Please note that this is an Archived article and may contain content that is out of date. The use of she/her/hers pronouns in some articles is not intended to be exclusionary. Eating disorders can affect people of all genders, ages, races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, body shapes, and weights.

By Quinn Nystrom, MS

Did you know that 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness? Less than half receive proper medical treatment. Additionally, about half of the U.S. population lives in an area that is designated as a Mental Health Professional Shortage Area. This week is National Mental Illness Awareness Week, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is launching a Teen and Young Adult Helpline.

I’ve struggled with a mental illness since I was 12 years old. For me, I struggled with depression, anxiety, bulimia, self-harm, and suicide ideation. I grew up in a small town and we had limited access to specialists. Gratefully, my parents did set me up to see a therapist who came into my middle school on a weekly basis. The bulimia was difficult to treat because my pediatrician didn’t have a background and didn’t feel the need to refer me to a specialist in the big city. I certainly don’t blame him for me going on to struggle with an eating disorder for 12 years before I got access to proper treatment, but I do believe the system failed me in many ways.

Around this same time, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. There was a clear diagnosis after a blood test confirmed that my blood sugars were sky-high. There was a clear protocol on how I needed to be treated, and what the treatment plan would be moving forward. Since there were not any endocrinologists (diabetes specialist doctors), but my parents knew that was the go-to for their child with type 1 to be treated, they found the correct referral and I started seeing one 2.5 hours away. I think back to this time and how my long road to recovery might have looked different if I had first brought in at 12 with mental illness concerns if it could’ve been properly diagnosed and a clear treatment plan set out in front of me. I believe my overall quality of life would have been better, and I would’ve done less havoc on my body physically.

This is one of the many reasons why I’m passionate about speaking out today about living with a mental illness. There can be a lot of shame surrounding this. Though we’ve come a long way as a society, I believe we still have a long way to go. If I say that I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 13, I want our society to equally recognize, and not judge, that I was additionally diagnosed with a handful of mental illnesses at the age of 12.

If you want to get more involved in advocating for a better mental health system, join the advocacy alerts with NAMI.