The other day, a good friend of mine mentioned that her husband reads my blog, enjoys it, and even identifies with it. He also said that no one will post comments or answers to my questions, because no one wants to admit that they have struggled with mental illness.
I understand. I didn’t ask for help until I was in college. I didn’t want to admit that I felt like my life wasn’t worth living, even though I was otherwise healthy, well-fed, warm, and had people who loved me. We all hide our sadness or fear or anger, because somewhere along the way we learned that it makes us less than. But the truth is, something we all share cannot divide us, no matter how hard we try.
Mental health issues have been all over the public sphere in the last couple of years with the prevalence of gun violence. But when we talk about gun violence, we are talking about the 1 in 17 adults that suffer from a severe and often psychotic form of mental illness. This statistic is scary enough and certainly significant and important, but we must also consider the 26.2 percent of Americans over 18 that suffer from a mental disorder in any given year. (NIMH)
One in four people have a diagnosable mental health illness: mild depression, anxiety, mood swings, etc. When we talk about mental health, we are not simply talking about those that suffer from more severe forms like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, crippling obsessive-compulsive disorder and the like. We are talking about people who get sad in the winter, who shake when they talk in front of people, those who struggle to manage their anger, anyone addicted to anything (alcohol, video games, exercise, food), and the list goes on. “Mental Illness” is a label in and of itself that is helping keep this issue in the dark.
So let’s stop talking about “mental illness”, “depression”, “anxiety.” And let’s start talking about the problems we all face, about what we have in common. One in four adults in America suffer from a diagnosable mental illness, but we all have been sad, scared, lonely, overwhelmed, angry, ashamed, deeply disappointed, among other things.
If you have a diagnosis and you want to talk about it, that’s fantastic. Join me! I have diagnosed mood, personality, and anxiety disorders. But what does that really mean? Sometimes I get sad, scared, lonely, overwhelmed, angry, ashamed, and disappointed. This is what we have in common. This is what really matters.
Getting mental health issues out into the open isn’t about labels and distinctions. I know that depression and sadness, nervousness and anxiety, are not the same thing, but it is important that we remove the stigma from mental suffering. I have never met a person who hasn’t suffered internally in some way. So why are we so afraid?
If you know someone who has felt any of these things, please share, comment, or like this post on facebook. Let’s see how connected we are.