Mental Health Isn't Hiding
Mental health is a hot topic of conversation in the 21st century. Swarms of people are stepping out of the woodwork to discuss their struggles, inner demons and to help break the stigma. Tattoo artists are cranking out hundreds of semi-colon tattoos for those looking to honor their friends and family who are either struggling with mental health or for those who lost their battle. Therapy, medication and mental health days are becoming increasingly more popular and people are getting more and more confident in sharing when they need help.
But is that always the case?
As someone who has struggled with anxiety and depression and has a lot of friends and family who struggle with various types of mental health issues- I feel like I can speak on this topic.
Yes, as a society we have opened our hearts and minds to those who are struggling from within- but what about the cases where we haven't? What about the cases where we actively poke fun at “the girl who changes her hair color every day” or “the boy who takes the F on his oral exam because he's too scared” or “the lady at the store who one minute is complementing your shirt and the next minute is yelling that the store has the wrong type of peaches”?
What about them? Do you stop and consider that there may be mental health issues underneath the surface? Or do you write them off as “outcasts”, “crazy”, “weird”, or “attention seeking”? Sit with me for a second and consider this.
That girl who changes her hair color every day, she's suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) which was previously known as multiple personality disorder. Her brain can't keep her personalities straight and in an attempt to try and make it all make sense, she changes her hair color, over and over again. You may look at her as strange or attention seeking, but really she just wants a friend who will stick with her through all of her personalities.
That boy who you laughed at in school when he'd run out of the classroom in embarrassment – he's struggling with extreme anxiety. He didn't sleep last night because he was obsessing over everything that would go wrong with his speech. When he finally got up to do it, he started shaking and crying because he was so terrified of what his classmates would think or the grade he would get. Rather than face it, his body went into fight-or-flight mode. This isn't a bad student- that's bad anxiety.
Finally, the woman at the store who you thought was sweet but then walked away thinking she was a nut job- she's bipolar. Maybe she hasn't gotten on meds yet, maybe they just adjusted her prescription- she might not even be diagnosed yet. She gets embarrassed because she knows it's not socially acceptable, but that's usually after the fact. Sometimes she doesn't even realize what triggers her outbursts and sometimes she doesn't even remember them. All she knows is that everyone looks at her like she's crazy and she always loses the people she cares about most.
These my friends:
mental health issues in plain sight.
These are the situations that we don't even realize we encounter, because society has taught us to run away from people with behavior or tendencies that are different than our own.
But these “situations”, they are people. People with hearts, souls, dreams and passions; they're longing to just feel normal. I'm not exactly sure when in time we started treating people with mental health conditions as outcasts, probably the beginning of time, knowing people. But I'm here to tell you that the practice of shutting out people because they don't have total control over their thoughts and actions is not okay. In the same way that you are taught not to discriminate against those with diabetes or those who are medically obese, treating people with a mental health illness as disruptive is rude and unethical. We've been encouraged, especially so in the 21st century, to be inclusive and sensitive to those who have different circumstances, so why doesn't this apply to mental health?
What can you do to change?
There isn't a simple solution to this problem unless there is a widespread acceptance of the following practices.
1. Familiarize yourself with the varying types of mental health issues that are out there. Understand the ways that they manifest and how that might look in the real world.
2. Train your brain to question odd behavior and to have grace and love for those who are different from you. Rather than writing someone off as “crazy” in public, smile at them and if they're having a public breakdown, ask them if they need to talk to someone or if they're okay. By treating them like you would if someone collapsed in the store from low blood sugar... aka: sticking by their side until you knew they were okay- you're simply being a good human. We need more good humans in the world, so be one.
If someone you know is struggling or you would like to know how to spot the signs:
Let us not fall silent when our brothers and sisters need us most. Scroll to the bottom of this article for more links and information.
3. Talk about mental health and ask people how they are doing. Be someone that people can talk to, even if it's simply just an update on life in general. When you open up that door, it allows people to know that they have a safe place, even when they feel like they have nothing left. These conversations might surprise you, so be prepared. Way more people than you would ever probably realize struggle with mental health; friends and family alike. When you ask people how they're doing, stick around for the answer. Don't just ask and run on with what you were doing or saying, seriously listen (and not to answer or fix) and stay awhile. People want to be heard, seen, understood and loved. So hear them, see them, seek to understand them, and love them- unconditionally. It really is as simple as that.
4. Stand up for those around you who are obviously struggling. Encourage those who are struggling, shut down the gossip, meet hatred with love and strive to educate. The words may fly and the tears might flow, but at least they will know that there is always someone in their corner who loves them for who they actually are rather than focusing solely on their illness.
The #1 thing that most people with mental health illness want you to know: their illness is not who they are, it does not define them and there is a person underneath “the crazy”. Trust me, most of us know that we're a bit odd and that sometimes we are a special kind of crazy, but that doesn't mean we want to be treated like that 24/7. We're trying to figure things out. We're trying to get our brains balanced. We're trying therapy, new medications, oils, affirmations, meditations, groups, rehab centers, doctors, smiling- we're trying. So please, give us a break, give us the benefit of the doubt, give us a hug and try and treat us like everyone else. We'll try to let you know if we need space or a little bit of extra love.
If you are struggling with mental health issues and you're not getting the help you need and deserve, see below.
If you are struggling and need help:
1-800-273-8255 – National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Find a nearby chapter – American Foundation of Suicide Prevention
Text this crisis link – (text HELLO to 741741)
Check out: https://save.org/