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Mental Health Awareness Week: Kyle Whelton’s story of anxiety and recovery

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Mental Health Awareness Week: Kyle Whelton’s story of anxiety and recovery

Photo by J. Matthew Serafin/matthew.serafin@marquette.edu

Photo by J. Matthew Serafin/matthew.serafin@marquette.edu

Photo by J. Matthew Serafin/matthew.serafin@marquette.edu

Photo by J. Matthew Serafin/matthew.serafin@marquette.edu

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When he was 14 years old, Kyle Whelton, now a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences, went to the emergency room after suffering a serious panic attack.

“You need to go get help about your father,” his mother said. She could see the toll her divorce was having on Whelton and his mental health.

After the emergency room visit and counseling sessions, Whelton said he’s been anxiety-free for seven years. He will share his story on Wednesday at 8:15 p.m. in the Alumni Memorial Union ballrooms, as part of Mental Health Awareness Week’s “Sharing your Story” workshop. Nycole Fassbender, a freshman in the College of Arts & Sciences, will also speak at the event.

“I was convinced, as most teenagers are, that I had already done everything needed,” Whelton said. “There’s also kind of this feeling that you don’t want to admit that you’re struggling with (anxiety). Stigma in mental health is a real problem.”

Whelton’s experience with anxiety started in the middle of sixth grade, when his parents divorced. During the summer before his freshman year of high school, Whelton said he had a difficult decision to make: have a relationship with his father or be healthy. He chose the latter.

Whelton said he felt relief by taking a step back from what became an unhealthy relationship for him. However, because he lived in a town of 50,000 people, Whelton continually ran into his father. As a result, the anxiety and a heightened sense of fear kept building until he suffered the panic attack.

“It’s very tough to deal with,” Whelton said. “It’s a scar that’s left on your psyche. But the good news is all of that doesn’t have to be binding.”

Whelton did not make it to counseling alone. His mother, who he describes as his rock and hero, encouraged him to seek help, but he didn’t agree to do so until he spoke to the emergency room doctor. The first thing he said to that doctor was about his father.

That was the moment Whelton realized his mother was right.

“She’s almost like a motivator in my life,” Whelton said. “There was no length my mom wasn’t willing to go to, to make sure that I was healthy and I was getting the help I needed.”

Whelton said he can now handle the stress in his life. He will graduate this May with a degree in political science. After graduation, he has a job lined up with Epic Systems outside of Madison, Wis., as a project manager and implementation consultant.

“What most people don’t understand is that mental health, just like any other part of our physical health, is very treatable and there are a number of things that occur that go away with time and proper treatment,” Whelton said. “It’s not a life sentence.”

Looking back on the experience, Whelton said he wouldn’t change anything because it made him who he is. There are two lessons he took away from it: everything happens for a reason, and talk to somebody.

In light of Mental Health Awareness Week, this is the first in a two-part series of stories about student experiences with mental illness and treatment.

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