Do you know a college student or young adult who suffers from anxiety? Anxiety has become one of the most frequent complaints of both mental health and medical patients. It is something most of us experience on a daily basis and might suffer from more than we care to admit. Anxiety can creep up on us in the middle of a joyful event, on our way to work, on our way home after work, during rush hour, during grocery shopping, or even during a date-night with your hubby. Sadly, anxiety has no particular schedule. It comes and it goes when it pleases.
Meet Julia, she is a college senior suffering from anxiety, but using her personal experience to bolster her advocacy. I interviewed Julia about her anxiety and she shared some interesting points.
1. Most families experience great stress, confusion, and uncertainty when a family member experiences a mental illness. It’s just so hard to conceptualize. Could you please explain the beginning of your journey and how you accepted the diagnosis?
- May 17, 2012 was the scariest day of my life. I seen life and death flash through my body as I sat on an airplane back home to Boston. Little did I know I was having a panic attack. This continued throughout the summer and once school started everything came crashing down. I finally went to the counseling center and got help from my local hospital. Upon hearing the diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder I was baffled. I didn’t know what it meant to have a mental illness. I immediately thought of everything the media taught me what mental illness was. I had 4 months of panic attacks, emergency room visits, and fear. One day I decided that enough was enough. I was tired of being a victim of my mental illness. I decided to commit to therapy, get rid of toxic relationships, and really take care of myself. I said to myself “I have anxiety, but anxiety doesn’t have me”
2. What was the most difficult part of this life change for you and your family?
- The most difficult part was trying to get my family members to understand. No one in my family spoke about mental health or mental illness. Everyone just thought I was “sick”. It was hard to get them to take me seriously and to make them realize that just like physical health is important, mental health is important too!
3. Some people feel more accepted by friends, support groups, and acquaintances than by their own family. Do you think it’s harder to accept a family member’s mental health diagnosis?
- Yes, I do think it’s harder to accept a family member’s diagnosis because mental illness used to feel like something that only happened to other people. When it’s in your own home you have to throw away all your stigmas and help them through it.
4. Did you see changes within and outside your family due to this diagnosis?
- I finally got my mom to the point where she knew this wasn’t something that I was just going to get over. She even went to my appointments with me. My family seemed to be more concerned about my health in general.
5. How did you approach finding services within the system and was it easy or difficult?
- Very difficult. The insurance I have doesn’t have affordable coverage for mental health services. I am unemployed so I couldn’t really afford to pay for treatment. I wasn’t able to contact my college’s disability center. I was at a point where I would get anxious just being on campus, so it was difficult to find services when they didn’t return any of my emails or phone calls. I was finally able to get a therapist through the counseling center that was really helpful.
6. What was the hardest part about working with the system?
- The hardest part is getting the system to work for you. The system is already structured so getting it to your advantage is really tough especially when you don’t have the resources.
7. Did you feel supported by the system or did you feel services were all about “business only?”
- I definitely can see that it is business only. The system needs money and is run by money. I don’t feel supported.
8. Were resources offered to you or did you have to ask questions and do your own research?
I had to do my own research.
9. How about your overall outlook on life, how has that changed?
- I am so much more appreciative of life now. I see the beauty but I also see the darkness. Going through this mental illness has allowed me to explore life in ways that I haven’t before. I can now see that anything that you want in life, anywhere that you want to be, you have to fight for it because without the fight it’s just not worth it. I fought to recovery from anxiety and life is so much better now.
10. The mental health system slights families by not allowing certain members access to healthcare records due to HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996). For many families, it is difficult to access information about treatment without the sufferer’s permission. As a young adult and college senior, do you feel your family is a valued part of your treatment or are you alone? Would you like your family to have access to your mental health records in case of an emergency?
- I am alone with my treatment process. I rather have it this way because I did feel like I was a burden on my family so dealing with this on my own was the best. If things do get bad I won’t hesitate to let my family members know. I would let them have access to my record in case of an emergency. At the end of the day I think it’s about finding a healthy balance: having them there when you need but also not using them as a crutch.
12. Provide us with three things you think needs to change about the mental health system?
- Better quality mental health services in low-income neighborhoods
- Reeducation of the system workers
- Focus on the individual not the diagnosis
13. In a perfect world, mental healthcare, medication, treatment, and services would all be free. What is one essential thing you wish were free?
- I wish therapy was free. Everyone should be able to get a therapist, not only those with mental illnesses. Just having that person to talk to can benefit anyone positively.
14. How do you feel about your knowledge of the system? Do you feel you know what you should know?
- I know a lot about the system but I still have a lot to learn
15. What are three things you think you need from the mental health system to cope with a diagnosis?
- I need treatments to be readily available. I shouldn’t have to wait months for a therapy appoint.
- I need a greater effort in eliminating the stigma on mental illness
- I need more recovery-based programs on high school and college campuses.
16. As a bonus question, please tell us about our Anxious Ramblings podcasts in 3 sentences!
Anxious Ramblings is a biweekly conversation about mental illness.This show will challenge society’s views on the mentally ill and help to fight against the stigma. Anxious ramblings will explore the good, the bad, and the ugly side of living with a mental illness
Thank you Julia for sharing your experience with us. You mentioned some interesting things, but 2 things stood out to me:
- That you desire more recovery-based programs for youths
- You need readily available treatment options
I agree with you. We have very little programs that support “recovery” for youths, even on college campuses. We also have very poor treatment options for people who are either among ethnic groups (and have little to no access to treatment) or the college culture. College students are a “minority” group in mental health. Because of some advocacy groups geared toward this age group such as activeminds.org, we are learning about the needs of this population and how to help them. Keep advocating!
Tomorrow we will be looking at a mother who lost her son to suicide. She is not only a sweet Twitter pal, but an active mommy.
I wish you all the best
Biography: Julia Cardoso:
My name is Julia Cardoso. I am currently a senior undergrad student at Emmanuel College studying Sociology. Last May I was going through a rough time. I was in and out of the hospital with signs of panic attacks. Once school started I decided to go to the counseling center and found out I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. No one in my family was really supportive. I immediately noticed that I would have to fight this mental illness on my own. Being a minority I can definitely see how mental health is completely ignored. We either don’t get help at all or when we do it’s not the best available treatment. I do believe that due to the stigma, my family wasn’t able to help me through this tough time because they simply didn’t understand. I immediately turned to the internet for help. I joined online support groups and I started a blog on tumblr. I started getting better with the anxiety and I was finally feeling a little like my old self. Through my blog I was able to help people by sharing what I went through and how I got the help despite the stigma. In May 2013 I decided to create my own podcast to educate people about mental illness. My podcast is called Anxious Ramblings. I am also a mental health staff writer for Socialworkhelper.com. In addition, I am working with NAMI Greater Boston Consumer Advocacy. I am working on social media and outreach for young adults with mental illness. I am graduating college in December with the hopes of getting my masters in Clinical Social Work.