Break the Stigma on Mental Health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States. There remains a stigma surrounding mental health with the misconception that it refers to those who are “crazy” or “unstable.” In certain contexts, this may be true, but often these labels are inaccurate and show ignorance in regard to mental health.

Depression and manic behavior fall under the umbrella of mental health and are often caused by a chemical imbalance. Depression doesn’t mean a person is sad or unhappy, two emotions which are often attached to the word. Rather, depression is rooted in feelings that you are not enough, that nobody cares about you, or that you are alone despite being surrounded by thousands of people at school. Sometimes depression can drive someone to become suicidal because they feel so isolated.

a woman sits on the edge of a deck overlooking the forestThere is another disorder that is attached to depression--bipolar disorder--and it’s more common than most people think. This disorder pinpoints mood swings. Someone can be manic on the positive side of things and be overly excited or overly motivated and inspired. This often looks like the person is bouncing off the walls, sometimes literally even. In contrast, there is the manic negative side in which the person feels worthless, alone, and isolated. This is an instance in which one may label the person crazy because they can’t keep up with the drastic changes in mood swings. In reality, however, bipolar disorder is just a chemical imbalance in the brain.

Another silent mental health disorder is anxiety. Sure, some people experience degrees of anxiety before a test or when their pet isn’t feeling well and they aren’t sure if they are ok. But the type of anxiety to which I am referring debilitates people to the point that they literally can’t leave the house because they are petrified to tackle what the outside has to offer them.

A photo of scrabble words assembled to spell Although this is one extreme case of anxiety, there is another type that you might have and not even know it: social anxiety. Social anxiety is more than being shy in class and not raising your hand or being the one girl in your group who just takes notes and never contributes to the conversation. Rather, social anxiety is so crippling that it stops your day and productivity entirely. There may be so much to do but because you don’t feel like you can do it all justice, you just don’t do anything at all. And when nothing gets done, your anxiety only escalates and the cycle repeats. Unfortunately, someone who suffers from anxiety often gets labeled an outcast and, in social situations, is often excluded.

There are other symptoms of mental illness that are visible while walking down the street. You may see someone spazzing out, delirious at a bus stop and start to walk faster to avoid contact with them because you think they are a tweaker or a psycho. But what you don’t think about is that most homeless people who behave this way suffer from an inability to adequately treat and manage their mental illness with medical care.

Unfortunately, every mental illness is so complex and nuanced that it makes the person who has it unpredictable. And this is just how the world operates--from the point of view of a person who is not educated about mental illness or well-versed in its symptoms.

Sometimes the symptoms are so strong that the entire day is wasted away by lying in bed in the dark contemplating whether you are worthy of society, and sometimes it is safer to be indoors and not face the outside world. But for those with mental illness, these symptoms don’t go away when you snap your fingers and demand it. You can’t tell a depressed person to get up and engage in life, sometimes you have to sit in the depression and work your way out of it on your own. When you are crippled by the anxiety of going out because there are potentially infected COVID-19 people who have breathed on you and now you don’t know if you have it so you hide in a corner and rock back and forth in fear, you can’t snap your fingers and tell that person to put on some shoes and take a walk. Some of these symptoms are so strong that therapy is needed for these individuals. Others cope by journaling their thoughts so that the future them can see that they got out of that dark hole they were stuck in. Meditating and taking deep breaths every time you feel an anxiety attack coming on can also be therapeutic. But most of all, having a support system is important for those with mental health struggles.

If you are struggling with mental illness, just know that your symptoms aren’t going anywhere and neither are you, so don’t ignore or neglect your mental health. You are enough, and you are valued. Don’t give up before the miracle happens.