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Anxiety is a Physical Reality

More often than not, when I have an anxiety attack it’s the physical symptoms that first alert me to it. My heart feels like it’s pounding out of my chest, it feels difficult to catch a breath, and I have this unnerving feeling that I can do nothing to calm down. For me, my anxiety is very much a physical reality as well as a mental one, which is why our contradictory reactions to mental and physical illnesses as a society are so inconceivable to me.

It’s okay to discuss physical pain—“I’ve got such awful cramps”, or “my leg hurts from working out yesterday,” but what you don’t hear people saying is, “I’m feeling really hopeless today,” or “I feel so alone.” We are probably all familiar with the “S” word—stigma, that is. When we talk about stigma, this is what we are talking about–this feeling that it’s somehow an admission of weakness or the fault of the person who is feeling this way. This perception and self-blame can often keep us from having important conversations with our friends and loved ones, and can worsen the issue.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)’s recent report, about 42.5 million American adults (or 18.2 percent of the total adult population in the United States suffers from some mental illness every year. And for those aged 18-25, the rate of mental illness is more than twice as high compared with those aged 50 and older (14.3 percent). With one-fifth of our population facing related issues, it’s time we change the way mental health is viewed in the United States.

Just for a minute, envision a world where mental health is discussed with the same gravity and respect as physical health; where there is no fear in seeking and receiving support; and where access to quality treatment is available to all. We can create this world by educating ourselves about the signs and symptoms of common mental health disorders, raising awareness, and supporting one another. National Depression Screening Day is October 9th and provides a great opportunity to help reduce stigma.

No matter what people say or how our society portrays it, mental illness is just as real as physical illness. It can cause the same amount of pain, can interfere with our daily lives, and most importantly, it can be treated.

Katie Hickey, Screening for Mental Health