mental illness depression
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When it comes to living with mental illness, the notion of gratitude may seem obscure. After all, depression hasn't always made me a good person, or parent. It has affected my friendships and relationships, making me a shitty daughter, mother and wife. It has negatively impacted my work. I've quit (and lost) jobs due to my poor mental health. And I withdraw from everyone — and thing — when I'm in the midst of a depressive episode. I turn off the lights and hide beneath the covers, shutting the door on those I care about and love. In short, depression sucks. Living with a long-term mental illness sucks. But it's not all bad. In spite of the hurt, loneliness, isolation, shame and pain, there are many upsides to living with mental illness, and I am thankful for depression — and my diagnosis. I am thankful for my mental health condition.



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You see, depression has given me many gifts. Because of my illness, I am able to appreciate the little things more. When I am well, I stop to smell the proverbial roses. I take in the "sights." Because of my illness, I know my value. I realize my worth, i.e. when I am well, I recognize my power — and my strength. I know that I am more than a feeling, mood or diagnosis. I also know that I have survived "episodes" before and can survive them again because I am a fighter. I am strong. And I've made friends because — not in spite — of my illness. Some of the best relationships in my life were forged in the fire. They were formed during depressive episodes and solidified over shared struggles. Over the difficulties we faced and our plight.

Depression has made me resilient. My mental illness has taught me that no matter what life throws at me, I have a chance. It might not be the best chance, or an opportune one, but it is a chance. And it's what you do with those chances that counts. (And yes, sometimes getting up is resilient. Showering and showing up is courageous and strong.)

Depression has made me passionate. When I am well, it is clear to me how lucky I am and I do not want to waste one moment. I pursue my dreams with fervor and intention. I live life like tomorrow was not promised. I fight for my ambitions, aspirations, happiness and dreams.

Depression has made me humble. Over the course of two decades I've learned that I cannot do this alone. I need — and deserve — help. If you live with a mental illness, know that you do too.

Depression has made me appreciate my friends and family more because their love is vast and endless. Even when I am sick and withdraw, from them and the world, they do not give up on me. Their love knows no bounds.

Depression has made me empathetic. Having struggled — a lot — I sympathize when others are hurt or in pain. My capacity for compassion is like a well, endless and deep.

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And depression has made me a better person and parent. Because of my depression, I am a better mom. How so? Because my depression is teaching my daughter many things. During my episodes, she learns about self-care, and how to ask for help. It's okay to take a break, for example. She is learning the power of self-awareness and the gift of saying no. When I am well, my daughter and I talk (ad nauseum) about her feelings. We discuss emotions like sadness, anger, hurt, and pain. And she is learning how to process each one.

Make no mistake: I don't like living with depression. I wish I would wake up one day and the veil would be lifted. My disease would be gone. I also know I'm extremely lucky. I have the tools and resources necessary to combat my illness. My therapist and psychiatrist are excellent. My medication is well-managed and working, at least right now. But after 20-plus years living with depression — and a smattering of other mental health conditions — the lessons which I've learned which cannot be dismissed. I wouldn't trade my experience for anything in the world.

So take that, dearest depression. Take that, my old "friend." Because I'm living better with you and in spite of you. I'm surviving and thriving today because of my diagnosis and disease.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

That first car is a rite of passage into adulthood. Specifically, the hard-earned lesson of expectations versus reality. Though some of us are blessed with Teslas at 17, most teenagers receive a car that’s been … let’s say previously loved. And that’s probably a good thing, considering nearly half of first-year drivers end up in wrecks. Might as well get the dings on the lemon, right?

Of course, wrecks aside, buying a used car might end up costing more in the long run after needing repairs, breaking down and just a general slew of unexpected surprises. But hey, at least we can all look back and laugh.

My first car, for example, was a hand-me-down Toyota of some sort from my mother. I don’t recall the specific model, but I definitely remember getting into a fender bender within the first week of having it. She had forgotten to get the brakes fixed … isn’t that a fun story?

Jimmy Fallon recently asked his “Tonight Show” audience on Twitter to share their own worst car experiences. Some of them make my brake fiasco look like cakewalk (or cakedrive, in this case). Either way, these responses might make us all feel a little less alone. Or at the very least, give us a chuckle.

Here are 22 responses with the most horsepower:

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As a Gen X parent, it's weird to try to describe my childhood to my kids. We're the generation that didn't grow up with the internet or cell phones, yet are raising kids who have never known a world without them. That difference alone is enough to make our 1980s childhoods feel like a completely different planet, but there are other differences too that often get overlooked.

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One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

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"Veteran" mom and "new" mom parent differently.

When a couple has their first child, they start out with the greatest of intentions and expectations. The child will only eat organic food. They will never watch TV or have screen time and will always stay clean.

But soon, reality sets in and if they have more kids, they'll probably be raised with a lot less attention. As a result, first-born kids turn out a bit differently than their younger siblings.

"Rules are a bit more rigid, attention and validation is directed and somewhat excessive," Niro Feliciano, LCSW, a psychotherapist and anxiety specialist, told Parents. "As a result, firstborns tend to be leaders, high achievers, people-pleasing, rule-following and conscientious, several of the qualities that tend to predict success."

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