mental health stigma in teenagers

This week, while recording my podcast with Jessica Y Greene, Psychotherapist, I discussed what caused me to have a different outlook on mental health.

As far back as I can remember, my mother has dealt with depression. She has been on different medications to address this illness, some worked and others maybe not so much. As a young adult in my 20’s and 30’s, I didn’t understand depression. I always looked at it as life is hard for all of us, suck it up and move one. I now know it’s not that simple, but it took a medication side effect before I would realize the gravity of what mental health.

I have struggled with thyroid disease for several years, probably most of my life, undiagnosed. I worked with doctors for years to try and get my levels under control which required many different dosages and different medicines. A few years back, while on a new medicine, I noticed something wasn’t right. I would sit in my office and just stare out the window for hours at a time. All the time knowing I had work obligations that needed to be addressed and tended to. I would have conversations with customers and employees alike, but wouldn’t be in the conversations. I would be there physically, but mentally I was looking past the person in front of me and just staring off. At some point during this saga, I started having suicidal thoughts daily. Very detailed, like planning in my mind how to end my life with the smallest impact on my family. I knew this wasn’t me as I had a great life and suicide is something that I would never consider in a thousand years.

It was these thoughts made me realize it was a side effect from the medicine I was on. I told my inner-circle that I was having issues and I was going to see my doctor about it ASAP. I called the doctor's office and spoke to the nurse and described the side effects I was having. Her response was “that’s impossible” “you can not have suicidal thoughts because of this medicine." We hung up and I started a google search to find more information. As I’m typing the name of the medicine, google auto-populates and the #1 auto populated search was “name of medicine suicide." I called the nurse back and told her I needed to see the doctor immediately. I let her know I’m responsible for maintaining the 911 radio systems for public safety. I meet with police chiefs and county administrators.  Along with everything else, I MUST have a clear mind while processing job responsibilities and cannot wait an extended period of time for the appointment. Her response this time “you have two options, go to the ER, or I will call the police on you and have you arrested." WHAT!!?? I called looking for help, I saw an issue with the medicine I was put on in her office. I didn’t say I was going to kill myself. I told her the issues I noticed. Now she’s threatening to have me arrested. And the people that would arrest me would be my customer. That’s not the career move I’m looking for. I suggest she schedules me an appointment with the doctor, but I inform her I’m no longer going to take this medicine.

I see the doctor and he does lab work to check my levels. A week or two later I’m dropping my daughter off at school and I receive a call from the nurse. “Mr. Johnson, you have hypothyroidism and your going to die if you don’t take your meds." I tell her to have the doctor write a prescription for a different medicine, but under no circumstances am I getting back on the old medicine. “You don’t understand, you will die without treatment” she tells me. I assured her I wouldn’t be dead by lunch, just have the doctor write a different prescription. She reiterates again within the 2-minute call that I will die if not treated.

I changed doctors and medicine and haven’t had these side effects again.

Throughout this, I learned that when you have brain chemicals that are out of whack (yes, that's an official medical term) that you literally have no control and are along for the ride. I can also see how someone that may not ask questions or take the nurses first statement as “it’s impossible” would be in for a horrible experience. I was just self-aware enough to know something wasn’t right and I’m not going to accept someone else’s unwillingness to listen. From her reaction on the call, telling me 3 times in 2 minutes that I’m going to die and the earlier calls threating to have me arrested, I think she was a person that looked for opportunities for reactions.

Don’t let the stigma of mental health issues keep you from living a full, productive life. I share because I have been through it and you don’t have to. You do have to take control and seek the help you may need.

When I decided to start seeing a therapist, I wanted to find a female, because I felt I couldn’t be honest with a male. I’m a big burly guy, I must be tough and not show weakness in front of another man. It’s bull!  Find someone you’re comfortable with.

If you are struggling with mental health or having suicidal thoughts, please find help. There are plenty of resources available to help. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

Don’t let the stigma of mental health issues keep you from living a full productive life.

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