*Trigger Warning: various mental illnesses, self-harm, and suicide*
Last month, I started a new and exciting series on my blog called Anything Goes. In this series, I am going to be tackling topics that are taboo or uncomfortable for many to talk about, and will be including guest posts, interviews, and some of my own writing. I plan to address stigmas and issues that surround subjects like feminism, mental health, and more, in hopes that they can bring light and fuel conversation between me and you and others. Look out for a new installment to this Anything Goes series every last Sunday of the month 🙂
Mental health is a topic that is discussed a lot on social media, but in real life, there is still a strong stigma surrounding it. Everything from the romanticization of mental health in movies and TV shows to people’s tendencies to make light of mental health with jokes has led to mental illnesses being misunderstood, dismissed, and/or not talked about educationally the way they should be.
Since I, personally, have never struggled with mental illness, I turned to you all to help me with this post. With the answers to three questions I asked my followers who wanted to participate, I am hoping to shed light on why there is a stigma, how the stigma affects those with a mental illness, and how to works towards breaking this stigma once and for all. First, let’s start with some fast mental health facts:
QUICK FACTS ABOUT MENTAL ILLNESS
- One in five adults live with mental illness in America (NIMH).
- Almost 50% of American teens aged 13-18 have mental health issues (Do Something).
- In the U.S., 45%-50% of people with severe mental illnesses are untreated for their disorders (MIP).
- Having a mental illness increases a person’s risk for diseases as well as intentional and unintentional injuries (WHO).
The answers to the following questions are not my own, but those of some of you who wanted to participate in this post. I am extremely lucky to have an incredible audience who is willing to lend raw and vulnerable pieces of their soul to me, so I can share them within this post to work towards ridding mental health of its taboo.
1. How has the stigma around mental health affected your willingness to talk about it openly?
“The stigma around mental health has made it an enormous challenge for people to take the topic seriously. Growing up, I always understood that what people with mental illness struggled with wasn’t normal and it was something to be skeptical of. This was not at the fault of my parents, but at the fault of society for glorifying the misconception that it is uncommon for people to struggle with thoughts of depression and anxiety.” -Katie
“While I’d like to say that I don’t feel like it’s really affected me – it did (and does). But for me, I think it came from more of not understanding what was going on in my head. Having anxiety and depression was never really something that was talked about growing up, and I still don’t know if anyone else in my family has it. When my mom put me in therapy when I was 15, the doctor tried to put me on antidepressants and I remember telling her “I don’t want to be on meds, I don’t want to be treated like I’m a crazy person” and that “if I know what’s wrong can’t I just make the choice to not do that?” Well, that’s not how it works. And it took me 7 years to consider medicine being a sensible option.” -Anaïsa
“The stigma around mental health has caused me to not want to tell my friends or talk about how it affects me. Many people have judgements towards people with mental health issues and opening up usually ends in statements such as ‘you just need to relax’ or ‘everyone gets stressed.’” -Elina
“The stigma [around mental health] has influenced my life in so many ways. On some days, it kept me silent— hidden away from friends and family in fear of being thought of as over-dramatic or crazy. Which, by the way, I hate using the term crazy because struggling with your mental health doesn’t mean you’re crazy, but the stigma forces you to think in those ways. Other times, I say f**k the stigma and I represent my diagnoses with pride. For a long time, I hid my pain behind a smile, but I realized by doing that I was actively promoting the stigma and maintaining a damaging silence. Once I learned more about myself, I gave less of a f**k about the stigma because y’know, f**k it.” -Anne
“When I was in middle school, it seemed like everyone had depression on social media, but not at school. I felt like I was supposed to be depressed, like it was a part of growing up. Since people only really talked about it on social media, it has been hard for me to discuss among my friends. I’m afraid they’ll think I’m dramatic or attention-seeking.” -Anonymous
2. Have you become more comfortable talking about yours and others’ mental health issues over time? If so, how/what made you more comfortable with talking about it?
