Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Mental illness no laughing matter

October 10, 2012


Editor’s Note: Views expressed in guest columns and letters to the editor reflect the views of the author, not the views of The State News.

I received a disturbing text message earlier this week. It read: “Hey, dude, will u sell my friend an Adderall?”

I respectfully declined.

Let me be clear: I do not push prescription pills. I do not abuse the system. And yes, believe it or not, I do have a relatively severe case of attention deficit disorder.

Even still, 95 percent of people who find out I have an Adderall prescription give the same response: “Dude, that’s sweet! How did you pull off that one?”

My response is pretty much always the same. I went to the MSU Counseling Center, looking for a way to fight my ongoing anxiety and depression.

It seemed like a last-ditch attempt. I was a freshman then, and college had hit me hard.

My grades were on a steady decline. I had been staying up all night to finish my schoolwork and still getting nothing done. It took me eight hours to finish an assignment that should have been completed in two. The clock seemed like an unbeatable enemy.

I had shared my concerns with a doctor once before — a hotshot 20-something fresh out of medical school — who pointed to my above-average (but by no means stellar) high school grade point average as evidence there was nothing wrong with me. To him, I was just a shameless overachiever with more ambition than brains.

But John, the MSU counselor I met, was different. He was kind, listened to my concerns and took an interest in my family medical history. I agreed to a mental evaluation to see what, if anything, was wrong.

After three to six hours of tests that included puzzles, reading and verbal tests, the results came in: I had a more developed vocabulary than 98 percent of people my age. But I also had the reading speed of an 11-year-old.

In a meticulously detailed PowerPoint presentation that must have taken him hours to make, John explained through a mountain of data that I had a moderately serious case of ADD, which went undocumented my entire life. None of my teachers had ever considered the possibility; they thought I was just a slow reader and bad at math. My parents hadn’t said anything either. They assumed I was a B-average student trying my best.

After my diagnosis, it was a struggle to find the right medication. I was hesitant to take amphetamines — a fancy name for speed — and instead opted for a new kind of medication called Strattera. But the chemotherapylike side effects were too much. I could barely hold down food and constantly was in a drowsy stupor. Only then did I decide to test out an Adderall prescription.

It seems as if our generation is on an amphetamine-abuse binge. Students — albeit with the noble goal of succeeding in their classes — don’t realize they’re perpetuating misconceptions about mental illness every time they bum a little blue pill from a friend or talk about it outside the library. It’s hard to take mental illness seriously when so many people hijack the medical remedies doctors made to treat it.

And it’s even harder to take mental illness seriously when students post pictures on social media of a professor who had a horrifically public mental breakdown.

Mental illness is just that — an illness. I’m sure the reaction would have been quite different if he had fallen and broken his leg during class.

I don’t believe they meant any harm by it. It’s hard to be the one to take mental illness seriously, especially for those who never have had a firsthand encounter, and when many doctors don’t seem to believe in it.

We need more professionals, such as John at the MSU Counseling Center. If it weren’t for him, I would never have been able to follow my life goal of becoming a journalist, a profession that lives and dies by the clock.

But we’ll never get better medical treatment if the social treatment doesn’t come first.
In some senses, I’m as guilty as anyone. I laughed with my entire French class this week when the professor cracked an Adderall joke the day before an exam.

But starting now, I won’t accept it. I won’t laugh at Adderall jokes. And I won’t display my own wit at a sick person’s expense.

Instead, I’ll calmly explain what ADD is and how it can be treated. Hopefully, at least one more frustrated freshman will listen and find a legitimate doctor with real treatment options.

As I found out, the solution can be as close as a 10-minute walk from your dorm room.

Ian Kullgren is the city editor at The State News and a social relations and policy and journalism junior. Reach him at


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