photo by Anju Lukose-Scott
As bad as it sounds, I could probably trace the roots of my anxiety back to my father. Any interaction with my father, who is quick to raise his temper and even quicker to start yelling, has my nerves on high alert. My heart starts pounding, my eyes shift nervously, and my breath quickens. Although I recognize the symptoms, I have yet to find effective ways of dealing with them.
But even beyond the exchanges with my father, my anxiety and other mental health concerns have become a part of who I am. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t tremble at the prospect of talking to the worker at the cash register or when I didn’t shake after participating in a class discussion. Like a mischievous shadow, my mental illnesses follow me, and over time, it has become easier to just accept their presence rather than confront them.
But growing older, I realized how frustrating dealing with undiagnosed and untreated mental illnesses can be. Constantly having to ask myself “Is this a genuine flaw of my character or the consequences of my depression?” became a tired routine that I couldn’t escape. On bad days when nothing could motivate me to crawl out of the hole that imprisoned me, I yearned for a solution, anything, to help me. Superficial advice (“Think positively!” “There will be better days!” “You’ll be okay!”) that plagued the internet offered no real assistance. Instead, it just made me more irritable. Without any resources to personally guide me through tough times, I was left hanging by a thread that was bound to snap.
From just one glance around my surroundings, it’s apparent that I’m not the only one—teenaged or otherwise— who has to silently deal with these issues. Sometimes my friends and I bond over our shared “in the feels” moments, talking about our depressive thoughts and feelings but still trying to comfort one another. Even my siblings express their exhaustion with their mental health with me, and despite struggling with the same frustrations myself, I try to offer genuine advice. We find peace in confiding in each other because it’s a nonjudgmental space. Unlike our desi community which offers no support in regards to this issue, since serious conversations regarding emotions are rare and even viewed as taboo, and our problems become victims of mockery from the adults who insist we’re fine or we’re faking it. Even schools, which seemingly support mental health guidance, are useless because their attempts sound and feel impersonal. No, I will not try to talk this out with my parents, because they’re the cause of the problem. No, they will not hear me out. No, I’m not wasting my time and energy. Yes, I’ll try writing out my feelings. Thank you and have a nice day!
What I, and millions of people across this country, need is professional assistance. Currently, therapy and similar services are a web of mystery. Where does the search for help start? Who do we ask for a reference? How much will insurance cover? Questions like these seem to have simple answers, but it’s a long and complicated process. We joke that “we need to see a therapist” but there’s more truth than lies to that statement. The problem for the younger generation isn’t admitting that we need help — it’s getting it. The cost and accessibility of therapists are hard to comprehend, and horror stories of bad therapists are told across every social media platform. So what can a seventeen-year-old, low-income girl do to discreetly tackle her issues? I wish I knew.
I think it’s time that mental health accessibility and affordability become a more publicized issue in social, economic, and political discourse. Aesthetic Instagram posts that try to guide people through depressive episodes aren’t enough anymore. And those little posters pasted on school bulletin boards encouraging us to talk about our feelings? Yeah, those were never enough. Millions need actual help from trained professionals and the effects of mental health need to be talked about more. In school, guidance counselors, try as they might, aren’t effective, and no teenagers are willing to seek their service. Local government, and maybe even federal, needs to start implementing better services for students, teenagers, and others who need it.
I have never been ashamed of my mental illnesses. I recognize that they’re there but there’s still so much about them that I do not understand yet. And I’m tired of it. I want to stop asking myself whether there is a character flaw I have to work on or another mental health problem that I’m not aware of. So many silent sufferers are struggling with these battles and it’s time that their plights are addressed.