Anya Brown: Nobody chooses to have a mental illness

Bills in Utah Legislature would help people with mental illness.

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The internet introduced a new paradox into society. The ability to easily share information across the world is both a blessing and a curse. While we are able to tell stories regarding mental illness and support each other, many have taken the opportunity to romanticize mental illness, creating a strong apathy and causing many to think that these problems are superficial and self-inflicted.

But they are not.

A friend of mine, who I will call “M”, has severe anxiety. When they have panic attacks at school, the overwhelming feeling of impending doom disrupts their learning. At times, M has to use an inhaler to get their breathing under control. Other times, they will become violently ill from their anxiety. As their mental state begins manifesting itself through physical symptoms, their life is greatly impacted and they are prevented from functioning.

Two years ago, a strep infection broke my blood/brain barrier, severely damaging my frontal lobe. I lost 17 pounds in three weeks, my mother was feeding me, and I experienced auditory hallucinations. I was completely dysfunctional for months, in a constant state of fight/flight mode. I could not do anything besides wallow in fear and pain because my brain was incapable of thinking logically.

Our insurance told my father that my therapy would not be covered at all because I “didn’t really need it”. This invalidation enraged me. My life had only just begun, and I wanted it back.

Nobody chooses to have panic attacks. Nobody chooses to perform ritualistic compulsions. Nobody chooses to be so depressed that they cannot get out of bed. Nobody chooses to have mental illness because mental illnesses are not eccentric quirks that add to personality; they are problems that inhibit the ability to live.

As a society, we hold our thoughts in high esteem. We encourage thinking and listening to our minds, but when our minds begin to betray logic, it becomes dangerous. If not treated, the effects of worry and mental illness can snowball into an iceberg that could take down even the most titanic mind.

The solution is not to simply “think positive” or “not worry”, it is about challenging your thinking over and over again. It is about telling yourself that your mind is wrong, your feelings are not fact, and your worst fears are not reality. The solution is spreading awareness, normalizing neurodiversity, and creating ways for those suffering to get help without judgment.

Now is the time to stop treating these issues as something below other illnesses; mental illness is an illness. No matter how the illness presents itself, everyone deserves care and to feel validated. You would not tell a patient with a concussion that “positive thinking” would cure them and you would not tell a patient with heart failure that it is “all in your head”, so why would you when the brain, a vital organ, is failing? Why is a problem that stems from something subconscious any less real than one with a physical inception?

Without the functionality of our brains, the rest of our bodies would, and do, deteriorate. Everything we do stems from our brain, both conscious and subconscious. Heartbeat, speech, walking, breathing, sight, smell, feelings, hearing, writing, reading, ideas, problems, solutions — the root of all health is our mental health.

The Utah Legislature is meeting right now and discussing several bills dealing with mental health. HB81 would require governmental entities to comply with the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which states that mental health benefits cannot be less favorable than other health benefits. HB166 would remove restrictions on virtual therapy. Those battling mental illness would greatly benefit from both bills.

As these bills progress in the Legislature, I remind you that your voice matters. Be an advocate not just for change, but improvement. Spread awareness for the bills, contact your representatives, and take action for yourself and those you love.

For our senators and representatives, I ask you to think about not only the statistics, but the people represented within them. Each number is an individual with a story as unique as mine. Each singular percent is a story of struggle that could be helped or resolved by your decision.

Anya Brown

Anya Brown is a senior and the English Sterling Scholar at Uintah High School.