Wilmington, N.C. - (WECT) - It's not something most people like to talk about. It's even harder when you're in high school and one of the stars of your school's soccer team. But a recent UNCW graduate lives with and talks about mental illness everyday.
Jennifer Overfield, now 26, was just 17 years old when she started noticing a change in her behavior.
"I realized around my junior year of high school that something was wrong. I was having anxiety a lot and angry and had a lot of depression," Jennifer said.
The upstate New York native went to her high school counselor who referred her to a psychiatrist.
"I was diagnosed with bi-polar."
Bi-Polar disorder is a mental illness in which people experience disruptive mood swings from extreme lows to extreme highs. People who exhibit psychotic symptoms can sometimes be misdiagnosed as having schizophrenia.
"Actually, they're unsure what diagnosis I have. They don't really give me a set one. It's between bi-polar to schizophrenia to ADHD. I just know I have a severe mental illness," says Jennifer.
Jennifer was treated with medication, graduated from high school and went on to a college close to home. That was a mistake.
"I jumped in too quickly. There was an attempt of suicide, but I picked myself up and I moved here,"Jennifer said.
Jennifer transferred to UNCW where she helped start a NAMI chapter on campus. NAMI stands for National Alliance for Mental Illness.
Jennifer graduated from UNCW two years ago with a degree in psychology. She now works with people with disabilities but continues to help those---especially young ones---with mental illness.
"My goal is to mobilize hope and understanding that they're not alone."
As for her personal journey with mental illness, Jennifer takes it one day at a time but says she feels good about her overall mental state.
"I have my ups and downs. I have anxiety. I get anxious and hyper and depressed but I think that I'm doing very well for someone who has my illness."
This Saturday, Jennifer will join hundreds of people at Hugh McRae Park who will participate in the annual NAMI walk. The purpose is to raise awareness for a disease that affects one in four people. The walk starts at 10 a.m. and the public is invited.
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