This article has been supported by the journalism non-profit Economic Hardship Reporting Project .
I am 23 years old, yet I have already lost five years of my life to the full-time job of being crazy. It began innocently enough; I went to my student health center at American University to speak to a counselor about some mild depression. The university counseling center was overcrowded, so I was referred to an off-campus psychiatrist in D.C. I vividly remember sitting on a stiff leather chair in a stark white office as this doctor asked me a list of questions from a sheet of paper. After less than 10 minutes, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and depression, and prescribed Neurontin and Lexapro. It was the reality of what happens when doctors dole out diagnoses without getting to know their patients.
My first summer home from college I sought treatment again. This doctor decided I was bipolar, and prescribed me a mood stabilizer and a different antidepressant. I immediately noticed a change; instead of feeling sad, I felt nothing. My thoughts were fuzzy and I had a hard time remembering to do simple things. One afternoon I went to see a movie with my friend and left my keys in the ignition with the car running and the doors locked.
My doctor decided to add Ritalin to the cocktail, and by the end of the summer I was taking 60 milligrams a day, the highest approved dose for adults. My life spiraled out of control when I went back to D.C. that fall. I was barely sleeping or eating. I felt paranoid sitting in class, so I stopped going. By October, I was forced to take a medical leave of absence, and lost my academic scholarship.
My story is unique, as is the story of every person diagnosed with mental illness. The stakes for me and so many others were not just about mental wellness. They were also about both my economic and educational future. I am still grappling with the financial consequences of misdiagnosis. My psychological maelstrom meant I lost my substantial academic scholarship. I was forced to pay hefty tuition costs after leaving American. I was ultimately shuffled into inpatient psychiatric care, which can cost as much or more than a private university. My credit score is abysmal from unpaid medical bills. Falling behind in school means having to wait longer to find a full-time job in my field. While some of my high school peers are finishing up their second or third degrees, I am just finishing up my bachelor’s. My monetary future at times seems bleak.