The Student Voice of Holy Innocents' Episcopal School

What Depression Actually Looks Like

Sydni Singleton and the Stigma on Mental Illness

January 31, 2015

What do you see when you envision a person struggling with mental illness? Do you see a crazed lunatic bound to a hospital bed? Or do you see another friendly face in the school hallways masking the internal struggle with depression behind a convincing smile? Everyone who knows senior Sydni Singleton would agree that she is has an infectious smile and an even more catching positive attitude. A beloved member of the class of 2015, Singleton has everyone fooled. This friendly face masks an extensive battle with anxiety depression, self-harm, eating disorders and insomnia so well that it comes as a surprise even to those closest to her.

Singleton has always felt anxiety more acutely than her peers, but the peak of her struggle began with severe middle school bullying. “All through middle school, people bullied me basically every day,” says Singleton. “They said I didn’t talk ‘black enough’ and called me an ‘Oreo’.” She dealt with harassment as the lone target throughout her entire middle school career, deprived of a support group.

When she finalized plans to leave for Holy Innocents’ for freshman year, Singleton received a call from old classmates telling her she was “worthless, a waste of space and breath, and that [she] should kill [herself].” As a twelve-year-old girl, Singleton naturally believed her peers as she had no one in her life to tell her differently.

Singleton has struggled with self-hate since before she can remember, recalling severe social anxiety and panic attacks before assessments. She was not officially diagnosed with depression until after learning her mom was suffering from cancer during high school. “I began to withdraw myself and self-harm,” says Singleton. She began therapy shortly after and her therapist noticed several red flags in Singleton’s behavior that were indicative of someone dealing with suicidal thoughts.

Find something you can tether yourself to that makes you happy.”

— Sydni Singleton

Junior year, the self-harm escalated and Singleton turned to binging and purging to cope. Finally, she gathered the strength to confront her parents about her mental wellbeing. “I didn’t want to admit I had a problem when I didn’t see one,” says Singleton, who at the time believed her tendencies were coping mechanisms and nothing more. Spending time with her sister forced Singleton to confront how upsetting her death would be to her family should she carry out her suicidal thoughts and thus sought help with her family’s wellbeing at heart.

Now, Singleton has good days and bad days as she still suffers from social paranoia, yet recognizes tremendous improvements in herself. “I have been clean [from self harm] for a year this March, but there have been some days when I think about it,” says Singleton. She admits to still feeling out of place at times but is amongst a close-knit group of supportive friends. As she didn’t want to become dependent on the false sense of happiness medication provides, Singleton turned to extensive therapy, journaling and music for an outlet.

Singleton agrees that the stigma on mental health is not only untrue, but it’s also very hurtful and detrimental to a number of people. This discrepancy between fiction and reality can be very harmful to those it negatively impacts. “It’s ignorance-based,” says Singleton. “Depression is not something you can bring upon yourself, it’s a chemical imbalance in your brain.” The reality is million of people worldwide suffer from some form of mental illness, even people you see every day. The mentally ill frighten and embarrass us, so we cast aside the people who need our acceptance the most. “People need to be educated about what they joke about. Jokes about mental health hurt.”

For those who suffer from similar issues, Singleton advises to “take it day by day. It’s not going to get better over night. Find something you can tether yourself to that makes you happy. Be selfish when it comes to getting better because that’s what’s important.”

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