicidal thoughts. Though I desperately wanted to live, there was something inside telling me I couldn’t anymore. Though I wasn’t planning on hurting myself, I was scared that if I didn’t get the right help, I would get to that point. My medications and therapy were not
helping, I wasn’t functioning anymore and I didn’t know where to turn.

This hospitalization came after three emergency room visits, countless medication changes, and various therapists and techniques. Even with all this, I was slipping deeper and deeper into severe depression and anxiety. It took my parents and me begging the psychiatrist at the ER, who was just going to send me away with yet another medication adjustment, to hospitalize me. We didn’t know what to do anymore and were scared that, without the proper treatment, things would get even worse.

After being on the unit for a while and seeing no improvement, I quickly learned the hospital was not the place for me. This is because hospital I was at was meant to be a place of stabilization — not a place of recovery. But, if this wasn’t the place for me, what was I supposed to do to feel better?

People who live in the gray area of mental illness shouldn’t have to resort to extreme measures like hospitalization to prevent themselves from getting worse. They shouldn’t have to live in fear of spiraling deeper and deeper into mental illness all because of the lack of proper resources. There should be accessible and affordable treatment options available that promote recovery, and not just stabilization, for these people.

Mental illness is not black or white — it occurs in peaks and valleys. One day can be extremely dark while the next day can be bright and positive. It scares me to think people who live in this gray area sometimes can’t get proper treatment until they’re at their breaking point. I hope that someday, there will be accessible support systems available for those living in this gray area. I hope that day comes soon.

The Mighty is asking the following: Yell us a story about working within the mental health system. What barriers of treatment have you experienced? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: March 29, 2016
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home