By Alyssa Ashton
I’ve always thought it was strange that there was a World Mental Health Day. Why do we need an entire day dedicated to raising awareness about mental health, doesn’t everyone already understand it? The reason I feel this way is because I’ve been aware of mental health issues since I was seven-years-old—when I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. I’ve grown-up having an in-depth understanding of the effects of mental health issues.
I was lucky to have parents who made it seem normal to have anxiety. I thought everyone asked their parents a thousand “what if” questions before they went to bed—what if I die in the middle of the night, what if you die, what if the sun falls out of the sky? My parents and my family have always supported me and made me feel like I was no different than anyone else. I’ve never really felt like I had to fight the stigma attached to mental health.
But a few months ago I realized how important World Mental Health Day is. For me, my anxiety tends to flare up when I go through change—finishing school and going on the job hunt is a lot of change for my anxious mind to handle. Not surprisingly I went into a phase of constant anxiety attacks. Doing anything, from getting on the bus to go to work or simply getting out of bed filled me with panic.
You’re probably thinking, “Well I get anxious too so how is yours different?” My counselor describes people with anxiety disorders as being extra sensitive to their surroundings—they tend to feel things at a higher frequency. When something makes me feel anxious, I’m filled with this sense of dread. I become hot and feel like I can’t move. I’m so overwhelmed I feel like I have no control over my body and that’s freaking terrifying. Not having control is an anxious person’s worst nightmare because your mind starts racing with all the things that could happen—what if I faint, what if I throw up, dear god what if I hurt myself. These are pretty scary thoughts, especially for a person who’s not suicidal. That probably sounds bizarre, how can you think you want to hurt yourself if you’re not suicidal? Well that’s what anxiety does to you; it’s like a bully that’s beating you down with all these irrational fears.
When you have these thoughts you start to think you’re crazy. For the past few months I’ve felt like I’m the crazy girl who’s never going to have a normal life. Now I completely understand the point of World Mental Health day, it’s to show everyone, including people with mental health issues, that they’re not crazy.
But once this day finishes I ask you to do me a favour—don’t stop helping people with mental health issues. Let’s make it a 365-day initiative to support people who are struggling.
Now you’re probably thinking that you’re life is already so busy and you simply don’t have time to support a friend, family member or colleague who’s struggling. Luckily, supporting someone with mental health issues is easy. For me support is simple, just ask me how my day is or send me a funny note. My friend Natalie sends me articles she finds about anxiety coping mechanisms. It’s a small gesture that means the world to me.
People with anxiety also love having someone to talk to. When you get in these anxious states of mind you lose all sense of logic. My dad is a master at talking me down from these panics in a minute-flat. He’s the most logical person I know and he uses his wisdom to show me how illogical my fears are. My mom is the person I go to for a hug—nothing is more calming than a mom hug. And I love a supportive back-pat, my friend Ruby is excellent at those.
There are so many little ways you can show your support to people struggling with mental health. And by doing these small gestures you’ll show them that they are normal, they just need a little extra love to get through the tough days.
And to everyone battling mental illness, I want to share my new mantra that is getting me through this rough spell. “Don’t believe everything you think—especially if you think you’re crazy!”