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South Carolina Honors College

The Mistakes South Carolina Makes When It Comes to Mental Health

by Ashleigh Howard  

If I were reading this essay a year ago, at about this point I would get distracted and walk away. It seems unlikely I could even make it past the first sentence but at that point in my life, I was struggling to stay focused for entire conversations, much less sit down and read a paper. 

Many people in my life noticed my lack of attention span, poor time management, and jitters but brushed them off as personality quirks. When I questioned my doctor she told me that I had all As so I was probably fine. When it got to the point that I was having nightly panic attacks because I could not get anything done, I went to a mental health counselor who immediately diagnosed me with severe Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.  She was the first person to tell me that ADHD didn’t always make people super-loud and boisterous in the way that most people assume, and she gave me methods of coping.

I often wonder how many panic-stricken nights I could have avoided or how many important details I could’ve heard if any person in my life could have not only recognized but also acknowledged my symptoms. I also wonder how many other people in South Carolina are struggling with something similar, like anxiety that’s brushed off as someone being jittery or depression that manifests itself in naps as being lazy. Destigmatizing mental health, knowing the signs, and getting people help are imperative to improving the overall quality of life in our state because the best way to improve South Carolina is from the inside out. 

When tackling mental health issues, the first obstruction people face is oftentimes themselves. With cultural norms such as showing no feelings and media representation depicting people with mental health conditions as crazy, people would rather deal with a mental illness on their own than get help and face the societal repercussions of admitting their condition. 

While effective in short term satisfaction, the long-term consequences of this choice are severe. As of 2021, in South Carolina alone there are an estimated 220,000 people who go undiagnosed or refuse to get help. One study found people being treated for these issues experience a longer recovery due to societal factors, like negative perceptions of mental health patients.  

The poor stigma of mental health often comes from a lack of understanding and fear. People either don’t know or have a skewed perception of different mental health issues. 

More education and open-mindedness allows for more people to recognize the seemingly normal symptoms as well as the extreme ones and confront them. Organizations such as The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) are working to reduce the negative attitude surrounding mental illnesses. They stress that mental health conditions are not to be ashamed of, not something you can catch, and are not always expressed in the same way. Regardless of neurotypicality, class, race, or gender, anyone can be dealing with one and nobody should be ostracized or shamed for doing so. 

Something that may also make it difficult to get help is accessibility. South Carolina is highly ranked for most mental illnesses so we should not be 43rd for accessibility. If people are willing to take the first step of admitting they have a problem, there should be resources readily available for them to use. In this state, 2.3 million people currently live in communities with not enough mental health professionals. The implementation of mental health clinics are especially needed surrounding these people. Upkeep of mental health is just as important as physical health and the two often coincide. Just as 2.3 million people wouldn’t be found without access to a doctor, they shouldn’t be without access to mental health professionals. 

Mental illness can easily make people feel like they’re several steps behind in this long race we call life. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to get myself caught up, but as of right now, far too many people in the state do not have this opportunity. It is time South Carolina helps everyone catch up. When we change the way people approach mental health, we allow for us to not only achieve an overall happier state, but an overall happier state of mind as well. 

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.