People Are Sharing When They First Realized They Had a Mental Illness

Mental illness still carries such a stigma that it can be incredibly difficult for many people to acknowledge and seek help when they are struggling. In a recent Reddit thread, people with mental health issues shared their own stories of the moment they realized something was wrong. (Many of the replies, it’s worth noting, touch on conditions such as depression, as well as eating disorders.)

As one reader put it, “When even the most simple, routine tasks became too overwhelming—cleaning up, returning a call/text—virtually everything beyond lying in bed.” Another user echoed that sentiment, calling out feelings of general numbness: “When I realized that my emotions were so flat that I couldn’t even get properly angry anymore.”

For others, the warning signs manifested in a lack of desire to do the things they once loved, or a steep decline in motivation over. As one user who struggles with anorexia put it, they knew they had a problem when they realized they could “hardly move and [it] took me 5 minutes to put on a pair of trainers. My body was shutting down and my organs were failing. Brain fog and lack of energy. Anorexia literally takes everything from you behind your back whilst telling you that you are doing great.”

Encouragingly, these moments of self-awareness often coincided with the desire to seek treatment: “When I didn’t leave the house for two weeks straight and I haven’t messaged any of my friends back in months,” one user wrote, adding, “I’m currently looking for a therapist.”

Isolation and avoidance were recurring themes among these confessions, as well, with people mentioning canceled plans, avoiding talking on the phone, or even replying to texts. All of these signs are common as many mental disorders—such as depression—begin to take root, experts say. “Mental pathology thrives in isolation while mental wellness occurs in nurturing relationships with other human beings,” says Paul Hokemeyer, a family and addictions therapist.

“This is because the mental health issues people struggle with, conditions such as anxiety, depression, and the various forms of substance abuse and behavioral addictions either pull them away from their tribe, or cause them to act out in ways that shatter their relationships with the important people in their lives.”

Retreating into isolation is especially dangerous for men who are struggling with mental health issues, as men are disproportionately less likely to try to access mental health services. “Men who are suicidal or have substance abuse problems are much more likely to suffer in silence,” writes Rob Whitely, an associate professor in the department of psychiatry at McGill University, in Psychology Today. “This is often attributed to stubbornness in men, rooted in traditional American notions of masculinity that emphasize ‘true grit’ doggedness.”

Hokemeyer advises people to be constantly surveying the relationships in the three significant spheres of their lives, as these can be crucial when it comes to finding and accepting help: “These include the relationship you have with yourself, the relationship you have with your family, friends and colleagues, and the relationship you have with the communities and the world in which you live.”

If you feel fractured and destructive in any of these areas, he adds, it’s important you push through your resistance to ask at least one key person to serve as your pilot in navigating out of the storm. “Once you’ve make this connection,” he says, “you can then construct a plan of action that is clear, simple and attainable.”

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