I’d read that only about one third of those who suffered from mental health issues ever admitted to their illnesses. Using the terms ‘sufferers’ and ‘illnesses’ alone hints that these individuals were sick and therefore ‘lesser’ in some way than the rest of the population. It is akin to a cancer patient – they suffer from an illness and are therefore labelled as victims of that illness.
I would think that this would make for a more empathetic society.
I believe that education is key – People need to understand that people suffering from a mental illness are suffering, just as a victim of any physical ailment.
Sadly, we all want to be perceived as being stronger and smarter than we are – we want to hide our truths – our flaws and mistakes. This is the source of any stigma.
It makes no sense to me.
The current mental health issues that are being targeted for de-stigmatization are the less ‘feared,’ and more common ailments such as anxiety and depression. This is not meant to dismiss these illnesses – they are very serious and can be almost insurmountable to treat.
I surmise that almost everyone has experienced anxiety at some point in their lives. Anxiety asking for a first date. Anxiety when starting a new job. Anxiety over buying a car or house. Anxiety is the ‘butterflies’ that you feel in your stomach as you dare yourself to press forward into creating a new life experience.
Similarly, I would go so far as to state that almost everyone has suffered from depression. Depression from ending a relationship with your girlfriend/boyfriend. Depression from getting let go from a job. Depression due to the death of a parent or friend. It’s the weighty sadness that you feel in your head and the emptiness you feel in your stomach.
Now – try to imagine those feelings magnified one-thousand times. Try to step into the shoes of someone with the inability to overcome these devastating sensations. The feeling of being crippled and caged. The feeling of being unable to move forward. The feeling that despite your best intentions, you are unable to get up in the morning for work. Unable to do anything but attempt to put on a convincing smile for your friends and family. You’ll do whatever you need just to get through the day.
That is mental illness.
Next, try to imagine sharing your feelings of desperation with your friends, family, or coworkers – if you are bold enough to face that damning stigma – you don’t want to be ‘labelled.’ And, unless they have experienced something similar – and they themselves are willing to open-up – you’ll get the same old rhetoric from them. You’re just in a temporary funk. It’s not as bad as you think. You’re overreacting. It will pass soon enough. Tomorrow is a new day – you’ll have forgotten about it by then. Face your fears and you will overcome them.
‘Just let it go…’
That is what others may – and will most likely will say to you – and that will often reinforce and possibly exaggerate your mental health issues by introducing self-doubt and a feeling of isolation. This may dissuade you from seeking help, as it did me. In general, they are not trying to slough you off – they just don’t know what to do. You still may not consider yourself to have an illness or health-issue – you’ll remain in denial. You’re left to believe that you should be able to handle these ‘feelings’ – right?
Welcome to your nightmare – you have been stigmatized.
And it can get worse. Eventually, you’ll start to feel like there is no hope. Even though you may have hinted at your ‘issues,’ your friends and family – not being able or willing to comprehend – may slowly drift away. They may consider you to be a ‘downer,’ or a ‘complainer.’ Soon, they won’t have time to listen to you reiterating your woes. Meanwhile, your mind has become consumed with negativity. You may start to feel that perhaps you are not expressing yourself adequately. You may start to believe that you’re sounding weak and whiny – you may even be told that you are. So, you bury it deeper inside of you and trudge on as always – hoping that it will just go away.
Let me tell you – It will never just go away.
You are in pain. Deep emotional pain. It starts to consume you. You try to rationalize it – but you cannot. You may feel a myriad of emotions – one at a time, or all at once. You may feel stupid. You may feel angry. You may feel sad. You may feel weak. You may feel unworthy. You may even think that you’re getting kicked in the ass by Karma if your slate isn’t clean.
And then the fallout starts to really kick you in the ass. You don’t want to go out with your partner or friends – or you may be able to put on a ‘happy-mask’ and go out anyways – but it’s a mask, which by definition means it is meant to cover up the reality.
You may self-medicate with booze or drugs. Or self-harm. Or the harming of others.
And then there’s the workplace. You’re dragging your ass. Your mind is constantly wandering – you’re having difficulties concentrating on the most basic of tasks. Your coworkers and/or supervisors are starting to complain. You have likely tried to hide your issues. And sometimes even though you’ve tried to explain your situation, you see that they either don’t understand or they don’t care.
After all – it’s not their job to make you feel secure and/or happy.
You’re being paid to carry out certain tasks – not to solve your personal problems.
If you’re fortunate enough to have access to professional help, and you are brave enough to seek it, you may start to see light at the end of the tunnel. Eventually you’ll probably be prescribed some antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication by a doctor – and hopefully you’ll finally start to feel better.
Not everyone with anxiety and/or depression may go through everything that I have just described – some people are able to just shrug it off. Some can plaster on a false smile and suffer silently – hiding it until they just accept it as a part of them. Some people can face their fears and walk out on the other side feeling ‘whole’ again.
But I have yet to meet one…