This is what a panic attack looks like
18 April 2016, 14:51
Recently, a 22-year-old woman named Amber Smith from the UK shared two images on her Facebook page showing what she looked like before and after a panic attack. She meant it as a way to start a discussion and I doubt that she realized it would soon have been shared by over 26 000 people.
I applaud Amber’s bravery and willingness to show the world what it looks like when your body turns against you, because I know exactly what that’s like. I have GAD or Generalised Anxiety Disorder. This means that my brain handles anxiety really differently than most people. I scare easily, I sometimes feel panicked for no reason, and some nights I wake up terrified from a nightmare with my heart pounding and head racing.
Did you know that, according to SADAG (the South African Depression and Anxiety Group), 2-4 % of the population will suffer from a panic disorder at some point in their lives? And that it is twice as common in women than it is in men? Or that 20% of the population will become depressed at some point in their lives?
Yet there’s still this massive stigma and misunderstanding around mental illness.
In her Facebook post Amber says: “I'm so sick of the fact that it's 2016 and there is still so much stigma around mental health. It disgusts me that so many people are so uneducated and judgemental (sic) over the topic,” and I have to agree. It angers me that people know so little about depression and anxiety and that I still get told things like “Just be happier.” Or asked “Why do you need pills when you can decide to be more positive?”
What brings on panic attacks? For me, it’s sometimes simply being so overwhelmed by things that I break down. Sometimes it happens when I am triggered. I’ve written about the need for trigger warnings before, but the issue came up again when I discovered this article where Stephen Fry speaks out against the “infantile” culture of triggers and safe spaces on a (now former) friend’s Facebook page.
While I agree that removing the word “rape” from a piece of text or something similar might detract from the message or essence of a piece of writing or a play, adding a trigger warning before said piece does help people like me who have triggers avoid something that could lead to a panic attack.
Anxiety and depression isn’t fun and it’s often a very lonely journey. When the sads hit, you often feel like you can’t talk to anyone and no one understands why you don’t want to get out of bed, or when your worry about things so much that you’re constantly tense.
We need to talk about this. We need to say to our friends and family who have been affected by mental illness that it’s okay, that there is treatment, that there is hope. Breaking the silence is the only way we’ll ever get over the stigma of it all.
Do you or have you suffered mental illness? Is someone close to you affected by it? Tell us your story.
If you or anyone you know seems to be struggling, contact one of these numbers:
Suicide Crisis Line
0800 567 567
SADAG Mental Health Line
011 234 4837