As many of you may have witnessed over the past couple of years, Harbord has been making some awkward attempts here and there to raise awareness/recognition/familiarity of the ever-so-popular, and ever-so-miscommunicated topic of mental health in teens. In my experience, the subject tends to be thought of by students as overcompensated for and exhausted to its limits. However, I think the issue here is not the fact that it’s being talked about too much – it’s that it’s being talked about, and, as a result, perceived, in the wrong way.
These repetitive slideshows full of pictures of celebrities with mental health difficulties and redundant middle-aged social workers only end up having the opposite effect of what they intend, making the idea of seeking help seem distant and undesirable. Where are these people who can supposedly help us? Am I supposed to memorize this long list of emergency phone numbers?
Obviously not, people. Luckily, the ways in which help is actually available to us are so much more comprehensible than that. It shouldn’t be a secret that you can actually just go to your doctor and ask. There is no invisible wall between your mental state and this “help”. It is there.
When I, myself, was struggling with some pretty heavy internal breakdowns halfway through the tornado that is highschool, I needed that help, and I needed it sooner rather than later. So when I told my family doctor exactly how bad it had been getting, and how helpless I felt in comparison to everything that was bogging me down and telling me to flat-out stop trying, she referred me directly to a psychiatrist at Sunnybrook Hospital. Problem solved, right? Not exactly. The woman I ended up seeing there seemed unusually eager to sell me medication, telling me that what I was experiencing was bipolar disorder and that I should book an appointment with her whenever I needed to talk (every three to four weeks, as she suggested). This last bit was the deal-breaker for me. If I couldn’t talk to someone on a regular basis, I didn’t want them to be in charge of my mental state. Period.
After a lot of waiting and phone calls to CAMH, which a friend had suggested to me, I finally booked an appointment with someone who had the ability to get me a psychiatrist who could see me weekly. As you’ve probably gathered by now, this was not an easy process. It takes quite the while to actually get to the front of the long line-up of people needing help. But the point is, I did get there eventually, and I gladly reaped the benefits of waiting rather than opting out. Finally, I was meeting with a psychiatrist every week.
The tricky thing about psychiatry is that you don’t necessarily get to choose who you’re going to get. There’s no meet-and-greet set up so you can choose a favorite with ease and comfort; you’ll start your appointments and that will be that. But if there’s one thing I learned about the experience itself from my year or so at CAMH, it’s that the number one reason why talking to a professional is so helpful is that they don’t know anything about you. They don’t know your friends, they don’t know your family or your history; they know only what you choose to tell them. The twenty-something-year-old woman I met every week for a year was neither considerably experienced nor all-knowing. But being able to talk to someone who was completely disconnected from everything else in my life was invaluable.
The process of getting “help” for any type of internal problems you may be having is not a checklist of remedies or vague repetitions of “And how do you feel about that?”; it’s an outlet for people who need to give their weakened brain a temporary crutch. It’s also a way to learn how to handle stress, sadness, anger, mood swings, or anything else you may be grappling with, in effective ways for a change. For me, it ended up being planning and meticulous organization. The point is, you really can get something out of psychiatry. It shouldn’t be an embarrassment to you or an absolute last resort. Just because they make it seem virtually unattainable doesn’t mean it actually is.