Question #5

Question: How did you get diagnosed?

Answer: When I was 12 years old, I started experiencing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).  One of the most prominent symptoms I experienced was a vocal tic.  Though my family and I noticed the appearance of these symptoms, we didn't know what was causing them.  In 7th grade, I had to complete a book report for a class assignment.  I chose Kissing Doorknobs, by Terry Spencer Hesser.  The book chronicles the life of 11-year-old Tara, who began experiencing symptoms of OCD as a young child.  As I read this book, I saw so much of myself in Tara.  Her thought processes, her symptoms, her fears...all of it was so similar to my own experiences!  When I finished reading the book, I shared it with my mom.  I told her I thought maybe my symptoms weren't just a phase...maybe they were OCD?  She too saw the similarities and took me to see a psychiatrist, who confirmed my amateur diagnosis.  From there, I began counseling and eventually started taking medication to help manage the depression and anxiety that accompanied the OCD.  

A diagnosis can be both a curse and a blessing.  Personally, I was grateful that I wasn't weird or crazy like I originally thought. I was just experiencing symptoms of OCD, which is a legitimate mental health condition that is incredibly prevalent and treatable!  I'm also lucky in the sense that my mental health challenges were recognized and diagnosed rather quickly.  On average, people with OCD suffer with symptoms for 11 years prior to receiving an accurate diagnosis.  On the other hand, receiving a diagnosis can be life-changing.  As someone who has dealt with mental health challenges for the past 12 years, I've learned that sometimes, even with consistent and appropriate treatment, symptoms don't always go away.  I frequently experience periods of time where my symptoms intensify to the point of being unbearable, and other times when my symptoms decrease to the point of disappearing.  It's only in the past year that I've started to come to terms with the fact that mental illness is something that will likely plague me for the rest of my life.  Accepting that reality and learning to live abundantly in spite of it has become my goal.  

For a list of symptoms for some of the most common mental health challenges, click on the links below:

Anxiety Disorders

Bipolar Disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder

Depression

Eating Disorders

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Schizophrenia

Remember...the only people qualified to make any psychiatric diagnosis are psychiatrists and other licensed mental health professionals (i.e. clinical psychologist).  If you are experiencing symptoms of what you suspect be a mental illness, contact your primary care physician or make an appointment with a mental health professional right away.  The sooner you receive a diagnosis, the sooner you can begin learning to manage your symptoms.

**Disclaimer: The previous question was submitted to me by a student following a presentation I gave on depression and anxiety in youth.  The answer I provide is based on my personal experiences and professional knowledge as a Youth Peer Advocate.  However, this advice is not intended to replace the guidance of a mental health professional (ex. psychiatrist, psychologist, etc.)  Remember...if you or a friend is in immediate danger, contact Crisis Services (716-834-3131) or call 911.