Earlier this year I had my first panic attack. At the time, I thought it might have been an asthma attack, or worse, the dreaded COVID-19.
I spent months in and out of emergency, at doctors appointments, and testing every organ in my body. While some underlying medical issues were discovered, none explained the main physical symptoms I was consistently experiencing - chest pain, shortness of breath, and an overwhelming sense of impending doom.
While I have always suffered with anxiety to a degree, particularly after years of covering gruesome murders, horrific car crashes and sickening cases in court, it truly peaked after I gave birth. But it was not until I had a panic attack that it manifested physically. And I believe the pandemic was to blame.
Mental health is not a new concept, and people suffer daily, and have suffered for centuries. But it had me thinking about those whose mental health conditions may have been dormant, or manageable, until this health crisis hit. Would they realise what they were feeling was anxiety or even depression?
It has to be said that there is a difference between feeling anxious, which is a part of human nature, and suffering an anxiety disorder.
Having mostly experienced the emotional or mental toll of anxiety previously, I was able to function day to day. But once I began to experience the physical symptoms, I realised how debilitating it can be for those enduring this longterm.
Speaking with older generations about anxiety, and other mental health disorders, I have often been met with criticism, and commentary about how "anxiety did not exist in my day". The truth of the matter is mental health disorders were rampant "back in the day", but not always recognisable.
One example is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, something I personally suffer from (mildly). After World War I, PTSD became a major issue, but it was referred to as "shell shock". Personally, I have interviewed the son of a soldier who said their father used electric shock treatment to deal with his post-war struggles. But he was never officially diagnosed with PTSD.
Discussions around PTSD rose after the Vietnam War, with an estimated 830,000 suffering symptoms. But the term did not appear in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders until 1980. It's been a similar story for women suffering after they give birth.
While postnatal depression, postnatal anxiety and postpartum psychosis is widely discussed today, with the majority of expectant mothers provided with support and information about the potential mental struggles after birth, it has not always been this way. In fact, before postnatal depression was recognised as the mental illness it is today, women were considered to be "hysterical", and the term "female hysteria" was not removed from the DSM until 1980.
With any mental health disorder, there will always be things to learn, and new ways to navigate each individual's journey. But the key message, I believe, is to be open to the discussion.
You may not have any personal experience with mental health disorders, but you can almost guarantee someone close to you has. It is not the first time the world has experienced widespread trauma, and it certainly won't be the last.
It shouldn't be about comparing generations, or arguing over who has more of a right to be stressed or say they are suffering.
Whether it is a war, a great depression, or a health crisis, people endure pain differently, and mental health conditions manifest uniquely. And for many, it's biological.
So let's remove the stigma, and judgment, and ask someone "are you OK today?".
Melissa Mobbs is a crime reporter and senior journalist for The Examiner.
- Lifeline 13 11 14
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