10 October is marked as World Mental Health Day by the World Health Organization, so I thought I’d take some time to write yet another post about mental health! Many people I talk to about my mental health are generally well-meaning. But it’s just hard for someone to really understand until they’ve been through what I’ve been through (and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone). Today I’m sharing some things I wish others knew about mental illness, using some of my favorite depression and anxiety comics.
You can’t just will it away
Mental health conditions aren’t choices. They’re caused by chemical imbalances in the brain or triggered by traumatic or life-changing events. Obviously, we don’t want to be anxious or depressed. If we could just will it away with happy thoughts, exercise, yoga, or herbal tea we would.
Looking happy on the outside doesn’t mean that you’re not struggling on the inside
“But you don’t look anxious!” I’ve heard that one before and it really upsets me. We can put on happy, carefree, normal fronts better than most because we don’t want to be judged by our anxiety or other mental health conditions. Just because we don’t look anxious or don’t constantly have panic attacks doesn’t mean we don’t struggle.
It’s OK to ask for help or talk to someone
I always felt that asking for help was a sign of weakness. What if I was the only one who couldn’t breathe properly or eat anything but peanut butter because of waves of nausea and lightheadedness? What I learned, however, is that asking for help (as scary as it is) is the best thing you can do for yourself. Talk to a friend, family or medical professional about what’s going on and you’ll feel ‘better’ (or at least a sense of relief) right away.
Telling us to calm down only makes things worse
Well-meaning people have told me, “calm down, there’s nothing to be anxious about” more times than I can count when I’m having a panic attack. 99.9% percent of the time, there is no reason for the panic attack, but telling us to calm down won’t make the panic attack stop. You’re only adding to our spiraling thoughts.
Sometimes we need a day off
Some days are better than others. Some days you hop out of bed, ready to conquer the day. Other days, you simply can’t get out of bed, and every movement, even to the shower, requires extreme willpower. Living with mental illness is challenging and tiring, and not every day is perfect.
Mental illness should be treated like a physical illness
Many people don’t seek treatment for their mental illnesses because 1) many treatments aren’t covered by insurance and 2) there is still a huge stigma surrounding mental illness. Many people still just don’t understand that having a mental illness isn’t under our control. They are real, diagnosable, and treatable, just like most physical illnesses. After all, you wouldn’t tell someone with the flu to just suck it up, would you?
Mental illnesses are NOT adjectives
Similar to using the R-word to describe something stupid, one of my biggest pet peeves is when people use words like ‘bipolar’ or ‘depressed’ or ‘anxious’ to describe themselves in a sort of self-deprecating way. Something that really upset me one day was when someone I knew was working in the library and saying she was having a panic attack as she was writing down all the work she had to do. She probably has no idea that if she was having a panic attack, she wouldn’t even be able to bring herself to the library…
Mental illness is not a weakness
Sure, we may feel weak a lot, but our suffering has made us stronger than most people. We know how to act like nothing is wrong, even when something is. We’ve been through a lot and have come out stronger on the other end.
I hope this comforts those with mental illnesses and helps inform those who do not have them. Whilst World Mental Health Day is a great way to raise awareness of mental health and mental illness and the stigma surrounding them, we need to remember it year-round.