This Woman Bravely Shared Her Panic Attack Photo to Show What Mental Illness Really Looks Like
A British woman is grabbing attention on Facebook after posting photos of herself before and after having a panic attack.
“Top picture: What I showcase to the world via social media. Dressed up, makeup done, filters galore. The ‘normal’ side to me,” Amber Smith wrote in the post, which has gone viral. “Bottom picture: Taken tonight shortly after suffering from a panic attack because of my anxiety. Also, the ‘normal’ side to me that most people don’t see.”
Smith says that she shared the pictures because she’s sick of the stigma that surrounds mental health issues. “It disgusts me that so many people are so uneducated and judgmental over the topic,” she wrote. Smith says that she has been battling anxiety and depression for years and that people have actually questioned whether she’s too young to suffer from those conditions.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 17 percent of the population over the age of 18. And, the association says, nearly one half of people diagnosed with depression also suffer from an anxiety disorder.
Alicia H. Clark, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of anxiety, says that panic attacks happen more than you’d think. “Anybody who is prone to anxiety is at risk of a panic attack,” she says.
But how do you know if you’re suffering from a panic attack or are just feeling anxious? Clark says there’s a definite difference. People who suffer from a panic attack may experience a racing heart, sweating, ringing in their ears, and blurred vision. “The hallmark of a panic attack is often the experience of thinking you’re dying,” Clark says. “A lot of people mistake it for a heart attack.”
Panic attacks can be triggered by anything, Clark says, and people often get into trouble because they try to fight anxiety that they feel coming on, rather than accepting it. “A panic attack is serious and it’s deeply uncomfortable, but when people fight it, they make it worse,” she says.
While Smith has been told that she’s too young to have panic attacks, Clark says that’s not the case. In fact, she says, “most major mental illness presents from late adolescence through your late 20s—that’s when, if people are going to be anxious, they start seeing significant symptoms.”
If you suffer from panic attacks, Clark says it’s important to get help from a medical professional. “There are great treatments out there, and therapy and medication can be helpful,” she says. “We have a solid understanding of panic and anxiety—there is help.”
Smith echoes the sentiment in her Facebook post: “To anyone who is going through the same, please do not suffer in silence. There is so much support around. Don’t be scared to ask for help.”