It breaks my heart every time I see it. A morning scroll through my newsfeed only to find a GoFundMe posting for funeral services of someone I knew in high school. Sometimes it’s drugs, other times, suicide. Tragedies that could’ve been avoidable. People taken too young, too fast, too soon.
Every time I see their faces, I think back to what I may have thought of them in high school. Was I mean? Did I make fun of them behind their back? Did I avoid them? Was I nice? After all these years, I can’t really remember. Though I know I did my best to treat people with kindness and respect, it’s possible I joined in on the judgments or comments others around me made.
As a young person in high school, there is enough going on in life. It’s a huge transitional stage and dealing with school in general is enough work. Trying to make lasting friendships, prepare for college, find out who you want to be — it’s exhausting and we are all lucky if we make it out without any major bruises. But to battle with something greater than that at the same time? I couldn’t imagine. And not only that, but to continue having to battle it in the adult world.
It pains me. Sometimes, I think if I had known them better I could’ve helped. But even those who do everything right can still end up traveling down a dark path.
Mental health is a growing concern in this country. Illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia affect more than 43 million Americans. Only a small percentage will seek out professional help to challenge their demons (National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2015). The proof is right there and yet a majority of people still scoff at those less fortunate than they are. They laugh at the girl sitting by herself. They tease the boy who can’t adjust easily. They avoid the homeless person who is trying to stay alive. They judge. That’s all we know how to do in this country. Judge. Look at someone, make assumptions based off stereotypes, and decide that everything we think is 100 percent accurate.
The problem is, we don’t know that. We don’t know what anyone else is going through. Sometimes, we don’t even know what our best friend, cousin, brother or mother is going through. Even if we did, their description and emotions would be concepts we just can’t grasp.
Mental illnesses don’t discriminate based on socioeconomic status, gender or race. It can befall anyone, for any reason, at any time, and they’ll hide it. They’ll hide it because they know our society thinks they don’t matter. We’ve been telling them that for years. Weird. Crazy. Odd. Quiet. Not normal. And we judge. We judge so much that they are unable to beat what seems inevitable to some of them.
Do yourself a favor today — better yet, do the person sitting next to you a favor today — and look in the mirror. Think back to your worst day, whether it was from depression, over the loss of a job, or mania from a significant other cheating. Whatever it was, just take yourself back to that moment.
Do you remember what your face looked like? When you looked in the mirror and saw someone you didn’t recognize? Perhaps your eyes were sunken in and puffy from your tears. Perhaps you had a face full of makeup, trying to hide your ills with a forced smile. Do you remember being afraid that your eyes would give it away? Turning with turmoil that was buried deep inside you, you could tell, but could others?
We’ve all had a day. A day where our baggage needed to be hidden and where our emotions needed to be subdued. But we could do it; it was just one day. For some, it’s not just one day. It’s not two days or a few days, not a week or even a month. It’s every single day. A mental battlefield every single day, possibly for your whole life. And when you impose your judgments and sneer at their faces, you undoubtedly make those days longer, harder, and you contribute to the loss of hope.
You can’t always see mental illness, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a face. Change your attitudes toward others around you. A smile of understanding on your face can help save the depression on theirs.
National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2015) Mental Health By the Numbers. Retrieved May 24, 2016, from https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers