#MHYALit: Please Let’s Stop Telling People with Mental Health Issues to Just X, Y or Z
Trigger Warning: Suicidal Thoughts Mentioned
On Friday, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed when I saw a headline from Jezebel: Save Your Xanax and Watch Some Calming Ink Videos Instead.
I suffer from a Generalized Anxiety Disorder and there are a few periods in my life where I have been prone to panic attacks. Yesterday was one of them. Yesterday I struggled to even want to stay alive.
My first panic attack occurred shortly after having a miscarriage. I was rushed to the ER, convinced that I was having a heart attack. Last summer I suffered a couple of months of debilitating panic attacks. My heart races, my chest and upper arms burn, I can’t sleep, I feel the need to flee, to escape. They are an awful experience. I wish I could capture for you how truly mentally and physically painful a panic attack is.
Xanax is what is often called a rescue medicine for people who suffer from anxiety attacks. It helps to calm the effects of the attacks and can help you sleep. People with anxiety and panic attacks often have a hard time sleeping, which makes the anxiety and panic attacks worse. Last summer my doctor tried me on three different sleep aids with the understanding that sleep would help my body get the anxiety and panic attacks under control.
For many people, Xanax is a literal life saver. During the worst of my panic attacks I have thought that they only way to stop the attacks and find peace was to just end my life. Yes, they can be that bad. A rescue med like Xanax can be the difference between life and death for some people.
But stigma against mental health and especially medication for mental health is still very prevalent, and it is something that we should be concerned about. And headlines like this don’t help. If you are someone who has suffered from depression or anxiety, you know that far too often well meaning friends and family will say, “If you just x, y or z, then you would be okay.” X, y or z can be anything: focus on the positive, get out of bed and do something . . . or watch a calming ink video.
Here’s the deal, anyone who has suffered from depression or anxiety long enough has in fact developed some coping strategies of their own. And what works for one person is entirely different then what works for another person. At my very worst, I stick to a strict routine and spend a lot of time binge-watching TV. The distraction is in fact helpful. When I can muster up the energy, walking also helps. But that’s what works for me. And sometimes I am in such a bad place that I can’t get to the walking part. It depends on where in the cycle I am at. And rescue meds can be the thing that helps me get through a moment or a day.
I was deeply troubled by this headline because it perpetuates the very stigmas that those of us struggling with mental health issues have to fight against. When I am at my worst I don’t need you to tell me if I just do x, y or z I will be okay. That’s not actually helpful. It feels like judgment and shame. What I need from you is for you to tell me that you care and that you are there for me, whatever I need. I need to know that you love, respect and value me no matter what. I need to know that when I get this episode under control that you will still be my friend, that you will stand with me in the darkness until I can see that there is light again.
Headlines like these are even more damaging, irregardless of the context of the article, because of the way people use social media. A large number of people will scroll through their feed and read the headline, which reinforces their beliefs about the need for medicine, and never read the article. The article in itself is really about these inking videos, the author stumbled across the videos and was mesmerized by them. These videos could have been presented to the public in a way that didn’t feed into much of the stigma that those with mental health issues fight against every day.
I have recently spent some time with The Teen talking about really analyzing the media that we consume. I think that it is important as information consumers that we engage in this practice. And she knows about my struggles with depression and anxiety, so this is a headline and article we talked about. We need to do better by one another. Share the things you love, but do it in a way that doesn’t reinforce the problems that those of us with mental health issues are already struggling against.
Filed under: #MHYALit
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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