Falling through the cracks


In my early teen years, I was considered acute, as I exhibited sudden onset symptoms of anxiety and depression with suicidal ideation. I was in and out of the hospital due to the fact that I was unable to ‘contract for safety’ – as they used to say.  Although those were some of the toughest years of my life, I had a vast team to give me a leg up when I was at my lowest- therapy, youth groups, a DMH support worker, a team at my therapeutic high school and my parents. I was very lucky to have a complete arsenal of support and resources to keep me from falling through the cracks.

I can’t say that I’m completely without support these days, either. I still see the same therapist I started with 17 years ago and I have friends and family who know that I struggle from time to time and graciously still love me when I become symptomatic. For the most part, I can say that the good days outweigh the bad, and when they’re good, they’re really good. I can function without using up all of my spoons, and I genuinely enjoy life. That being said, when the days are bad, they’re the worst. The bottom line is, I live with depression and anxiety and even though I can get through my day, I’m not doing it without a substantial amount of stress and worry.

Now, when I’m at my lowest, I don’t typically utilize my natural supports. I never want to feel like I’m a burden to others, but I know that I usually need to reach out for help. Once I’ve realized that I’ve reached the bottom of my pit of despair, I know that it’s time to claw my way out again, and I try to utilize resources. Unfortunately, they seem to be few and far between for people like me. Whenever I make a real attempt to better myself, I always end up feeling spurned and unheard. I’m just going to come out and say it; there aren’t enough resources for folks who present with ‘high functioning’ mental illness. I use the term ‘high functioning’ loosely, of course, as no one’s mental health journey is linear.

When I go out of my way to access services for myself, I’ve been told that I present as a bright, well adjusted adult who has her life together, which gets me nowhere. Because I can speak ‘eloquently’ and have the ability to advocate for myself, I’m often turned down for support. A few years ago, I was having an incredibly hard time finding a job due to high levels of anxiety. I made an appointment with an agency that helps folks with disabilities gain employment. They refused to appoint me a job coach, and instead offered to send me to school- they didn’t believe I was “mentally ill” or “disabled” enough. This has happened every time I’ve looked to any agency for help.

This is happening to a lot of young adults who live with high functioning mental health needs. We’re being shifted aside because our symptoms aren’t severe enough. We’re not being made a priority, and we’re not getting what we need to fully succeed. In the long term, that sets us up to fail. When we’re not getting the support we need, our ‘milder’ symptoms slowly get worse, and are significantly less functional. Only then do we qualify for the services that we were asking for in the first place. We have to take two giant steps back in order to take one step forward.

I want to succeed. At work. At home. At life. I know I can. I’ve come a long way from the young girl who was told she’d spend the rest of her days locked in a psychiatric hospital. That doesn’t mean that I don’t need help for my mental health needs. If anything, I need accessibility in order to reinforce my stability. I don’t think that’s too much to ask for.

Chandra Watts is our guest blogger. She is our Youth Development Specialist and draws on her own life to change how the world sees mental illness.  She is one of the founding members of Youth MOVE Massachusetts.

1 thought on “Falling through the cracks

  1. Thank you for speaking out for the many who fall through the cracks, Chandra. I hope your words ring loud and clear to those who make the decisions that create the cracks. Every person deserves an opportunity to live their best life. I applaud your courage!

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