Let’s be real here, it takes a superhero to change the world. But superheroes in our world don’t necessarily have wondrous physical capabilities, or mind-bending magic. Now, know before I say this, this is not a, “stay focused in school so you can get into a good college,” talk. That’s your parents’ job, and I’m definitely not old enough to be that. What I do want to point out is this: as humans, our superpowers…come from our brains. How?
First, look around you. Use your Superman vision. Count yourself, and then four other people. Crazily enough, one of the five of you has a mental disorder. So, if Westlake has approximately 3,000 students, about 600 of us struggle with some sort of mental illness. 600!
There are two kinds of superpowers I’m going to teach you how to use: the power of mental illness, and the power of not having one.
Those of you who don’t have one? Step right up, because you’re first on the list! Before I teach you how to use your superpower, you’re going to need to a little background knowledge.
The Battle Unseen
All superheroes have a villain to fight—some sort of battle that needs to be won. Let me explain the battle that’s going on in your world.
There are a whole bunch of different ways that our brains can be messed up, and it’s weird to think that the people around us have stuff like this going on inside their heads when we thought they were just like us.
One of the most common mental disorders is Depression. Depression also comes with misconceptions, because I’m with you, it’s hard to wrap your mind around. While people with Depression do seem to be sad all the time, it has been described as more than just sadness. It cripples people with feelings of darkness, emptiness, hopelessness, and worthlessness.
Another common one is anxiety disorders. Basically what’s going on, is that people with anxiety disorders experience stage fright, stress, and nightmarish fear on a regular basis that wasn’t necessarily caused by anything. They also struggle with panic attacks, which are a whole other battle.
There are those among us who live with ADD and ADHD, who struggle to focus, and in the case of ADHD, keep quiet and sit still. Their brains seem to work a lot faster than the world around them.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, causes people to be stuck in the same event or situation in their mind. They’re on edge all of the time because of something traumatic that has occurred to them.
People with bipolar want everyone else to understand that they don’t just have mood swings: they go through periods of such intense ups and downs that last weeks, months, or years.
Some people have eating disorders and only ever see themselves as fat when they look in the mirror—and they can’t help it.
Typically, “neat freaks” are called OCD, but OCD is a severe anxiety disorder that is life consuming. Someone with OCD may repeat actions obsessively to satisfy the intense fear inside of them, perhaps because they believe something bad will happen if they don’t do that certain thing.
Schizophrenia is a hallucination disorder, auditory and/or visual, and the person can be constantly stressed because their brain tricks them into believing that there are scary things lurking everywhere that are after them.
There are people around you who are hurting themselves physically in some way for one reason or another. Some reasons could be to punish themselves, relieve internal pain by inducing external pain, or using the pain to hide from a pain or stressor in their life.
Some of the people you go to school with deal with constant suicidal thoughts or the aftermath of past suicide attempts. They get to a point in their lives where death seems like a solution, an escape, the only option.
I live with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Claustrophobia. My anxiety often has either no trigger, a heavy one, or simply feeling like I am not able to breathe—even when I have plenty of space around me.
Remember that one in five example? One of you has something like that going on. Now that you have the gist of what’s happening in Gotham City, it’s time to answer the bat symbol.
How to Fight the Battle From the Outside
Your opponent is invisible. And you can’t fix the disorders themselves, but there is a great deal that you can do. Mayor Gordon has even prepared a list of things you can do to clean up Gotham.
1. Understand the battle. If I walk into math A1, my first day of school and sit down to the unit one test without being taught anything, how much will you bet I’ll have an F in math by the end of the day? (My guess is all of your money.) As I’ve found, learning the math before the test gets me a B instead of an F. If I do the same thing in Honors math…let’s just say based on my skill level, the world’s first F- will be given. So study, and that Honors math class will look good on college applications.
This idea goes for mental disorders, too—or any kind of struggle other people are going through—if you don’t know anything about what’s going on, how can you help them? I’ve got your back on this one, that whole two pages of basic information about mental disorders will help you understand others a little more, but having a friend or family member with a mental disorder is like taking Honors math. It requires some extra knowledge and effort, but the results are worth it for sure.
(NAMI and NIMH are great sources, as well as asking someone who has a disorder about their experience.)
