Early access is key

The reason it’s so important to address mental health accessibility for youth, Kurdyak said, is that some of the most common mental illnesses, such as anxiety and depression, have their first onset between the ages of 16 and 30.

“So you really need early and prompt access when these illnesses develop to have better outcomes down the road. And any delay in treatment we know affects the individuals lives as a result,” he said.

~ CTV News — Young Canadians struggling to access mental health services: study

Speaking from personal experience, when depression and anxiety go untreated, they cause a lot of other problems. I became very angry, almost constantly. Every tiny little thing would set me off. But I was never an angry person before. It took me a long time to realize that. It was more than 2 years of being on medication when I suddenly realized that I never used to be angry and that it was my depression that was causing it.

I have a theory – can’t exactly prove it, but based on my own research, I believe it to be true, at least in my case – that if I’d gotten treatment when my symptoms started to appear, or even before I was 18 (I had obvious symptoms before I was even a teenager that were overlooked/ignored) I would probably be in a much better place now. Even before 25. The brain doesn’t fully develop until a person’s mid-twenties, so even if I’d gotten help before then, I think my outcome would have been much better.

Of course there are many other factors, especially external factors, that contributed to my struggles. I was under a great deal of stress from work when I finally started seeking help. But I was a couple months shy of my 27th birthday, so my brain was basically set by then. As a child, my feelings were constantly ignored or invalidated, which I believe contributed to the continued development of my anxiety disorder, and later depression.

In addition to the clear signs of anxiety when I was a kid, I also had some early signs of ADHD, but being a girl it presents differently than what people typically think of as something only boys have. Problem was, whenever I was clearly having the “hyperactive” symptoms I was told to be quiet or stop talking or that I was being too loud. I suspect this had a huge contribution to the development of my social anxiety, but I was also a shy child. I do believe I grew out of my shyness, as I got older, but getting in trouble for being “hyper” really effected my self-esteem.

To be honest, it was the outward signs of ADHD that made me often wonder whether or not I had bipolar disorder, but that never quite made sense since what I thought might be hypomania symptoms never lasted long enough nor were they severe enough to qualify as a hypomanic episode, which is why I never brought it up with my doctor. It wasn’t until my counsellor suggested, a little over a year ago, that I might have ADD that things started to make sense.

I initially thought I didn’t show any “outward signs,” to which he responded that that would be the difference between ADHD and ADD. But I started thinking, a few months ago, that I did have some pretty obvious “outward” symptoms that would indicate for the hyperactive part of the disorder. I think my depression and especially my social anxiety have sort of counteracted the hyperactive part over the past few years as they became more severe. My depression, especially at it worst, stole all my energy. My social anxiety sort of pulls back on the impulsivity. I’ll get the urge to speak out over someone in a meeting or some other social situation and my social anxiety will immediately make me stop and think, no, if I say anything everyone will think I’m stupid, or something along those lines. It doesn’t always stop me, and when it doesn’t, I immediately feel like everyone is judging me.

At the worst point in my depression, I’d have lots of things I wanted to say, but I simply didn’t have the energy or motivation to speak up, so I just wouldn’t even bother. I would actually go days without talking to anyone at work (other than through text, using our chat system). If I was still living on my own when I was at this point, I would easily have gone entire weeks without speaking to a single person. This is what made me think that I couldn’t have ADHD, but ADD made sense. Although, my attention issues had previously been attributed to my anxiety by my former counsellor/social worker after I tried to direct the conversation towards the possibility of attention issues. So, I went on believing that it was purely my anxiety making my hyperaware of my surroundings.

Anyways, I’ve gotten a little off track. Shocker.

I still can’t help but think, if I’d gotten help, even just therapy, earlier on in my life, I would have been better at handling the stress that came in my mid-twenties. Or at the very least, I would have recognized what was really happening, and I probably would have known what to do when the suicidal thoughts started happening on the daily. Instead, I didn’t have a clue that what I was going through wasn’t normal or that I could get help. I continued on suffering in silence until I heard Wil Wheaton telling his story on Aisha Tyler’s podcast. That’s when I clued in that something was wrong and that I could get help.

However, getting help turned out not to be so easy. My doctor, at the time, simply gave me antidepressants and sent me on my way without any real guidance. I thought it would be a quick fix. I was wrong. I think part of what has made it so difficult for me though is the fact that my brain was done developing, so trying to alter my brain chemistry was harder. I think what was worse though was the fact I didn’t fully understand what was going on in my mind and that medication wasn’t the only thing needed to help fix it. It’ll be three years in November since that first appointment with my old doctor where I got my initial diagnosis and started my first antidepressant. Although my current job is far less stressful and my employer has been incredibly supportive with my mental health issues, I actually feel worse off now than I was 3 years ago, but in a completely different way. It was primarily anxiety and stress back then, but now my main issue is depression. Of course the ADHD has been there the whole time, and understanding that helps, but I’m still stuck in this rut of depression. Social anxiety is still an issue, and my generalized anxiety comes and goes, but since experiencing the worst depression of my life last year, I can handle the anxiety. The depression is so much harder.

With that said, I feel I have to point out that anxiety is different for everyone. I can definitely see how anxiety can be completely debilitating for others, but my anxiety doesn’t present in the same way as, say, someone who has frequent panic attacks. My anxiety is primarily thought based. I experience a lot of intrusive thoughts, but mainly, I over think everything, and when I get into state of higher anxiety, it comes more out of a place of stress and feeling overwhelmed more so than inexplicable fear. I do experience physical symptoms, which most often are digestive, and in college I developed heart palpitations, but my doctor, at the time, didn’t even consider anxiety, even though they couldn’t find a cause and heart palpitations are in fact a symptom of anxiety. When I’m overwhelmed, I often cry, which generally causes hyperventilation. I do have at least one phobia which does cause more of the panicky type of anxiety, but it requires being in a very specific situation, which thankfully doesn’t come up too often. If my anxiety felt like that everyday, I don’t think I could handle it.

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