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Mental health critical, says graduate with bipolar disorder

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Amit Frankel overcame a battle with mental health in his latter years at King David High School Linksfield to be admitted to studying psychology at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) this year.

Through seeking help and being honest with himself about his state of mind, he’s now in a much better headspace.

Over the past few years, Frankel has had to deal with overdosing on his medication, being hospitalised four times, drifting away from his friends, and getting low marks in some subjects. He was hospitalised twice due to attempted overdoses, and twice due to his mental state, making him feel unsafe.

“My matric year was challenging in terms of academics, friend groups, and mental health, but my mental health was much better than the year before,” Frankel says. “During my matric year, I found it increasingly difficult to connect with the friends I had made throughout my high school career, which took a mental toll on me.

“I have bipolar 2 [disorder], so I get into a manic state sometimes. Before my medication was right, I would get into the sub-manic state and that’s when I felt most accepted by my friends, but once I was put on the right medication and was more stable, I found myself drifting from my friend group. It was a case of me realising who I was and my friends not connecting to that version of me.”

Frankel is grateful for the support he received from his “amazing family, understanding teachers, and incredible close friends”.

Frankel’s marks in maths and Afrikaans constantly decreased. “I had to drop out of science because I failed my Grade 11 exam, but I maintained a high level in subjects like English, Hebrew, and history.”

He was given opportunities to help other people with challenges. “I’ve gained a lot of tools from my support system and my therapist. Getting the right therapist was life-changing for me. I’m grateful for what I went through so that I could help people when they needed it. If I manage to affect the life of one person, then I’ve succeeded.”

Frankel describes himself as a giver who likes to help people in need. “I homed in on this major feature of my personality and can confidently say that I’m the most myself that I’ve ever been,” he says.

He advises students struggling with their mental health to reach out even though it can be terrifying. “My parents had to force it out of me. I’m so glad that they did, because once I acknowledged my mental health issues, things couldn’t have worked out better for me in the long term.

“People think because you’re in an older grade, you don’t have time to be mentally ill. Yet I passed matric and I have a mental illness, so there’s always time. You must make time for yourself, give yourself the space to relax, and get in tune with your senses.”

Frankel is going to study psychology at the Wits and might join his brother by getting involved with the South African Union of Jewish Students.

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