By definition, mental health is in relation to “a person’s condition regarding their psychological and emotional well-being.” Negative attitudes and beliefs towards people who have mental health conditions surround us each day. There are many myths about mental health: mental illness makes someone “crazy”; people experiencing mental health conditions are unstable, violent, or even dangerous. The truth is, these people are often vulnerable, in pain, and alone. Having a mental illness means there is a chemical imbalance in the brain that might alter your thinking, destabilize mood, or skew perception of reality. Mental illness does not make a person crazy or violent, it just makes them human.
As someone who has been diagnosed with Dysthymia Depression, I am very passionate about bringing awareness towards mental health. Dysthymia is a persistent depressive disorder that is generally experienced as a less severe, but more chronic form of depression. Every now and again I feel trapped in my own mind. I immediately feel the twisted knot moving upwards from my gut. Work takes me away from the moments that I spend wrapped up in myself, but there are days when my condition swallows me whole. My brain bullies and prods, pushes until tears well in my eyes and my skin pricks up with goosebumps. I can do everything right and still land in the same dark abyss day after day.
I go through my days smiling and working hard. I have organized charity events, holiday parties, and company barbeques and manage to go on outings with my friends and family. I walk the same sidewalks as everyone else, eat at the same restaurants, and stop at the same stop lights, but every day when I have a second to myself, that’s when it hits me. I feel different. I over analyze every situation. My heart is heavy and I feel like I am suffocating. My brain is tired, but won’t shut down. I imagine everything I possibly did wrong that day. I rethink every conversation and create reasons why that person could never like me. These thoughts are fiction and I shouldn’t have them. The people who surround me love me and appreciate me. But I can never really understand that. I can never teach myself that I am worthy of their liking.
It is difficult to understand mental illness, so I’m sharing what I’ve learned from my experiences in the hopes that others can be supportive. Someone living with a mental health need may feel small and misunderstood. Remember to be aware, be kind, and most importantly, remember that what they feel is valid. Any form of mental health condition is not an exaggeration. It is real and painful for the person and the people closest to them. People who suffer from mental illness often have to deal with uneducated assumptions and judgement. Some people withdraw and prefer to be alone, but sometimes those around them do not notice or recognize unless they reach out. One of the simplest and most powerful things to do is to tell someone struggling with a mental health concern “I’m here for you.” Those who suffer from these disorders do not seclude themselves for attention. Making it clear that you are there for them is a way of recognizing that what they feel is legitimate and significant; it is a relief.
In addition to providing support, become informed on the subject. Be aware that there are people that insult the community by saying these illnesses are not real or that it can be fixed instantly. Mental health disorders are a growing concern in the country, affecting more than 43 million Americans annually. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), in 2015 only a small percentage will seek out professional help. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate based on socioeconomic status, gender or race. It can happen to anyone. Those experiencing mental health conditions can medicate and learn to live “normal” lives, but everyday is a challenge. Mental illness does not mean that someone wallows in bed all day. Many put on a mask and smile, make jokes, and seem like the happiest people around. But, keeping up these social interactions can be exhausting.
I was once told “if people with mental illness have the ability to laugh, then they have the ability to turn their condition off if they want to be happy.” Trust me when I say, I wish that was the case. It’s not fun to always be asked “what’s wrong?” To avoid awkward conversation about why I don’t know what really is wrong, I simply smile. I act as “normal” as I can. I want this entry to shed some light on mental health. I want those around me to become aware. I want to be able to say “I am depressed. I don’t like myself and I cannot tell you why.” It doesn’t mean I cannot fully function throughout the day, I just feel alone in a room full of people sometimes. We don’t say these things out loud, but today I am.
I hope after reading this, you are aware of your words, your thoughts, and any stigma you may have towards people living with mental health needs. At the end of the day, mental health may not be real to you, but it’s real to your neighbor, classmate, roommate, best friend, teammate, and family member every day. Some days it consumes lives and other times it’s manageable. It never goes away completely.
In the meantime, please be kind.