Some days I am proud of the progress our society has made toward acceptance of mental health disorders. Other days I fear for the mentally ill; as punishment and cruelty seem to be the most common response. There is a lot I wish the general public knew about mental health disorders. There is still so much stigma and misunderstanding about the topic. However, if people make an effort to understand, small improvements can be made.
Working with individuals with mental illness on a daily basis, I get the firsthand accounts of how they are treated. I hear the stereotypes they are labeled with and I see how they are treated differently once they disclose their mental health disorder. They express shame about asking for help. Their voices quiver with concern about losing custody of their children due to their disorder. I see people who are scared to face their disorder, but even more scared to not acknowledge it. Mostly, I see people at rock bottom – at a point where ending it all seems like the best solution. As a practicing therapist with my own mental health disorder, here is what I wish the general public knew about mental health disorders:
Mental Health Defies Logic
Mental health disorders are not choices. They defy logic. No one with depression or anxiety is choosing to feel depressed or anxious. In fact, people with mental health disorders often feel guilty about their illness. I meet with people with severe depression who say, “I love my spouse, I have great kids, my job is great, I shouldn’t feel this way.” It is unfair to expect a person to be free of mental illness because their life circumstances are good. Depression does not go away just because life circumstances are favorable. I’ll say it louder for those in back: mental illness defies logic.
Validation is Important
I’ve written at length about my anxiety. I get anxious about a lot of things and sometimes I get anxious without anything triggering me. It is not helpful to tell me, “There is nothing to be anxious about.” I already know that. And I am exhausted from trying to convince myself that there is nothing to be anxious about. It makes me crazy how illogical my anxiety is. I don’t need reassurance when I am anxious. However, I do need validation.
I can’t speak for all individuals with mental health disorders, but sometimes that reassurance makes me feel worse; it makes me feel guilty. I know it doesn’t make sense to feel this way – that constant battle in my brain just increases the anxiety. Tell me you know I’m anxious and that it’s ok. Let me know that you understand and don’t try to persuade me not to be anxious.
It Take a Lot of Energy to Live with a Mental Health Disorder
It takes excessive energy to live every day with a mental health disorder. You spend all day trying to do the “mind over matter” thing and use your coping skills while still functioning in your day to day life – going to work, raising children, spending time with your spouse and family – all while fighting an exhaustive internal battle.
Sometimes it is difficult for people to find the energy to get out of bed, to shower, to find clothing to wear. Then you throw in the daily expectations of your family, work, and social group and it can be overwhelming. These are things that people without mental health disorders do not have to think about – they put themselves on autopilot and go. No mental energy is spent trying to convince oneself to just get out of bed. Not ever having to experience the exhaustion of a mental health disorder makes it difficult to understand it, but for those of you living your day to day life while fighting your mental illness – I’m proud of you. That takes guts and so much effort.
Suicide is NOT Selfish
Suicide. This is an incredibly sensitive subject and please know my thoughts on this are not, by any means, generalizing to everyone who has attempted or completed suicide. However, as a mental health professional who meets with people every day who have either attempted or contemplated suicide, my findings are that suicide is not selfish. It is not the easy way out. For the sake of this conversation, I’m choosing to discuss those who attempt/complete suicide as a result of depression. There are many who attempt/complete suicide as a result of other factors (ie, psychosis), however, for now I just want to talk about those with depression.
People with suicidal thoughts frequently believe that they are a burden to their friends and family and truly believe that those people would be better off without them. Depression can take such a strong hold on the mind that it makes it impossible to see clearly. Those with severe depression often experience an extreme level of hopelessness that many of us will never understand. That hopelessness is a symptom of depression and it can often lead people to believe that suicide is the best answer – for themselves and the people in their lives.
Suicide is a hard and scary subject to talk about. As mentioned above, I cannot possibly generalize the reasons behind suicide to everyone who has attempted or completed, but offering some insight and a different perspective into the subject is hopefully helpful.
As a society, we have come a long way in accepting mental health disorders, but we still have a long way to go. Hopefully, by raising awareness about mental health we can also change the tone to one of acceptance.