by Quinn Nystrom
I was flying home from attending my very first National Eating Disorders Awareness (NEDA) Conference in Washington, D.C. It was sitting in those sessions that I got really revved up about the disparities in our societies’ differing viewpoint about mental illness and physical illness.
See, after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 13, I could explain to people it was an auto-immune disease that I couldn’t have prevented. The physical illness could be managed, but it will never go away as a cure has not yet been discovered. Once explained, most understood.
With a mental illness, things were much greyer. Our society, as well as our health insurance companies, and some policy makers, seem to view it differently. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) defines mental illness as, “affecting one’s thinking, feeling or mood”. One in five adults in the United States experiences a mental health condition. It’s much more common then we think. But there is still so much stigma facing these individuals, including myself.
On that flight home, I was trying to figure out what I could do to help with this problem. I knew I certainly couldn’t solve such a complex problem as it was, but I could tell my story through a blogpost. I simply titled it, “I have diabetes AND a mental illness”. I felt liberated at the thought of publishing the post, but then also concerned with how people would react. I had struggled for so long to stay silent about my struggles with an eating disorder, it had ended up consuming me. People with type 1 diabetes are 2.5 times more likely to get an eating disorder, so where was my shame coming from? I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support after the post went live. Many people reached out to me to tell me their own personal story of struggling with an eating disorder, or another mental illness. Mental illness is such a charged word it seems, but when you put a story and a face to it, I believe that we can work to end the stigma that surrounds it.
Though it’s taken me some time to get more comfortable speaking out about this issue, I know that it has helped me in my recovery. Treating, and viewing my type 1 diabetes and bulimia the same way was much healthier for me. I realized that there are things that cannot be controlled in life, and I have the choice to make the next best decision for my health and well-being. Ever since 1949, May has been Mental Health Month to help raise awareness about the topic. Will you join me in speaking out so that we can work together to end the stigma and advocate for equal care?