(Photo by Jess Sanchez)
Why Those With Mental Illness Deserve Respect
By Jehn Kubiak
Speaking up for something you believe in seems scary, but actually it’s not such a daunting task, and I’ve accepted the challenge. I didn’t know I even had a mental illness until February last year, yet I recently became a mental health advocate.
Ever since I was a little girl in Sunday School at church, I realized that certain topics were taboo––including mental illness. I heard that people with mental illnesses were either loons or people who couldn’t trust God enough because they had so much sin in their lives.
I somewhat lived with this false narrative in my head throughout high school because, at that time, I didn’t know I would develop a mental illness later on. I’m naturally empathetic, so I understand and absorb others’ emotions. This ability helped me feel others’ anxiety and depression, but I didn’t have a name for it. I just knew they were very worried and fidgety, or I thought they were just very down on themselves all the time. While both of these statements are true, anxiety and depression are much more than that.
As I’ve opened up about my anxiety disorder, I’ve discovered that many people don’t really even know what anxiety is: they just operate off of the assumptions or other lies they’ve heard. However, if people really took time to know others deeply, then they would realize that many “normal people” in their lives actually have some sort of mental health condition. According to the ADAA, 18.1 percent of Americans struggle with some sort of anxiety disorder. That’s roughly one-fifth. On that note, NeuroCore states that the United States is one of the most anxious nations on earth.
Furthermore––after talking with several friends, classmates, coworkers, and acquaintances––I discovered that a majority of my female friends struggle with some sort of anxiety. Not to say that males do not struggle with it as well, but there’s a biological reason. I at first thought it was only because women are naturally feeling-oriented, but upon further research, I found out there’s an even greater cause.
According to the ADAA, women are twice as likely to struggle with anxiety disorders than men––and have co-occurring psychiatric disorders––because the brain system involved in the flight-or-fight response stays activated in women longer due to estrogen. Learning about this has helped me become even more passionate about speaking up for women, specifically if men tell them they’re overly emotional. Regardless, I will fight on behalf of both men and women.
I personally didn’t experience too much backlash for my anxiety disorder at first because most of the people I interacted with had a tolerant nature. However, I dealt with discrimination against my anxiety disorder earlier this year––and I had no idea that’s what it was until I read a flyer about Equal Opportunity Employment. Upon further research, I also discovered the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers mental illnesses as well. This made me wonder, “How many other people have faced similar situations and did nothing about it because they were afraid?”
In this situation, I actually spoke up for myself and told a higher-up about the situation. While they acknowledged both sides of the situation and asked me, “Are you sure this is what you encountered?” I didn’t change my stance. I knew what happened to me was wrong––and I don’t think the other person understood the implications of what they said, but I knew I couldn’t work in that area anymore, so I left that position. Standing up against people with authority was unnerving, but I also know God has a heart for the oppressed. I believe the oppressed includes people who suffer from anxiety, and I would even debate with my best friends over this issue.
As a college freshman, I originally thought I would become a sports or local news reporter––but plans quickly changed after anxiety took over my life. I believe God has given me a megaphone for the mental health community through my writing, and as a result, many articles came along with my recovery. After reading through comments and responses for these articles, I realized that so many people have benefited from the insight I shared with them, and it’s further confirmed my calling as a mental health advocate.
Last year, I also started a blog about mental and physical illness so I could help others understand more about what they’re going through and help people who don’t have these health conditions understand what they are. I felt God push me to write a book last December, and I finally set it in stone this past February. The book was published through Westbow Press on July 27 this year and contains details about how I healed from two autoimmune illnesses and how I’m still recovering from anxiety and depression.
When I first found out I suffered from an anxiety disorder, I didn’t even want to admit it, and I was reluctant to tell even my close friends. However, after working through my triggers and thoughts with three different therapists, I have become completely comfortable with my “Panic Disorder” label. Yes, some people may still think I’m incompetent because I’m “too emotional about everything,” but I honestly don’t care anymore. My successes tell a different story, and I will gladly educate those people about what anxiety really is. I even try to educate people by sharing articles and others’ stories about mental illnesses on my social media channels.
I grew up in a culture that believed you shouldn’t ever disrespect others by talking back to them, yet I discovered that principle isn’t as black-and-white as it seems. There are times when we need to stand up for ourselves––otherwise, we lose sight of who we are, and possibly even our dignity. God calls us to treat everyone in his image with respect, and that includes people with anxiety disorders.