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Please Don't Invalidate My Mental Health Because I Went to Private School

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“You’ve never had to worry about money.”

“Your parents buy you whatever you want.”

“Oh don’t even get started with me.”

“You don’t know what it’s like to struggle.”

Just a few of the things I’ve heard (repeatedly) from the people in my life – people who don’t know what it’s like to go to a private school and make assumptions based on whatever media they’ve consumed. And it’s not fair. Do not invalidate my experience based on your assumptions about me.

Sure, I go to a nice school and wear a uniform, but what do you know about the life that exists within those walls? You also don’t know the toll it takes on my anxiety and how I couldn’t ask for help when it came to my depression because I knew rumors would spread around the school. And to come out and be open with mental illness would lead to bullying and stress and anxiety, on top of the existing stress and anxiety.

As much as we think we’ve advanced as a society — advanced in creating open spaces, safe spaces and reducing stigma — we’re not as far along as we think.

Because the school is so small, it’s like living in a fishbowl. The competition is fierce, the stresses are high and everything you say and do gets scrutinized, analyzed and amplified. Perhaps this was where my anxiety first began – constantly being on edge, out of fear of saying or doing the wrong things because I knew I would be judged and bullied for weeks on end.

I was anxious all the time and my friends weren’t there for support. They were just people I hung out with, who made the competition all the more serious. I was a perfectionist, I was overworked, stressed and sleep deprived.  And on top of dealing with the daily struggles with body dysmorphic disorder, I had anxiety and lived in an environment that forced me to stay “high-functioning.” There were grades to maintain and appearances to keep up.

If you haven’t lived with a mental illness, you don’t know what it’s like to experience it. You might think my life is all privilege, golf clubs and dinner parties, but you are wrong.

It’s a life of secrecy, living with shame. It’s the inability to ask for help. It’s the need to keep up appearances. It’s being forced to be “high-functioning” despite anxiety and depression. It’s a life of suppressed emotions and oppressed thoughts about mental health. It’s the inability to ask family for help because they don’t believe in mental health and shame you for being ill. It’s feeling resentment and anger, frustration and sadness each and every day without a release.

So please, don’t look down on us “private school kids” like we don’t know better. Don’t shame us for what school we went to. Don’t invalidate our mental health.

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.

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Thinkstock photo via Design Pics.

Originally published: March 3, 2017
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