***Trigger Warning*** (Suicide)
Last week was a rough week for many who have mental health issues. There were not one, but two celebrity suicides this past week: Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. It’s opened up a much-needed conversation about mental health issues and the stigma around them.
Because of this, I wanted to take the time to help dispel some of the stigma surrounding mental health conditions, specifically anxiety disorders and Depression.
In no particular order, here’s what I want everyone to know about anxiety disorders and Depression:
- We have no control over what makes us anxious or depressed. I know it doesn’t make sense to you. Sometimes, it doesn’t make sense to us either. During these moments, we need support, not ridicule.
- Our disorder is not our fault. We didn’t ask for anxiety disorders and depression. Please don’t treat us like it’s our fault.
- Anxiety and Depression strike whenever it pleases. This is often despite self care, medication, therapy, etc. These disorders can be managed, but there haven’t been any cures yet.
- Taking medication is not the “easy way out.” It’s not a decision that’s made lightly. We often have to deal with side effects that are downright awful. We put up with them in the hopes of finding something that will give us a little bit of relief.
- We are allowed to have a bad day without being interrogated about if our medicine is still working. If you’re having more bad days than good days, then it’s time to talk to your doctor. A bad day every once in a while is normal, regardless of your mental health status.
- Just because you don’t understand our struggles doesn’t mean they’re any less valid.
- When we get anxious, we are not overreacting. Our fears and feelings are painfully real. Treat them as such.
- We are not being “selfish” or “difficult” if we have to cancel plans. Sometimes, our disorders take an unexpected bad turn. For most of us, this is a last resort because we don’t want to upset our loved ones.
- We aren’t being “dramatic” if we say we’re having a panic attack. Panic attacks are no laughing matter. I’ve had dozens of them myself, some of which have been severe. I remember one in particular where it got so bad that I couldn’t walk without support. During that same panic attack, I couldn’t see, my muscles stiffened, my heart rate was unbelievably high, and I felt sick to my stomach. Without having someone helping me to walk, I would’ve collapsed. Believe me, I didn’t want this to happen. It felt like my world as I knew it was crashing to my feet. No one chooses to feel that way, and I did everything I could to stop it.
- Mental illnesses are not character flaws. These are two very different things. Character flaws are within your control and can be fixed with enough determination. Mental illnesses are outside of your control and can be managed, not “fixed.” Please stop confusing mental illnesses and character flaws.
- Having a mental illness does not mean that you have a weak faith in God. If anything, it’s the opposite. For me, part of the reason I have such a good prayer life is because of my anxiety disorder. I typically pray anywhere from 45 minutes-1 hour per day. When things are going badly, I pray to God for strength, courage, and perseverance. When things are going well, I thank God profusely for the blessings in my life. When things get really bad, my faith in God is the only thing that keeps me going and gives me hope.
Think of how you would support someone who had asthma or diabetes. People who have mental health issues need the same care and compassion. Would you say someone was overreacting if they were having an asthma attack? Would you shame someone with diabetes for taking insulin? Why is this treatment not okay for people with physical illnesses, but it’s okay for people with mental health condition?
We need everyone to help battle stigma, regardless of your mental health. People who have mental health conditions have done a great job of shedding light on this issue, but we can’t do it alone. Frankly, fighting against stigma is exhausting. We need people who don’t have mental health conditions to help us fight.
Here’s a list of things that everyone can do to end stigma and support people who have mental health conditions:
- Listen to the stories of people who have mental health conditions. For sufferers, this will help you to remember that you’re not alone. For non-sufferers, this will give you an idea of what it’s like to live with these conditions.
- If you have a mental health condition, and you feel comfortable doing so, share your story. A quick Google search will give you several online platforms where you can share your story.
- Contact your representatives and tell them to fund mental health care. People with mental health conditions deserve proper health care, and it’ll take everyone raising their voices to make it happen.
- If you have a loved one who’s going through a rough patch with their condition, go out of your way to do something nice for them. Offer to treat them to lunch, see a movie, or any other activity that gets them out of the house. If they aren’t up for leaving the house, bring over dinner and hang out with them. Sometimes, a distraction can work wonders.
- At the very least, send them a “thinking of you” card in the mail or a text. Your loved one needs to know that there are people out there that care.
- Consider donating to (or volunteering with) an advocacy organization. The biggest organization in the United States is the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI. Organizations like these do powerful work to support people with mental illnesses and their loved ones.
People with mental health disorders deserve care and compassion, not ridicule and stigma. People would be much more likely to get help when they need it, instead of avoiding help out of fear of stigma. You can help fight the battle against stigma. We can end the stigma, but it’s going to take everyone doing their part to make it happen.
Will you join the battle?