News Article Details

Speaking out

Edmond Sun - 1/17/2019

Jan. 10--Gwen has lived her life being taunted for living with mental illness, she said. Mental health has been a rough ride for her since age 4. That was during the time her parents divorced and she moved to Oklahoma, she said. Depression and anxiety disorders have taken a toll on her ability to make friends, she said.

Today this articulate 17-year-old wants to speak out to raise public awareness about the biochemistry of mental illness. (Editor's note: A pseudonym is being used in this story to protect the privacy of the individuals.)

Clinical depression is a biological disease -- the same as diabetes or cancer are diseases -- so it is not helpful to tell someone to snap out of it, she said.

'I JUST FELT LIKE MY WORLD WAS ENDING'

"I got bullied a lot and it was really tough on me. I got bullied a lot in grade school," Gwen said. "It got to the point where I had to switch schools and go to a Catholic elementary and middle school."

Bullying didn't stop there. But her school life improved when becoming a band member at an Edmond high school. She made a few friendships although her life was complicated with social anxiety.

"Still my mental health and depression kind of stuff -- that was like a hitting me in the back of the head kind of thing," she said.

Gwen said depression cannot be ignored. She feared speaking about it because people are judgmental. People fear the subject, thinking negatively about the person suffering from depression, she continued.

Her mother said they tried to treat her depression in outpatient settings for a week at a time in different places. She was cutting herself. One facility she was at for seven days wanted to "kick her out," her mother said. They called her one day and said Gwen was being discharged.

"I had a suicide plan which was not good, but I had gotten to the point that I was hopeless," Gwen said. "No one would help me. I just felt like my world was ending. I just felt like I wasn't going to be okay anymore."

Her mother refused to pick Gwen up for two days until a long-term facility accepted her. Gwen spent five months being hospitalized in Missouri for depression in 2017-18 because her family could not find long-term psychiatric hospital care in Oklahoma.

MISPERCEPTIONS ABOUT MENTAL ILLNESS

People tell Gwen that she cries just to be sad, she said. She tries to explain to people that her illness makes it especially difficult for her to get out of bed at times. They tell her to shake it off, walk it off, smile, and think about happy things. She wants people to realize that her depression is not a choice. It's a struggle, she said.

"I'm not choosing to be sad, and I'm not choosing to push people out of my life. Mental health is making me think that everyone is out to hurt me," Gwen added.

Gwen is diagnosed with major depressive disorder, major anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and post traumatic stress. Being raped a few months ago caused Gwen's PTSD, she said.

"That wasn't handled well either," she said. "And I became very outspoken about depression and mental health, honestly a few weeks ago. I've aways thought about it and wrote about it. But I have never been like, 'Hey, I need to talk about this.'

"I've always been afraid of judgment and people telling me, 'It's not an okay subject. You shouldn't be talking about this.'"

She was told colleges wouldn't want her, she said, adding that it is an isolating feeling brushing the subject "under the rug."

SPEAKING UP

During her sophomore year in 2017, Gwen was asked to filled out a suicide intervention survey tailored for students. Gwen said she stated she was suicidal. At the time she had visible cuts from harming her arms and a leg, she said.

"And the school did nothing about it," she said. "I was not talked to."

Gwen said it was difficult attending school when thinking her suicidal ideation did not matter to anyone. Nothing but Gwen has changed at the school now that she is back in class after hospitalization, she said.

"I feel that I am handling my mental health better. I'm more outspoken about it, so people know more about me -- like my teachers," Gwen said. "I don't blame my teachers most of the time. I blame the school in general for not warning the teachers.

"So I have to go in myself and say, 'Hey, my name is (Gwen). I'm one of your students. I have depression and all of these things so it makes it a little difficult for me to do assignments or to get through certain things during days when I'm acting off,'" Gwen said.

Gwen said she has close friends in band. One of her best friends attends Boulevard Academy, Edmond Public Schools' alternative education school.

Her mother said Gwen attended Boulevard Academy after she was hospitalized because she missed so much of her semester.

"They were very attentive," Gwen's mother said. "They were very involved. They gave her a safe haven."

One night Gwen had not slept and was suicidal. One of her teachers at Boulevard Academy approached her after seeing she was self-harming. Gwen said her teacher told her, "I see what you did. Everything's going to be okay."

She was taken to the counselor's office where she received an antibiotic for her arms. Gwen was allowed to sleep for a while in the conference room.

Gwen has returned to Boulevard Academy after transferring there this week. She said many people view Boulevard Academy as as school for rejects and people who won't make it in life.

"But the people, they're not what they seem," she said. "They genuinely care about you when you walk through those doors.

"And I look forward to going to school tomorrow because I'm going to have some of my teachers organize me," she said. "And they're going to be like, 'Hey, I'm glad you're back.' They genuinely care."

(Editor's Note -- To learn more about depression, go to National Institute of Mental Health website at https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml#part_145398.)

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(c)2019 The Edmond Sun (Edmond, Okla.)

Visit The Edmond Sun (Edmond, Okla.) at www.edmondsun.com

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