Step into my mind for a day

Life with a mental disorder


Mary Galkowski

Photo illustration of mental illness

Whether you think about it or not, behind the faces of your peers, many struggle against mental illnesses from anxiety, to depression, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and hundreds of other types of disorders.

“I have ADD,” sophomore Megan Larsen said. “It is a disorder; it’s not some quirky thing that you have and it’s cute. It’s not. It’s a disorder, and I dislike having it.”

But not all problems people with mental disorders face are the symptoms of the disorders themselves. It is not uncommon to see negative stigma surrounding mental illnesses in public spaces.

“Teachers don’t really understand,” Larsen said. “It’s mostly with students though. If I would tell them, they would try to diagnose me. What really offends me though is when they try to diagnose themselves. They’ll say, I have ADD because I don’t like doing my homework. That doesn’t count.”

As there are often no visible symptoms to mental illnesses, it is often hard for those unaffected to try to compare the effects of mental and physical illnesses.

“They’re uneducated. They don’t get that it’s an actual mental hindrance and disorder. They don’t excuse you. You have to be physically hurt, like someone with a broken leg. If you have depression, ADD, anxiety, ADHD, they just dismiss it, seeing it not as a real thing but just as an excuse,” Larsen said.

If you have depression, ADD, anxiety, ADHD, they just dismiss it, seeing it not as a real thing but just as an excuse.”

— Meghan Larsen

But what exactly is causing all this stigma? Inaccurate usage of words such as “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder” (OCD), “panic attacks” and “bipolar” can be offensive to those who deal with these illnesses. The problem with this, to mental health advocates, is that people are using it as descriptors for people who do not have mental illness. In a Pathfinder survey, 50 percent of students have seen disorders used as adjectives.

“I have noticed a concerning amount of people using phrases such as I’m so OCD or She is so OCD very casually,” junior Parker Nenonen said. “OCD can be a very debilitating disease to those who have to live with it every single day. It would be fine to use it if it is not being destructive or hurtful to other people, such as those who actually have the disease.”

In fact, in the Pathfinder survey, 55 percent of students have seen people being bullied for a mental disorder they had.

“I think a lot of people treat mental illnesses as some sort of contagious disease. When someone finds out that someone has depression, anxiety or any other mental illness, they automatically think it makes them a different person and not someone that they can be friends with or be around. It caused them to distance themselves from those people. It’s not contagious and it’s not going to hurt you. It’s just something different about you,” freshman Rachel Neupert said.

Ignorance of mental health conditions can lead to disability, losing your job and less productivity according to a study by the Texas Hospital Association.

“People say, You’re fine, what’s wrong with you? It’s just one little thing. It could be just one little thing, but that little thing can hurt you. A lot of people have told me to get over it, and they don’t understand what you and I go through,” depression-diagnosed freshman Breann Ramage said. “Step into my shoes for a day. It’s tough. It’s really tough.”

Step into my shoes for a day. It’s tough. It’s really tough.”

— Breann Ramage

Mental health also can affect school-life drastically, and according to a study by National Alliance on Mental Illness, 50 percent of students who receive in-school assistance for their mental illnesses drop out.

“Students should be mindful of others who are going through tough things. People are all people, and you don’t know what people are going through,” freshman Tim McAuliffe said. “You have to step into other people’s shoes before you say whatever you are about to say. I feel like that would solve a lot of problems if people think before saying, This person is crazy.

Students who advocate for mental health awareness believe the school should take more action to support students who need help.

“There should be a place to get mental health resources. You don’t know the situation at home either. They might not be able to tell because of fear of safety. There should be a mental health resource office here that students can get information,” McAuliffe said.

The school has a clinical therapist, Katie Corbin, but she does not have her own office and works under Catholic Family Services rather than being Parkway-employed.

“I am at school everyday,” Corbin said. “I work primarily out of the counseling office, but I am mobile.”

You wouldn’t think there is a worry on her mind. But I will tell you that she probably does.”

— Katie Corbin

Corbin works in different offices different days rather than having her own room, which she believes would be easier both for her and students. Despite that, she still can see students who need therapy if they set up an appointment in the counseling.

“We always tell people the counseling center as a whole is a safe place. Kids will sometimes come in and just sit down,” Corbin said. “For the most part, there’s ways to have them in a room just to come in. Sometimes you do just need to get away and things can get overwhelming and you don’t want your peers to see you but you still want to get certain emotions out.”

But even with therapy and support, there is no cure to mental illness.

“Sometimes you assume you know what’s going on in people’s lives, and you might see a girl walking down the hall that looks like she has it all together. You wouldn’t think there is a worry on her mind. But I will tell you that she probably does. And teens are really good at covering that up. You should never assume anything,” Corbin said. “Have empathy, and know that you don’t see the same world they do, and they might have some really heavy things that they are dealing with that nobody knows about.”