By HOLLY COX
Zoloft, Paxil, Effexor, Zyprexa. What seems like a nightmarish spelling quiz for many is actually a list of life-changing drugs for millions of Americans that suffer from a variety of mental disorders.
Depression strikes 17 million American adults each year. Only an estimated two-thirds of suffering Americans get help for mental disorders. Two million Americans suffer from chronic, severe schizophrenia. These statistics, reported by the National Institute of Mental Health, suggest an unexpected depth to a widespread problem affecting America today.
Jennifer, 21, (name changed to protect privacy) never guessed she was different from anyone else until she suffered a mental breakdown following a violent car accident and her parents’ divorce.
The combined stress of the divorce, accident, and the departure of her brothers and sister to school and on missions triggered Jennifer’s breakdown. Before her hospitalization and diagnosis, Jennifer says she only knew three moods: happy, sad, and numb.
“I never felt anything else,” says Jennifer, “Even as a kid, I was never angry, never frustrated, nothing. I thought that was normal.”
After her breakdown, Jennifer was diagnosed with panic disorder, mind-racing, depression, bi-polar disorder, mild obsessive-compulsive tendencies and post-traumatic syndrome. She has suffered from regression and disassociation and has recently faced an eating disorder. While Jennifer currently takes Prozac, Klonopin, Neurontin, and Seroquel to level her emotions, her goal is to eventually wean her way off all drugs.
“I hate medicine — but it’s a vitamin. You have to think of it that way. It’s nutrition that you need,” Jennifer said.
Although she doesn’t like the drugs, Jennifer said they have opened up a new world for her. Before the drugs, she didn’t realize the range of emotions within her, she said. Now, even when she’s angry or frustrated, she is glad to feel normal.
“I used to think there were negative emotions — now I know it’s a normal thing. God gives you every emotion you have,” Jennifer said.
With a combination of medicine and counseling, Jennifer has faced only a few attacks in the past months. Her current counselor, an LDS psychologist who treated Jennifer’s mother for 13 years, wants to narrow the drug treatment down Neurontin, for bi-polar disorder, and Seroquel, for mind-racing.
“He told me, ‘What would be the use of having therapy and drugs if you could never leave it behind,'” Jennifer said.
Despite daily battles with her emotions, Jennifer faces life with optimism. Her counselor refuses to tell Jennifer what she is now battling, and she says that helps her to avoid justifying or excusing her behavior by putting a label on it.
Bridgette, 18, (name changed to protect privacy), who agrees with Jennifer, has a special perspective on her problems. Although she didn’t know about Jennifer’s challenges when she moved in, Bridgette shares a diagnosis of mild depression and panic attacks with Jennifer.
Bridgette said her panic attacks last anywhere from five to 15 minutes, depending on how quickly she can “ground” herself. Diagnosed at 17, Bridgette can’t take medicine for her panic attacks because of a hypoactive thyroid. To control her panic attacks without medication, Bridgette tries to focus on logic by doing three digit addition problems in her mind when she feels the panic coming.
Like many others who suffer from panic attacks, Bridgette has developed phobias. As a 6-year-old child, Bridgette developed a phobia of horses after the horse she was riding sat down. Although Bridgette was not hurt, even at 18, she can’t approach a horse for any reason.
Not surprisingly, both girls have a history of mental disorders in their family. Bridgette’s uncle and grandmother suffer from schizophrenia, while her mother, niece, and sisters battle depression. Jennifer’s mother suffers from the same disorders she now battles.
“I know now that there is no such thing as a ‘norm,'” Jennifer said. “We’re all snowflakes — not a single one like another.”