(First of a series on my life with mental illness.)
The first time I really had to accept the fact that there was something wrong with me was the beginning of my junior year of college. I was fresh from taking a year off to work at a fledgling Amazon.com in Seattle (they had *just* opened their Music store then), and there I decided to change my major from pre-med psychology to Computer Science. Stanford is known for its rigorous CS degree, and it is a pretty jam-packed major even for people starting it their freshman year. However, I decided to pack in 4 years' worth of prerequisites into 2 because I didn't want my parents spending tens of thousands MORE dollars because of my late-breaking change of heart. That meant stacking 4 to 5 engineering courses each quarter, including summers. Not a smart strategy, it turns out.
I remember it was a week or two after my 21st birthday, mid-November. I was so far gone from the stress, that I actually started hallucinating. I holed myself up in my dorm room for two weeks, not coming out to eat or attend classes (I think I just lived off of my stash of cup ramen), convinced there were cameras installed all over campus used to observe how a person of below-average ability and intellect (me) would cope at a top-tier university. I would imagine these bespectacled professors looking down at me, rubbing their bearded chins, scribbling down "not coping well at all" into their ledgers.
My RA somehow found me in this state and convinced me to go to the emergency room. I was admitted into the mental ward, and after a few days, they called my dad to pick me up so I can take a break from Stanford and get treated. He later told me he cried the whole six hour drive up from LA. We packed my room up and drove back down in silence.
After a year of rest, meds, therapy, and taking the intro CS courses in a much lower-pressure environment at my parents' local junior college, I went back to Stanford to finish out my degree. The road was bumpy and extremely stressful, and although I had support all throughout, I still had to go back to that ward a couple more times to get back on my feet again and fight another round. But finally, after two years, I did graduate. And life got so much better.
The Facts about Mental Illness
Many people think that mental illness is something that only happens to “other people.” The facts are:
• One in four American adults suffers from a diagnosable mental health illness in a given year.
• Research shows half of all mental disorders start by age 14 and three-quarters start by age 24.
• An average of 6 to 8 years pass after the onset of mood disorder symptoms – 9 to 23 years for anxiety disorder symptoms – before young people get help.
• Treatment is available and full recovery is possible. With support and treatment, between 70 and 90 percent of individuals have a significant reduction in symptoms and improved quality of life.
While the facts may show the need for Californians to seek help, many don’t because of fear of judgment, isolation and discrimination. The stigma associated with mental illness can be more destructive than the illness itself.
What Californians Can Do
• Learn more about mental illness, choose facts over myths.
• Recognize that many of us will experience a mental illness at some point in our lives, and someone who has been diagnosed with a mental illness isn’t so different after all.
• Speak and act from a place of compassion and acceptance, rather than fear and ignorance.
• Visit EachMindMatters.org to get informed and join California’s mental health movement.(Source: CalMHSA)