I was talking to an incredible woman who I heard speak on a panel yesterday. She's a mental illness survivor, a social worker, and an author. I approached her after the talk to connect with another person who has actively put their voice and story out there.
She told me a couple of things that really stuck and got me thinking.
1. Don't be afraid, discouraged, or ashamed to share your story. It's brave.
2. It is SO important that we have people who can be vulnerable and share their stories in the healthcare world. It makes it easier for us to connect with our clients and help others feel comfortable coming forward.
I have had several people tell me that by sharing my story and experiences that I will have a greater impact on others. This is part of the reason that I decided to go into public health, specifically mental health. I feel as though I can create change in public health based on my lived experiences, as well as my knowledge of the experiences of those around me.
And the more I got to thinking about it, the more I realized there is such a huge need for more comprehensive education and training in this field. As I think back on the last couple of years of my life, I recognize that there have been experiences where I was not given the proper care right away, likely due to a lack of education.
So, I share my story for my first therapist, who couldn't see the connection between my sudden onset of panic disorder with my huge amount of weight loss. The therapist, who, when I was openly anxious and pretty concerned about my eating in particular, told me I wasn't "restricting enough". This sent me spiraling into my eating disorder further, because I felt completely invalidated that my struggles weren't real or serious. Even when they were.
I want to go into this work for the experiences I had at my doctor's office, when they saw me about a year into my active eating disorder. They marked on my chart several places that I had unusual/extreme weight changes, but never mentioned it to me. I only found out that they were concerned about this by looking at my own chart more recently. I was at the doctor several of these times for my anxiety disorder, and there was never any real mention about my eating habits or weight loss. I was asked two very general questions that didn't apply to the behaviors I was using, congratulated for my "hard work" and sent on my way again.
I slipped further through the cracks.
And I truly, honestly, do not believe that any of these misunderstandings were intentional at all. I do find it unfortunate that I went for several years without proper, comprehensive diagnoses, but I can't say I'm all too surprised about it.
People will often say, "Oh well, they were not an ED specialist, so how would they have known?"
But that's the point. Not everyone can actually have access to eating disorder or mental health specialists, and doctors, therapists, and health care workers are the first line of defense to getting people there. Only 1 in 10 people get treatment for eating disorders, and every single person who has an ED deserves and is worthy of treatment. But that can't happen with our current medical model and the biases that exist in the field about what mental health is, and what it looks like.
It shouldn't take someone an extended amount of time to get a diagnosis. There shouldn't be a delay between that diagnosis and the eventual treatment, if the person even gets that far.
As public health/health care professionals, we have a responsibility to help others in the best way possible. I'm not saying that everyone should know the DSM 5 cover to cover, but I think it's really important that there is a baseline of education and that people stay informed.
I am speaking up because in an MPH program, I am surrounded by brilliant minds; doctors, pharmacists, biologists, and humanitarians. There is a general lack of conversation about mental health, even though we learn about biology, and epidemiology, and biostats as requirements. We only learn about mental health as an option, as if it's an afterthought. We are all going to go in different directions when we graduate next May, but there will always be mental health concerns that arise, no matter what positions we accept next year. This may not be with your specific clientele, but maybe with your boss, or your coworker, or a loved one. Mental health is everything and affects us everywhere we go. We are the future public health professionals, and it is so important that we have a basic understanding and knowledge, even if we aren't directly going into mental health as a field.
If someone were to come to you concerned about food, stress, anxiety, or depression, what would you do? Where do you direct them? How do you help them? It's about having some of these tools to be able to recognize the red flags, the things that seem kind of "off", or just don't sit well with you as they're happening. Acting on those feelings, even just with a little support, can be huge for someone who is struggling.
It doesn't take a lot to make a difference.
If you are NYC based, consider checking out the Department of Health's mental health first aid trainings. They're free, and can help you so that you know what to do in different situations and how to truly help others. Check them out here.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, call (800) 931-2237 for the NEDA helpline.
If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, call 1-800-273-8255 to be connected with the National Suicide Hotline.
If you are in crisis, you can text 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line, where a highly trained volunteer will be able to talk to you and connect you with additional resources.
Remember you are not alone, and there is always help out there for you.
Hi, I'm Charlotte! I'm a 24 year old navigating life in NYC and mental health recovery. I am passionate about public health and eliminating stigma.