Yep, I have a mental illness Dyana Bagby January 20, 2012 Editorials MORE INFORMATION: LGBT depression facts According to the National Institute of Mental Health, major depression — or clinical depression — is a serious but common medical condition that affects LGBT people at a higher rate than the general population. Studies show that factors contributing to this include everything from living in an often homophobic society, to facing family rejection, to being closeted in some or all aspects of life. Discrimination also contributes to LGBT people having higher rates of mental disorders, according to studies. Some of the symptoms of depression include: • Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” feelings • Feelings of guilt or hopelessness • Markedly decreased interest in activities most of the day • Decrease or increase in appetite and/or sleep • Fatigue or loss of energy A 2009 study by the American Journal of Public Health found that “LGBT people in states that don’t have LGBT-inclusive employment or hate crimes protections suffer higher rates of psychiatric conditions such as anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.” The study also stated, “Policies that reduce discrimination against gays and lesbians are urgently needed to protect the health and well-being of this population.” Mental health is often overlooked when we make our New Year’s resolutions to eat better, drink less, exercise more and just plain get in shape. It’s true, being physically fit contributes to mental wellness, but mental wellness also deserves to be in its own category. Mind over matter doesn’t matter if your mind is exhausted. I landed in psychiatric wards in the mid 1990s in Tennessee after two bouts of mania. During both manic episodes, I hadn’t slept for days, had quit eating because I was too busy and not hungry, and was sure there were spy cameras hidden in my apartment’s vents with someone watching my every move. I learned after my first hospital stay of about two weeks that my manic episode was likely caused, in part, by taking Prozac without a mood stabilizer. I had been taking Prozac for maybe a year after becoming very depressed after breaking up with my male fiance and grappling with my same-sex attractions. Oh, how I did not want to be gay. Unfortunately for my parents, I had been wrestling so hard with myself and trying to deny the fact I was gay that my manic, uninhibited state seemed the perfect time to come out as we sat in a small office of the hospital, floursescent lighting so bright I squint when I remember this moment. Not only did I come out, I told them all the women I had slept with. After my first hospital stay, I was prescribed Lithium to go along with my anti-depressant. I really hated that drug. It made my face break out in the worst acne and I gained weight just glancing at a menu. I also suffered severe bouts of depression. I was worthless, nothing I did was good enough, I would never find love, everyone I knew hated me because they could see I was fake and hollow. Even God hated me, I believed. Why else would my soul be so fractured? Why else would I be left alive to feel so empty? Then a couple years later, after the Christmas holidays, I started feeling exceptional. So exceptional, in fact, I stopped taking my meds. By this time, I was still on Prozac and now taking Depakote as a mood stabilizer. Again I soared into another manic episode and this time I believed the TV was speaking to me. I landed in a Knoxville psychiatric hospital on Valentine’s Day after a friend called 911. I remember being strapped on the ambulance gurney on the ride to the hospital and writing on a piece of paper, “I did this to myself.” Throughout both episodes, I was going to talk therapy and seeing a psychiatrist for medication management. I was also fortunate to have good insurance. But because I stopped taking my meds and I ignored the paid medical advice I was receiving, I contributed to another lapse in my well-being. I had to face the fact I have a mental illness. And it’s possible It. Could. Happen. Again. While I haven’t had a serious manic episode in more than a decade, I still battle depression. There are times when I don’t want to get out of bed. I don’t want to be around people. The world is stupid. Why am I here and why do I even need to try to be here? Typically, I am able to grasp the fact that the depression is temporary and, if necessary, a bit of tweaking of my meds will help me beat back the torment until it’s just a small fuzzy ball in the corner of my consciousness. But sometimes, I admit, I am just so tired of fighting. I feel as though I’m hanging from a cliff by my fingernails. What if I just let go? That’s when having a wonderful psychiatrist is helpful. I don’t do talk therapy as much as I’d like, but I also found a great therapist who has helped me in the past and is there when I need her. Neither of them take insurance, but I figure my mental health is worth spending some out-of-pocket money with people I trust. Much like a gym membership, the cost of taking care of your mental health is relative and a worthy investment. This year, take time to take care of your mental health even if that means checking in with an expert because you feel lost, alone and hopeless. I do. 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