This Woman Is Talking Openly About Her Mental Illness In Order To Break Down Stigma

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It’s a topic we’re all familiar with, but not necessarily as educated or informed as we need to be. Mental illness is as serious as it is pervasive in our society, yet when we don’t understand the complexities of it, it can be damaging to the sufferer. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness here in the US, roughly 1 in 5 adults experiences a mental illness in a given year. One in 25 adults experiences a serious mental illness that interferes with or limits a major life activity, and 1 in 5 youth experience a mental disorder at some point.

Mental illness is certainly a global issue, as it is a disease that is no respecter of race, gender or socio-economic background. In April 2016 the World Health Organization is set to host a high-level conference on mental health with a focus on depression and anxiety. We are slowly starting to see barriers being broken down in certain levels when it comes to mental illness in order for medical communities to be better equipped to treat the problem.

In the US there is a serious disconnect between mentally ill people and the medical care they need. It is estimated only 41% of adults with a mental illness receive adequate treatment. That is not enough! Also, 46% of the homeless population in the states are living with a severe mental illness or substance abuse problem. So how is this broken system going to be fixed so that these people are given the chance at a normal life and access to the right medication?

The healthcare system is starting to change because of President Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act, but it is going to take more than just systemic change to create awareness and empathy. We need people speaking out about their experiences in order to break down stigma, as well as inform communities and families of what it will take to tackle this issue.

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That is exactly what one woman is doing. Theresa San Luis is a graduate student from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, and wants to be a role model for other mental illness sufferers. She is like many others who suffer: on the outside you may not know it, but on the inside there is more pain than one might think.

She holds two bachelors’, a master’s in communication, and is slated to graduate from SIUE in December with her master’s in public administration. To get where she is today hasn’t been easy, and one of the major hurdles she experienced was learning she even had a mental illness. It was during her time as an undergraduate English and music major at the University of Notre Dame in 1999 when her life changed.

Her school life was suffering as was her personal life, so she decided to see a psychiatrist. She ended up in hospital for 9 days, and the end of which doctors diagnosed her with schizoaffective disorder, a rare and difficult to diagnose combination of symptoms: hallucinations, anxiety, mania, and depression.

“It has components of bipolar and schizophrenia. With medication my condition is very manageable. For so many years, up until I was 19, I was left undiagnosed and for so many years I did not have treatment for symptoms that were debilitating at times,” she told KSDK news.

She credits her her church, medication, therapy and her university for giving her the right support in order to help her succeed today, something many people with mental illness never end up doing simply because of lack of access to the right help.

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So in an attempt to help others not feel so isolated, Theresa is sharing her experience and is willing to be vulnerable in the hope that others will do the same.

“It does make me afraid. I am vulnerable doing an interview like this. However, this is an upward battle and it’s worth taking because this message needs to get out about people getting the help they need with proper psychotherapy and psychiatry,” she said.

In an interview for the SIUE website, Theresa shares about what her childhood was like dealing with a mental illness she didn’t even know she had yet.

“Who ever anticipates when they’re a child that they would ask to see a psychiatrist? In preschool it was very difficult to nap. In grade school, junior high and high school, I would have thinking spells periodically where I would get stuck in thought patterns that were extremely irrational. I kept a lot of those signs to myself because I did not know how to express or talk about it,” she said.

Eventually her problem got too great to keep hidden which led to her finally going to see a psychiatrist, something she emphasizes is a sign of strength, not weakness.

“No one should ever have to get to that point of feeling humiliated, helpless, non-functioning. Under the guidance of the University psychiatrist at Notre Dame, I decided to be admitted to St. Anthony’s Behavioral Medicine in Indiana where I was diagnosed.”

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There is plenty of talk about mental illness in the United States, especially because we are (sadly) constantly hearing about mass shootings exacted by perpetrators who are mentally ill. It is something that is brought up a lot in news bulletins and social media discussions, but what is actually being done about it if we believe it is such a serious problem? If gun lobbyists are so insistent that guns are not the problem and that people are, what are they doing to fund research to better help health professionals and societies help mentally ill people so that they have adequate care and support, rather than be left to their own devices?

Theresa believes the media has a responsibility to report success stories about mental illness, not just these horrible crimes, as they will help chip away at the ingrained stigma we have seeing the same representations of mental illness being played over and over again in the news.

In fact she is living proof of what can happen when a mentally ill person gets the right care they need, and it is vital she and many others share their stories.

“I’ve dreamed of making advocacy a full-time job. All of this suffering – there has to be a purpose. I have been hurtfully rejected, mocked and even told it was my fault. But the more I gain composure within myself and grow strong, the more I can lend a voice to the movement,” she said.

“It’s a journey that not many people have role models for, but I hope to be a role model some day and say ‘look, you can get through this’.”

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There are many local support groups and advocacy organizations that are willing to help point people who suffer and live with a mental illness in the right direction. NAMI is a great start as they help you find local resources and share valuable information for you to be armed with.

Mental illness comes in many shapes and forms and each deserves to be treated in a way that is effective. This begins with you taking a leap of faith and speaking out. We encourage you, if you are suffering with a mental illness and don’t know where to get help, find someone in your life or community who you trust that can support you in getting to where you need to be. You are not alone in this battle, and that is something Theresa wants to make sure everyone knows.

“I want people with mental illness to know they’re not alone, and they don’t have to be ashamed. They can reach out. They can lead a life that is far more productive and far less painful. Mental anguish is not fun, but recovery and pursuing your dreams are!” she said.

Today is the day, the moment is now. Theresa San Luis is only one woman (yet a very powerful one simply because she is raising her voice), and you too can be an advocate if you have a mental illness, or you can be a form of support if you believe this is something worth fighting for.

Take a closer look at Theresa’s story below:


 

One Comment

  1. Pingback: I Talk About My Debilitating Struggle With Anxiety To Educate People About Mental Illness - GirlTalkHQ

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