“I’ve definitely gotten more comfortable talking about my anxiety with others over time because I’ve realized that everyone deals with it in some way, big or small, and more people have gone through the same things you’ve gone through. Talking about it can also create a mini-support system with those around you also affected by mental illness.” -Cameron
“Getting really real here— I attempted suicide almost two years ago. I remember looking my mother in the eyes and telling her that no matter how hard I tried or how much I wanted to, I couldn’t see a future for myself. That the future was black. Nothing. I think hitting that point, where my life was literally hanging by a thread, rocked me to my core. I was ashamed for so long, covering the self-inflicted wounds along my arms and making excuses for my absence while seeking treatment. It wasn’t until I noticed a friend struggling that I realized my voice could be influential to others. There’s no need to be ashamed of your struggles. My body has a chemical imbalance, just like some bodies have hormonal imbalances that cause serious issues, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I have an illness— maybe not as life threatening as others, but it’s still something. I didn’t wake up one day like “oh wow, it would sure be fun to have crippling anxiety and depression!” I don’t think anyone does. I realized that was just how my body and mind were made. That like a physical injury, I could train myself to cope and beat this. Knowing I could that and seeing my strength (even on days when I wanted to hide away and sob into the pillow) could prevent others from hitting the low that I once did changed everything for me.” -Anne
“I personally don’t struggle with mental illness; however, I would say I struggle with overall mental health. It’s not always easy to take care of yourself. Especially with the stress levels of the average teenager today, how could it be? By advocating for people who struggle with mental health, I have been able to realize my own lack of self-care. It’s not easy to admit to yourself that you need to slow down and take a step back, but it’s necessary in order to move forward.” -Katie
“I feel like comfortable isn’t the right way to put it because to me it sounds like I was uncomfortable talking about it. But over time I’ve become more open about this topic. I check up on people to make sure they’re good and check up on myself with others. I used to bottle up all my emotions and thoughts and then the bottle would spill because there’s too much inside. This past summer when I graduated from a private, small middle school, it was like a piece of me died and was in a state of shock almost. And over the summer through friends, family, and God I got through. It taught me to be open so others could help me.” -Cho Cho
“My depression and anxiety are a recent illness of mine, so I still struggle with talking about it openly. However, the more I have come to terms with the fact that I have a mental illness, the open I have been about discussing it. Mental illness (specifically depression) is not something you can decide to have, like it seemed on Instagram, it is a new, dark, and foggy side of you.” -Anonymous
“Over time I became more open with it, but only with people I really trust. I found that reminding myself that the only opinion about myself that matters is my own and it’s hard for people to understand who haven’t been through it. I also try to have of an attitude of so what I have it, this is a part of me and if they don’t like it, they don’t have to be my friend.” -Elina
3. What is one way those without (or even with) mental health issues can actively work to break the stigma surround it?
There was an overlapping of answers when it came to this question so here’s a list of the top ways to work towards breaking the taboo around mental health:
Create a safe space: As Katie said, “[Mental health] isn’t weird if we make it normal,” and this couldn’t be truer. Many of the people who contributed to this pose agreed, saying that creating a safe and open space for those with metal health issues is one of the greatest ways to make it a known and non-taboo topic. Listen to your friends who are struggling, learn the tell-tale signs of different mental illnesses, and ask about ways you can help. Do this all “without trying to push [your] own ideas onto someone who’s being brave, vulnerable, and talking to others about how they’re feeling,” says Anaïsa.
Don’t make jokes about mental illnesses: Whether you’re at school, scrolling through social media, or hanging out with friends jokes about mental illness aren’t that hard to come by. As (Anonymous) says,”Joking about mental illness does not break the stigmas, it only strengthens them. It takes away the seriousness of mental illnesses and turns illness like depression or suicide into jokes.” You never know what the people around you are dealing with, and making jokes can prevent them from feeling safe to open up about their own mental illness.
Teach kids it’s okay: A big thing that is missing when it comes to having conversations about mental health is teaching kids from a young age that having a mental illness is okay. Almost 50% of teens struggle with a mental illness, making it more of a common thing than people might realize. As Cho Cho stated, “Teach kids it’s okay. That [they] are worth it. That someone will always love [them].” It’s just as important to start mental health education early on in a child’s life as it is to learn more on the topic later on in life.
Encourage people to seek help: “Encouraging those you love to seek help when you see them struggling. There’s a huge problem there; people are afraid to seek the help they need, but when you actually take steps to help yourself, it is so worth it,” says Cameron. A part of breaking the stigma around mental illnesses is to encourage those who have it to get the help they need. Sometimes a push is necessary for this to occur.
MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES
- If a teen, text CONNECT to 741741 for help from the Crisis Textline about any problem, anywhere.
- 24-Hour National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
- A great article all about what to do when calling a mental health hotline: Mental Health Hotline Help
- National Alliance on Mental Illness Helpline: 1-800-950-6264 (for general questions about mental health and treatment, Monday-Friday 10 am-6 pm)
- If you are afraid you or someone you know may harm themselves, call 911.
Thanks so much for reading, friends! Stay tuned by subscribing with your email (if on desktop this can be found in the right-hand sidebar, if on mobile device this can be found by scrolling to the bottom of this page) for more blog posts from me. The third installment of my Anything Goes series will be out at the end of December, and I promise you don’t want to miss it! Can’t wait to continue the work of braking stigmas and taboos with you all.
Also, be sure to check out some of the contributors to this post and their amazing content: