It can be hard to understand or empathize with people who suffer from mental illness. If you’ve never experienced it yourself or don’t know anyone who suffers from it, you may not even really believe it exists. (Note: chances are you do know someone suffering from mental illness — they just aren’t open about it because they feel shame.)
For much of my life I questioned it. Even though I’d had bouts of extreme sadness I was always able to get out of it quickly and move on with life. It was hard to imagine that others couldn’t just do the same. I had pretty staunch beliefs about medication to treat mental illness, thinking that it was never truly needed, that it was all just about industry and profit for the pharmaceutical companies. (Not that I don’t believe this is partially — maybe mostly — true. Meds are prescribed way too fast and too often when they should be a last resort option.)
I quickly changed my perception about mental illness after becoming close with someone who suffers from it. I saw first-hand how she entered into depressions that were beyond reason, that she couldn’t just turn it around, even though on the outside, to everyone else, she appeared to have it all together and in fact was great at spreading happiness. She has coping tools: meditation, yoga, techniques learned through counseling. She has a deep spiritual practice and is a lover of nature and all beings. Despite all of this though, when she spirals into a depression she becomes hopeless and would rather just disappear off the face of the earth. I’ve seen her eyes, which are normally filled with energy and love, become lifeless. There is no mistaking the eyes.
What’s more, suicide is the second leading cause of death for young Canadians, and most who die have a mental illness, like depression. ~ from CallBS.ca
I helped her admit herself into a psych ward, because she needed to be in a safe environment and around others who could understand her. I visited her everyday and saw the other patients who also suffered some very real illnesses, who functioned at a much lower level then she did. I saw the nursing staff, the counselor, the doctor, all who were overworked — each dealing with far more patients than they should have been — because of a medical system that continually strips away mental health funding, presumably because the government feels it’s not important enough.
Our society has something against the mind. It refuses to acknowledge that the mind can, just like any physical part of our body, be “injured.” If you break your leg there’s no questioning it. You have a broken leg. An employer wouldn’t hesitate in hiring you because of it. No one would tell you to just ignore it and walk around like normal. You’d get sympathy from your friends and strangers opening doors for you. Mental illness is real too. It’s harder to see, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
Continuing to act as if it doesn’t exist — keeping it as a dirty little secret — will keep people who suffer from it hidden away, out on the fringes. They will suffer in silence, riddled with shame.
Help call bullshit on this society that perpetuates the stigma of mental illness. Help open the doors for more conversation. Encourage each other to talk openly about it. Stop making people feel bad for feeling bad.