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Will Whatley: Mental health struggles have a stigma; let’s change that

By WILL WHATLEY, Alabama Daily News

Springtime in Tuscaloosa is truly special. The girls don sundresses and the guys get their golf gear out of storage as flowers and plants bloom to greet a brand new season.

The campus comes alive with outdoor classes on the Quad. The senior students try to make the most of their final days in school while everyone else runs head-first into finding excuses to skip class and be outside.

Spring 2002 was a particularly great season. It was the second semester of my freshman year. I spent the previous semester in fraternity pledgeship, when my fall days and weeks were structured, and the spring was time for me to finally get to experience the college life.

As I found myself with a sudden rush of free time, I also found an emptiness which I couldn’t fully understand. At first I thought it was depression, and that was certainly part of my problem, but looking back on everything through 15 years of experience that can only come with trials and errors, I finally came to terms with my mental illness.

As a child, I was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD) and prescribed stimulants like Adderall and Dexedrine. For more than 20 years, I took prescribed amphetamines to help me manage my disorder. Unfortunately the side effects resulted in me growing increasingly anxious and having wild mood swings. It turns out I was bipolar and the stimulants were only exacerbating my condition. Luckily, with the love and support of my wife and family, I was able to come to terms with my mental health situation and begin to learn how to live life as I was meant to live it.

Why am I telling my story? Because it is beyond time we as a society address mental health and mental illness. Unfortunately it has taken a string of high-profile individuals losing their lives at their own hands for us to even think about beginning a discussion, but it’s better late than never.

There’s an undeniable stigma surrounding discussing mental health, especially for men. We aren’t supposed to have feelings, let alone talk about them. So let’s change that. I feel overwhelmed, hopeless, anxious and depressed for no reason. I take medication for my condition(s). It’s not a big deal. If your knee hurts, you take something for it right? Why is it any different if you feel depressed or anxious?

It really sucks feeling like a drain on society. I hate feeling worthless and that my life is pointless. I despise having panic attacks over something stupid like the dishwasher.

But, you know what? I can work on these feelings and get them under control through therapy and medication. I can recognize my feelings and let my awesome friends and family know because, for some reason, they like me and don’t judge me.

I’ve been to the hospital twice because I failed to maintain my mental health responsibly. I have attempted suicide. It wasn’t because I felt weak, it was because I felt that those I loved would be better off without me. But I have reached a point now where I want to live. I want to spite those who hate me and make the lives of those who love me fuller.

If you can relate to anything I have said in this column, I encourage you to reach out to anyone and get help. Talk about your feelings and learn to challenge those bad thoughts. Visit a doctor and let him/her know how you feel.

If you are prescribed medication, take it as directed and let the doctor know immediately if your situation doesn’t improve. But most importantly, know your life has value and there’s always an option.

Suicide is a permanent fix to a temporary problem, but you are strong enough to weather the bad times, no matter how hard they might get.

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