Oftentimes when we look at other people – our neighbors, colleagues, and friends – we imagine they and their lives are perfect. We imagine they have fewer difficulties than us…we believe that mental illness would never touch their lives. We may look at that celebrity on TV, the 6-figure executive of a big corporation, the work at home mom with a successful business, the college student with a 4.5 GPA and on the college swim team or the high school teen on the honor roll and think they couldn’t possibly have any difficulties in their lives or suffer with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or some other debilitating mental illness. But, the truth is that mental health issues do not discriminate. Anyone, no matter who you are, where you come from, how much money you or your family have or how much “stuff” you have…anyone…can be suffering in a way you would never imagine.
Do you know what the difference is between them and you? Honestly, very little if anything at all. You cannot assume that you are suffering more severely or that they are less affected because money or status is involved. Not being able to see someone else’s issue or their struggle internally doesn’t mean everything is perfect or that they can’t possibly know what it’s like to be in your shoes mentally and emotionally. We have got to stop comparing ourselves so much and judging people…many of whom we don’t even know!
There is such stigma associated with mental illness and getting the help and support…or even medication that’s needed. People (no matter their background) believe themselves to be weak when their mind feels like it is out of control and their emotions send them into the pits of hell. Self-loathing, judgment, and thinking you are worthless are just a few of the thoughts that come to mind. As someone who has also battled depression more than once in my life, I know how easy it can be for things to get really dark really fast and it seem like it will never get better. In this place, your mind feels like it is a tornado spinning out of control and sucking the very life and light from you. And, yes, it really is awful. And it is often difficult for your friends and family to understand or help you… But there are things you can do.
First and foremost, acknowledge that there is something wrong and that it doesn’t mean that you’re weak because you need help. And then, don’t trick yourself into believing you have to show how “strong” you are by going it alone. It’s so hard to do this all by yourself. Being strong really means knowing how to access and utilize the tools and services that are available to you and really USING them.
So, remember these four things when you find yourself wanting to suffer in silence or thinking you shouldn’t get help for your particular mental health struggle:
- Don’t let the misguided perceived stigma of mental illness and seeking treatment hold you back from having the enjoyable and healthy life you deserve.
- Don’t allow yourself to feel shame because of what you’re dealing with. It is not a sign of personal weakness that you’re battling with mental health issues.
- Don’t isolate yourself from others. Seek professional help, reach out to friends and family, and stay connected to your support system. They are crucial in helping you fight when you don’t have it in you to do it for yourself. Join a support group with others who have similar issues.
- Most of all don’t equate yourself with your illness. You are not your illness – it does NOT define you. Instead of saying, “I am…” say, “I have…”
Judgment about mental health issues usually stems from a lack of knowledge and understanding and is rarely based on facts. Our society does little to really focus on mental health. We don’t focus on prevention…or resiliency. We often wait until things reach crisis levels before doing anything about the problems we are facing. We do that with physical health problems…and we do that with mental health problems too. We really must stop doing that. If we focused more on health and prevention and instead of just on illness and treatment or cure, people would be so much healthier and happier. In the meantime, educate yourself about your issue, explain to those around you how it’s affected you and show them how they can support you. And, even if they don’t or can’t understand, you can get the tools you need to get better anyway. Why? Because YOU can do it. It’s your life. You are in charge of your mind and you’ve got this J I believe in you.