mental health wellness signs

Mental Health: Breaking Free of the Stigma

Mental health is a very real issue in our society these days. Personally, I think a need for mental health care has always been present. But only now are we realizing that talking about it is better than not saying a thing. So many people can relate to us, who feel and suffer from mental illnesses quietly.

Depression, anxiety, OCD, ADHD, PTSD, panic disorder, personality disorders, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, schizophrenia are just a few of the mental illnesses that plague our society. They are hard to prove because many of them don’t have any physical side effects to back up the names. 

But we shouldn’t have to prove anything. 

We don’t have to prove that we have a disorder. We should simply be comfortable with the diagnosis and be able to talk freely about it with everyone so that we can help one another instead of feeling shunned or uncomfortable. Mental illnesses are hard enough to understand by ourselves. But we shouldn’t force others who suffer with mental illnesses into corners because of our personal struggles or lack of knowledge in regard to what their illness entails.

Do you know someone with a mental illness? Do you know about it because they have symptoms that you can see? Or do you know because they have trusted you enough to talk to you about it? Maybe you know because you overheard a conversation between them and someone else. However it happens, most of us know at least one friend or family member who suffers from a mental illness. Sometimes, that person is ourselves.

You are not alone.

So many of us suffer from a mental illness these days. And it may be due to our social environment, our genetics, or maybe a traumatic event that has occurred. Honestly, there is no one way that a mental illness happens. It just becomes a part of us, and we carry it within us for the rest of our lives. It weighs heavy at times, and feels weightless at others… But it’s always there like our shadow—even when the sunlight isn’t out to illuminate it.

Just because others cannot see it, doesn’t mean that a mental illness doesn’t exist. I often feel like people want to help one another but cannot understand mental illnesses enough to find a way to offer help. For example, someone could suffer from anxiety, but how they suffer and what could trigger an attack is different for everyone. How do we educate others when our own experiences with mental illness can vary so greatly?

Suffering is the new normal.

I know that sounds harsh and negative, and, in some ways, it’s meant to. But, knowing that everyone is suffering in some unseen way—everyone is fighting their own demons—then doesn’t that put the world into perspective? It makes the world seem smaller somehow, knowing that people aren’t so different from one another and that we are all dealing with something that feels unbearable at times.

If you are reading this and you identify with having a mental illness, then you already know all about the struggle. I’m happy that you have pushed through it and that you deal with it in your own way. I’m cheering for you to find what works best for you and can ease your struggles. 

Let’s shift gears a bit and focus on the stigma of having a mental illness and feeling as though talking about it is shunned. It feels that way constantly, right? The voice in your head tells you, “They wouldn’t understand.” “They don’t see the things you do.” “They can’t possibly relate.” “They don’t need you to pull them down.” “They won’t miss you.” “They don’t get it.” That voice in your head is wrong. It’s wrong about so many things, but oftentimes it’s the loudest voice you can hear, so you listen to it.

The stigma needs to end.

Mental illnesses are not a disease; they are a disorder. We need to talk openly about them with one another in order to normalize the topic and help uncover new ways to better balance the lives of those who are suffering with mental illness. We need to educate each other about our status with mental illness and how it affects us all a little bit differently, and we shouldn’t feel afraid to speak about it with others. It is important that we have accommodations, comfort, trust, or just someone to make sure that we ate a meal today or are staying hydrated. A conversation can help to meet these needs as they arise. Still, we often feel like staying silent is the better option because that voice in our head tells us, “no one will believe you anyway.”

We need to feel safe and welcomed even with our flaws. We need to teach about mental illnesses in elementary school—that these disorders are not to be feared. They should be taught so that they will be better understood among friends, families, and co-workers. If we can teach children about mental illnesses, they could grow up in a generation that is accepting and accommodating to one another. They could support others, and they could have support for themselves. Support is so important.

It’s important to normalize the conversation about mental illnesses. Those who are affected can then feel safer when speaking about their experiences. Being vocal about mental illnesses and how we can make changes to help accommodate those suffering is a good thing to do. You become an ally, and you can help educate others on why speaking about these topics is no longer taboo.

If you feel unsure about speaking out on the topic, then go to your local library or find scientific journals online and read up on mental illnesses. It’s sad to think that we don’t teach more about this topic in schools. Educating yourself is helpful because you will better understand the way mental illnesses affect the lives around you. And even if you never find your voice to speak up or ask questions about mental illnesses, just knowing that you are taking the time to educate yourself is a step in the right direction.

You are important.

Sometimes we just need a friend, a confidant, or just someone who can see the real us beneath the weight of our shadows. Sometimes it’s hard to find that someone among the naysayers and those who laugh at you or tell you that one day you’ll outgrow this. I understand this. I know we don’t have cures for mental illnesses, but we do have medicine and counselors and therapists who can help us to better understand these parts of ourselves. 

Seek Help and Understanding

If you are suffering from a mental illness or suicidal thoughts, then seek help and understanding. Do not listen to that voice in your head that tries to convince you that you don’t matter. Do your best to ignore that voice and get the help you need. And hang in there—you are not alone. You are valid. And you are enough. You are loved. And you are going to help change the tide on mental illness, one step at a time.

Learn more about Mental Health and Mental Health Awareness Month for the month of May here: https://www.nami.org/mentalhealthmonth. If you are facing an emergency, call 911 immediately.

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Featured image credit: Dan Meyers/Unsplash

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