The Moment I Knew I Had a Mental Health Condition: Real Talk from Patients

“There was that little part of me that was relieved.”

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We’ve all had “one of those days.” Days when you feel sadness for no reason, anxiety, or sky-high levels of stress. Days where you just feel off. Days when you think to yourself, What’s wrong with me?

For some people, these feelings go away after a couple of days and life continues on. For 45 million Americans living with a mental illness, these feelings stick around and significantly affect their emotions, behaviors, physical health, and quality of life. What’s more, many people may not necessarily realize they have a mental health condition, leaving them undiagnosed, and worse, untreated. (Here are signs of mental health issue you might be overlooking.)

We asked six brave patients about the moment they knew they were dealing with a mental health issue, and how the diagnosis affected their life.

“The beginning of the journey…”

“I remember where I was standing when my friend Ellen came to me at work and said, ‘I don’t even recognize my friend Nancy anymore, what’s going on?’ That was the beginning of the journey into psychopharmacology, in medication. You know, I had to pull apart a lot of pieces in order to stabilize.”

—Nancy Snell, living with depression

“My whole world opened up”

“It wasn’t until about 18 or 19 [years old] that I saw an actual anxiety specialist. And that’s when my whole world opened up and I knew that this was not normal. It was a disorder and there was a difference between me and everybody else.”

—Trish Barillas, living with anxiety

“There was that little part of me that was relieved”

“It was almost like everything that I tried, I would see another symptom pop up. And after a while you begin to put together the list of symptoms. I knew eventually what it was, but I didn’t even want to call it autism at that time. So, seeing it, and even though I was in shock, there was that little part of me that was relieved, like OK, now I know, so at least now I can start going about whatever treatment or whatever I need to do to fix it.”

—Alisha Griffith, mother of son with autism

“[It] was my breakdown”

“So as far back as I can remember, I had long periods of depression and hopelessness and I didn’t know what it was, I just lived with it. And then when I was 41 [years old], I stopped sleeping and I didn’t sleep for a year. I was running around doing crazy things, and then one day I found myself in the closet, banging my head against the wall—that was my breakdown. I went to see a doctor it took him 20 minutes to diagnose me with bipolar disorder.”

—Mitzi Bockmann, living with bipolar disorder

“It just got to be too much”

“So my symptoms really did affect my chores. My apartment was messy. I would just leave my clothes everywhere, I wouldn’t hang them up. I would wait to do the dishes, until it just got to be too much. I would just get really stressed and it would manifest itself over and over again.”

—Lauren Klinger, living with ADHD

“[Knowing my diagnosis] was a huge relief”

“So when I was 21 [years old], I went to a therapist and he diagnosed me with OCD. Even though I might have known that I had it, just him telling me was a huge relief.”

—Matt Berman, living with OCD

Here’s more on how patients reclaimed their life after a mental health diagnosis and their advice to other patients who may be struggling.