Editor’s note: The name of the author has been omitted to protect their identity.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, depression or anxiety, seek help. It might not be easy, but trust me: There are good people out there willing to help. I hope my story can provide hope for those who are struggling.
The police arrived at 1:30 a.m. They were responding to a call made by a frantic 21-year-old female claiming her boyfriend was trying to hurt himself. She told them she was worried he might try to commit suicide. She was right, and had she not been there, he probably would have. I know this because it was my girlfriend who called the police and I was planning to kill myself with a mixture of prescription drugs and alcohol.
My story is not unique. Many people at the University of Michigan, in this country and around the world can relate to what I am about to discuss. I write this account not in search of pity, but in an attempt to shed light on cultural and societal issues regarding mental illness.
My struggle with depression began when I was 15 years old. I had just entered high school and I was starting to get bullied. To be clear, real-life bullying is very different from the sort of bullying depicted in popular culture. I was never physically bullied, it was always emotional — but to be honest, I think physical would have been easier to deal with. At least then I would be able to fight back. I know what some of you are thinking — I must be one of those sensitive generation Z’ers who is afraid of confrontation and needs a participation trophy. I’m not. In fact, many people would consider me to be a physically imposing and verbally-assertive individual. Still, none of that mattered. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you look like or where you come from, emotional abuse is damaging and, in many cases, more harmful than physical abuse. After the bullying started, I was put on antidepressants and A.D.D. medication because I was finding it difficult to focus in school. With the exception of my doctor and my parents, nobody knew about these newfound issues I was dealing with. They rarely do.
As time went on, my mood began to improve. Eventually, I was able to stop taking the antidepressants. While I still experienced low mood and sadness from time to time, nothing too concerning happened until last fall.
That fall semester of my junior year had not been going well. As November rolled in, I did not have an internship lined up and my grades were plummeting. I’d been working harder than ever before, yet nothing was paying off. I didn’t know what to do, and that’s when the panic attacks started. I first experienced tightness in my chest, followed by difficulty breathing and uncontrollable shaking. Often times, this would go on for hours and I would lose feeling in parts of my body. Initially, I thought it was a one-time thing and tried ignoring it; however, the problem became unavoidable when I began to experience these attacks three or more times per week. Perhaps the most concerning part about these attacks was my ability to conceal them. I lived with several of my friends at the time and, to the best of my knowledge, none of them had a clue any of this was happening.
Eventually, I was prescribed a new medication to deal with my anxiety and depression, but I experienced a number of negative side effects, so I stopped taking it after two days. With anxiety, depression and the overwhelming responsibilities coming from my schoolwork and internship search, I did not feel like I had enough time to notify my doctor of the change. So I didn’t.
When the police arrived at 1:30 a.m. that night, they were greeted by an open container of Xanax on the floor of my room. I was only in my underwear when they told me that I had to come with them. To the best of my knowledge, they treated me with as much kindness as they could, but it still felt as though I was being treated like a criminal. After searching me, they put me in the back of their squad car. I was already feeling worse than I had 10 minutes prior (and that was the worst I had ever felt in my life). They took me to the emergency psychiatric services unit of the hospital where a tether was placed on my wrist to prevent me from escaping. They sat me down in a chair and told me that I would have to speak with a doctor. After waiting for two hours, I went to the front desk to politely ask when I might be able to see a doctor. The receptionist gave me an unkind glare and said, “I don’t know,” as if I was out of line for asking her this question. I was not seen by a doctor until noon the following day.
After being in the most depressed I have ever been in my life, I was placed in a psychiatric hospital waiting room for 10 hours with no bed.
When I finally met with the doctor, I was not listened to. I would even argue the doctor made subtle attempts to belittle me. He told me I would need to go to a psychiatric hospital in Pontiac, one hour away, for at least one to two weeks. I would be separated from my family, my girlfriend and all of my friends. I would also be unable to work on any schoolwork, one of my main sources of anxiety.
After being the most depressed I had ever been in my life, I was separated from all of my loved ones.
When I arrived at the hospital, I was escorted in by a security guard. All of my possessions were taken from me (including my clothes and underwear), and I was assigned a room with a roommate. To be frank, this hospital was primarily for aggressive, manic and even legally insane patients.
After being the most depressed I had ever been in my life, I was taken out of the University community and unwillingly surrounded by individuals who didn’t understand what I was going through.
My experience in this hospital was not good. I wanted to leave, my parents wanted me to leave and my girlfriend wanted me to leave. Legally, I could not leave. I participated in a number of “mentally stimulating” activities such as arts and crafts and coloring on blank paper. But here is the real kicker.
After being the most depressed I had ever been in my life, I was called crazy by a social worker.
I am not crazy.
The hospital food was very poor and, even though I had loved ones who were more than willing to bring me food, I was not allowed to have any food that came from outside the hospital.
After being the most depressed I had ever been in my life, I was not allowed to eat foods that I enjoyed.
After a week in the hospital, I was finally allowed to leave — yet I felt worse than I had when I arrived. I returned to school a few days later and, just as I had feared, was not granted ample time to make up my work — let alone catch up on the new topics that I had missed. I did not feel comfortable sharing my situation with my professors, so I’m sure they assumed I was in the hospital for something generic like the flu. I went on to fail one of my courses.
Put yourself in my shoes for a moment. Put yourself in the shoes of the overwhelming number of individuals who share similar experiences. I can assure you when you walk by me on campus, you will not identify me as the individual that wrote this. I can also assure you I hear you when you sarcastically say, “I want to kill myself,” after receiving a B on a paper.
Mental health is a major issue at the University, in this country and around the world. I wrote this article prior to the recent statements issued by NBA stars DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love detailing their own respective battles with mental health. Just like the stories of DeMar and Kevin have already done, I hope my story can provide inspiration to those who struggle with mental illness. I think both DeMar and Kevin would both agree with me when I say this: It’s time for a change.
The author is an LSA junior.