Bill Atmur

“The opposite of depression is not happiness but vitality,” said Andrew Solomonduring a TED Talk a few short years ago and it had a lasting impression on me. Solomon is not a doctor, but someone who experiences mental illness and has written extensively about it in his famous book, The Noonday Demon. I highly recommend this book to anyone with concerns or interest in depression and anxiety. 

Like Solomon, my mental illness began as a slow creep — the kind of creep that happens when you start to feel a cold. Everyone experiences the start of a cold differently — just the same as everyone experiences mental illness differently. Maybe your colds start in your throat, your head, your nose. I began to feel depressed after high school, though it was not a severe depression initially. The severe depression came in waves that plagued me periodically, and I usually thought was part of my personality. I thought being sad and having anxiety were just a part of who I was. I could still laugh and enjoy my life, work and function, balance a bank account and pay bills. 

So, what difference did it make if my happiness was uncertain?  The problem was that I continued to ignore my depression. I became angrier and more easily irritated. I found it harder to keep jobs, and simple tasks became overwhelmingly difficult for me. I had an inability to focus, and every time I thought about where I was in life, I became even more profoundly depressed. I relied on others to convince me I was happy. I used my boyfriend, my family, and my closest friends to feel assurance that I was normal. 

Mentalillness for me is like autopilot. I was always sad, frustrated, or irritated, so I let myself stay in this state while I pretended to be happy. Obviously, this task became more and more difficult, and it showed as I began to lose control over my life. 

Depression, or mental illness in general, is viewed as a social problem and therefore is treated as such. Social problems such as mental illness continue to be stigmatized: they are hardly addressed and profoundly misunderstood.  Mr. Solomon addresses the need for specific examinations of society, specifically between children, the elderly, and genders. Likewise, gender identity and drug abuse are also a main case for study. Depression also aids in suicides and must continue to be studied in terms of fatality. 

I believe that what continues to prolong my episodes of depression is my anxiety. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year. Anxiety is crippling for anyone who experiences it. It is the complete sense of overwhelming thoughts which collide and bounce continually off the walls of your skull. 

Anxiety, as I experience it, is compulsive and happens either out of familiar events or sudden unexpected ones. This feeling is terrifying and becomes so overwhelming for some people that depression then occurs.  There are ways to prevent depression and anxiety. Even here at the College there are the inSTALLment letters for the Whittier Wellness Coalition. This group is available on campus and is designed for students as a means of support in terms of counseling. These newsletters are in the restroom facilities across campus. For men, they are directly above urinals for ample viewing. 

I have mixed feelings about the location of these newsletters because it seems counterproductive to place them in restrooms, where everyone typically tries to spend the least amount of time. It also seems odd to place something as important and stigmatized as mental illness on a sheet of paper in a place typically used for waste. This attitude toward mental illness is subliminal insofar that mental illness is plainly a problem summarized on a piece of paper for people to simply view. The depressed or anxiety-ridden person sees this article and feels diminished by its lack of recognition and, furthermore, its placement. 

Personally, being someone diagnosed with manic depression or bipolar disorder, I am ashamed of these pamphlets taped on the walls of a restroom. The lack of awareness, recognition, and overall poor judgement in placement seems overwhelmingly distasteful. Although the inSTALLments might mean well and try to raise awareness through an unusual means, it remains that people will subconsciously view mental illness as something to think about when you have nothing better to do.