Mental health is a topic that a lot of people shy away from….Sure, you hear about mindfulness and meditation. You also hear that exercise is good for your mental health, and so is eating a well balanced diet. What nobody ever wants to talk about is the daily experience of living with mental illness, and the associated stigmas.
Let’s say you’re walking downtown and trip on the curb. You fall, break your leg, and a dozen people flock to the scene. They tell you to go to the doctor, and you do, because you know that’s what you need to do to take care of yourself. Afterwards, people send you get-well cards and offer to drive you to work or buy you dinner. Some even send flowers, because they know you must be in a lot of pain.
Now let’s say you have a mental illness.
Note: this scenario does not apply to every person with mental illness and is purely meant to be used as a thought exercise.
You planned on going downtown because there’s a festival you really wanted to attend. When you wake up that morning, you’re so depressed you don’t think you can. Your significant other (S.O) drags you out of bed even though your anxiety is off the charts. You arrive at the festival and it’s too much. The music, the people…everything triggers you. You begin bawling your eyes out, and snapping at strangers. You feel as though you’ve lost control of your body. People look at you and roll their eyes. Who is this adult who is faking a tantrum? Others back away, scared. Your S.O tries to calm you, but eventually gives up. They give you the silent treatment.
In the first scenario, people are empathetic. They can see something is physically wrong with you, which makes them want to help you. In the second scenario, people cannot see that you’re “injured.” As a result, they either don’t believe the mental illness exists, stigmatize it, or do nothing because they don’t know what to do. This is incredibly difficult for those who suffer with mental illness, because they need the same love that people with visible illnesses receive. People suffering with mental illness do not need false assumptions about what it’s like to live with mental illness. They do not need anger or abandonment. They need encouragement, someone to hear them out, and to feel believed.
This isn’t to say that those with mental illness should be fully dependent on others…we all need to protect our own individual energy. Just as those with broken bones need a very particular type of support, so do people with mental illness. This support varies depending on the person, type, and severity. Still, it is not the responsibility of loved ones to heal one’s mental illness. They can’t. Nor should their loved ones live with the burden of feeling as though they should. Those suffering with mental illness often need a combination between professional services, self help, and external support. Just as a broken leg will not heal without crutches, a cast, and the occasional doctor’s visit, most mental illnesses will not go away if they are ignored.
Whether you suffer from mental illness or not, it is important to come to terms with the experience the universe has granted you, and learn to thrive. Sometimes, this means being brave enough to accept that what you are going through is valid, even when others do not. As a whole, we need to acknowledge that the experiences of others are valid…even if you do not understand them.
If you feel your mental health is suffering, reach out for help. Seek good, well-vetted professional resources that work for your budget and lifestyle. Educate others on what you’re experiencing, and educate yourself on what you can do to improve your circumstances. Ask your friends and family to support you, and let them know how. Be reasonable..again, they are here to help, but cannot heal you on their own. It is unfair to expect them to, even if they love you more than anything.
If you know someone who is suffering, offer support. Do not overwhelm them with articles and ideas, but let them know you are there for them, are willing to listen without judgement, and are available to help them find the resources they need. Do not pretend to know exactly how they are feeling, or tell them to “get over it” already. Be positive, and uplifting. Be a loving energy, without spending all of your own.
I am not a mental health professional, nor do I pretend to be. This letter was written from a place of love and light…so I hope that you receive it well and know that this does not replace professional advice or research, or apply to all people who have mental health disorders.