2. Kill the stigma! (This is where you let out your best battle cry—which you can also use when approaching the aforementioned math class.) A stigma surrounds mental illness like indecisive weather surrounds Utah. But what exactly is this stigma? As human beings, naturally we decide between good and evil, correct and incorrect. When some person, quality, or situation falls into our evil or incorrect categories, we shun it.
Unfortunately, people who live with mental disorders are often trapped by this stigma because those of us who don’t have a mental disorder are uncomfortable and confused about the topic. Consequently, in order to make themselves feel more comfortable around someone with a mental disorder, they bully them, make jokes about mental illness and suicide, or pressure them to be normal. Once you learn a little more about mental disorders, and what you can do to help them, you can help kill the stigma by standing up, and standing with them.
3. Standing up and standing with. If you don’t have a friend or family member with a mental illness, I’m not asking you to go out and become an expert on it. What I would like to ask of you is to stand up for them against the discrimination against mental disorders, and stand with them in their battle against their brain.
What’s the deal with standing with them? Life for people with mental disorders is a hundred times harder than it is for “normal” people. They need love and acceptance, people to treat them like they’re normal, and someone to talk to. To add to that, sometimes people with mental illnesses struggle with self esteem, and they need your help to tell their brains that they’re worth it and they’re awesome.
4. As a side note, the jokes and putdowns are not really appreciated. Being called crazy, retarded, selfish, weak, and told that they have a lack of judgement. And suicide jokes can be a trigger for those who have dealt with suicide in some way. (And not triggered as in, ‘Oh that makes me mad.’) People telling those with mental disorders to just get over it, that it’s all in their heads, is frustrating like getting continuously texted by your ex. Continuing on for them idea of standing up and standing for, please make an effort to put an end to the bullying, the mocking, and the belittlement. Doing this will change lives in unfathomable ways that will make you look back in awe.
The Other Superpower
Alright, all my peeps with mental disorders, it’s your turn. (Woot woot!) All y’all without one, stick around, because we’re going to tie all this together at the end. My folks with mental disorders, where are you? Guess what? There’s something you can do to make your world a better place. Yep, you get homework too. Fortunately for you, you don’t have to do as much studying, because you’re living the disorder(s).
I’ve already talked about educating yourself, killing the stigma, and standing up and standing with. But now I’d like to show you how you can do that.
I need you to learn as much about your mental disorder as you can. Figure out what it does to you, what it does to others, and how you can stop it in its tracks and use it as a superpower rather than a super weakness.
And that stigma we all hate so much? The one that says, “Now don’t you dare talk to that person who looks like they’re struggling with the same thing you are,” and, “You’re not allowed to talk about this craziness going on in your head!” What if I told you that together we can kill that?
ClickforTaz, TEDxTalks, TED, John Green, TWENTY ØNE PILØTS, Thomas Sanders, Burton Poetry, Stephanie Zelinksi, Meghan Rienks, and Zoella are just a few of the many great examples about opening up about mental illness and suicide. Piece by piece, they’re killing the stigma. And I’m asking you to join the ranks. I’m not saying you have to get up tomorrow morning and announcer your mental disorder to the world, by maybe this means telling a friend, “Hey, this is what goes on in my head, and this is what you can do to help me and others like me.” Or, tell that guy that sits by you in English, I don’t care. Whatever feels right to you—though you may have to reach out of your comfort zone.
Remember that there are about 599 other people in Westlake alone that are like you. Reach out to them, help them, ask them for help, connect with them. Some of my best allies in defeating mental illness were people I met in the Counseling Office.
If Batman Would Just Unite With Someone
(Yes, the only superhero I know is Batman.) Batman can handle Gotham City pretty well, but even with his ego and whatnot, he still relies on Robin/Nightwing, Alfred, the government, and the police. Those without a mental disorder can’t fix the problems of the stigma of mental illness without those who have a disorder any more than I can tell Kim Jong Un to get over himself. We all have to work together, and become one—which is exactly what the stigma doesn’t want us to do. If we all came together for this, we can make an incredible impact on Westlake, and then the world.
One person alone can’t change the world, but together, using our superpowers of obtaining knowledge about this problem going on in the world, doing our part to kill the stigma, and standing up for people and staying with them, we can save the world.
* Talk to a Westlake counselor, or have a friend, teacher, or parent contact them for you. They love helping you. I mean, it can’t be worth the pay to sit and listen to people’s problems, can it?
* Look into therapy/counseling locally. There are tons of options, so you can find the right fit for you.
* Talk to a parent or doctor about medications.
* Suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255