Even on my worst days, I feel extremely lucky to have my job. It grants me the opportunity to hear stories and engage with people in the most raw, vulnerable way possible.
I have the privilege of studying, knowing, and working intimately with mental health issues; placing me on the front lines of this issue.
But it is easy to forget that an all-too-real stigma exists within the four walls of a therapy room.
We are often terrified of the things we do not understand. This can be said about food, people, and places. Not surprisingly, the complaint I hear the most from the those with mental illness is: I wish the public was more informed.
While I don’t know everything, these are the things I want you to know about mental illness:
- Mental illness doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
Mental illness is the interplay of many different factors, including genetics, environment, and lifestyle. Things such as trauma or drug use can cause it to develop when it otherwise might not have.
- Mental illness is different for everyone.
Not everyone with depression spends his or her days in bed in a dark room. Those with schizophrenia don’t just walk around talking to themselves. Individuals with the same diagnosis experience symptoms differently.
- You can’t just get over it.
Mental illness is as real as a broken bone. It can be managed and improved through medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes, but you can’t just get over it. Telling people this is unfair.
- Bad days happen.
Many people do not understand how much your mind changes with mental illness. It is complicated and often cyclical. When you are experiencing depression or panic, it is hard to remember what “better” feels like. These emotions may feel suffocating, overwhelming, and inescapable.
- Mental illness doesn’t have a type.
It takes on the face of the smiling cheerleader, the stay-at-home mom, and the high-powered CEO. Mental illness knows no limits when it comes to gender, ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status, or occupation.
- Everything isn’t what it seems.
If someone in your life says he or she has a mental illness or is experiencing symptoms, believe it. Things are not always as they appear. Many people use all of their strength just to get through the day and you really never know what is hiding behind a smile.
- It is an illness.
Mental health is an illness. It is not a choice, a character flaw, or an excuse to stay in bed all day.
Understanding goes a long way. If you ask questions, inform yourself, and really try to understand, you have the ability to make an incredible difference in someone’s life. When someone tells you he or she is experiencing symptoms, listen. Developing an understanding of individual experiences is an incredible way to further understand and destigmatize mental illness.
We must try to understand that no diagnosis or symptom is the same, making treatment and relief extremely complex. If you know someone who is stressed, anxious, or suffering from mental illness, I urge you to listen before you speak and remember everyone has a story to tell. When you know someone’s story, it is impossible to hate them.
Understanding sign available from Shutterstock