What makes a man, “a man?” Strength? Independence? Invulnerability?

That question itself might be outdated and irrelevant, but its implications still have an affect on some men today. Only 4 in 10 men with daily feelings of anxiety or depression seek treatment — which is upsetting when you consider suicide is the seventh leading cause of death for males. Clearly, something isn’t lining up.

So for any man who’s not seeking help because it doesn’t align with his idea of “masculinity,” people in our mental health community have some messages for you.

Here’s why no one’s too “manly” to seek help:

1. “The manliest thing you can do is talk to someone and get help.” — Christopher Chiocca

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2. “Getting help doesn’t make you weak. It makes you even stronger.” — Mienisha Minnie Alexander

3.Mental illness is like any other serious illness. You need a doctor, medication and any other prescribed treatment. It doesn’t mean you are weak any more than a broken arm makes you less than you are. Please get the help you need.” — Tammy Fulton O’Hara

4. “I see you struggling, and it hurts me. So if not for yourself, do it for those you love.” — Abigayle Petty

5. “A strong man is one who knows his weaknesses and takes care of himself so he has the internal resources he needs to care for others.” — Suzanne Risser

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6. “You’re not just a man — you’re human. Let your human side heal, and be a happy man.” — Kim Montague Foster

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7. “There is a saying we have at the Veteran Affairs: ‘It takes the strength and courage of a warrior to ask for help.'” — Delaina Conour

8. “Caring enough about yourself to get help is sexy as hell. This coming from someone with mental illnesses.” — Melichga Fariza

9. “Mental illness doesn’t choose gender.” — Davina Masunda

10. “It’s not an issue of being ‘manly’ or ‘soft’ — it’s an illness that needs to be treated. I know from experience.” — Michael Tryon

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11. “Real strength, courage and being tough is not about never feeling pain or never being scared. Real strength and courage is feeling bad or scared and still doing what is right. Real strength is having the courage to be authentic and honest, which will not only help that person, but also make someone else feel not so alone. There is strength in numbers.” — Chad Layman

12. “Given the stigma of mental illnesses, admitting you have one and getting help are probably the bravest things you can do in this world.” — Anique Brito

13. “Therapy doesn’t have to be gushy feelings at all! Think of us therapists like strategists for the mind and life. We can give you logical explanations for why your brain does what it does, and we can give you some insights into ways to rethink a few things which will then prompt your brain to act differently. I find men are often relieved how easy it is to change a few things and not lose your personality.” – Elizabeth D. Thomas

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14. “Try to see it like this: Taking care of your mental health is no different from taking care of your physical health. If your arm hurts, or you have a cold, or stomach pain, you would go see a doctor, right?” — Borderline Heart

15. “Treating yourself from the neck down isn’t healthy. Stop organ discrimination.” — Shelby Golden

16. “It’s not ‘manly’ to hide the parts of you that you can’t control; it’s ‘manly’ to face those things and fight them!” — Punki Munro

17. “It’s much easier to ask for help and get treatment for your illness than to pick up the pieces of your life if you don’t.” — Jenna Bagnini

18. “It takes a true man to admit he needs help. You don’t have to announce it to the entire world, but it takes tremendous courage to admit you need help and seek it out. My husband did it, and I am so proud of him.” — Morghan Jarvis Eckenfels

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19. “You deserve to live a life to the fullest, and that means not only being physically healthy but also mentally. Do it for yourself, do it for the people you love and the people who love you.” — Jen Sprague

20. “You don’t have to suffer. Don’t let your pride keep you struggling. Life is worth getting healthy! Been there and am there. It’s hard but worth it.” — Aubrie McShane

21. “When the challenges of life weigh too heavily on the soul we cannot see the exit, but others, men and women, have faced this same problem at some point; it’s what makes us human. Seek the advice of those who’ve been there and come out the other side, or those who’s job it is to learn from those who’ve suffered. There are answers, there are exits, we just cannot find them when we’re lost.” — Wanda Monague

22. “If the issue was diabetes or cancer, would you be too ‘manly’ to seek help? Would it be wrong to seek medical attention if you had seizures? Mental health issues are not a matter of will power. It’s a sign something is not being tended to. From my own personal viewpoint, it takes a real man to seek help when having problems rather than just pushing through.” — Kindling Dreams

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23. “Being a man who thought this, I would say, ‘It takes more strength to ask for help than it does to shoulder the burden yourself. You’re not alone. There are people out there just like you who are going through the same things. Even a soldier has an entire battalion backing him up.'” — Patrick Dovah Bowden

24. “When my husband was in the military, he feared getting treatment because it could have affected his job. We had a long discussion and it came down to our children. He decided to put his pride aside and, for the sake of having a healthy father mentally; he needed to get treatment for his PTSD. My advice: Think about the others it could affect. If you can’t or won’t do it for you, do it for them. Trust me, it’s a win-win.” — Sam Thayer

25. “Why is it OK to ask for help or advice from a broker, a mechanic, a plumber, but not from a counselor? Is the house or car or money really more important than your health or happiness?” — Heidi Sturgeon

26. “It is very hard for many men to ask for help. It is force-fed to them the whole time they are growing up: you are strong, you are tough, boys don’t cry, shake/walk it off, don’t be weak, stand up and be a man, provide, fight, know all, be all… it is not true! It is OK to hurt, it is OK to not be able to handle everything, it is OK to need help. It doesn’t make you weak to ask, it makes you smart. Tools are there to use, so use ’em. ” — Lisa Moore Sherman

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*Answers have been edited and shortened for brevity.

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This weekend was one that saw both Bernie Sanders’ off-color joke during the Democratic debate and the shooting of a pastor in Idaho by a marine suffering from an undisclosed mental illness.

Both of these isolated incidents once again reveal a much larger general truth – most folks aren’t even close to knowing what they need to know in order to properly participate in a conversation about mental health. All one has to do is take a look at the comments section that accompany the countless articles that have been written about both occurrences to see that ignorance abounds.

Sanders’ comment was off-base and I didn’t think it was that funny, but it’s more a result of society’s ignorance toward mental illness than a personal attack. Sanders has taken a pretty clear stance when it comes to timely and affordable care for folks affected with a mental illness, but it’s easy to make jokes when you aren’t directly affected.

The Internet has created a culture of instant outrage. I believe getting angry about a soon-to-be forgotten and insignificant one-liner distracts us from an opportunity for real discussion. Besides, I’m sure most folks who are offended have said an inappropriate thing or two in their lives they wish they could take back.

Sanders’ comment isn’t the issue. Instead, we should be focusing on the fact that the joke was a low-hanging fruit — people with mental illnesses are such easy targets, we can often be turned into scapegoats.

We should be much more concerned about how the media is once again handling an act of violence by a white man toward another white man. One of the first pieces of information made public about the shooter was that he had a mental illness.

And to me, the tendency for that to be one of the first things brought up when a white person shoots somebody is much more dangerous than a dumb and poorly-timed joke.

Rightfully so, the past several years have seen a rise in public outrage when non-white shooters are automatically branded as thugs or terrorists. The same standards don’t seem to apply when dealing with white shooters and mental illness.

Second amendment rights advocates love to use the maxim about guns not killing people, but recently there’s been a second part added to that worn-out dismissal of the danger of guns — “mentally ill people kill people.

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The problem with mental illness being the go-to story when it comes to shootings by white folks is that it presents completely inaccurate portrayal of the demographic. The contribution of the mentally ill to overall crime rates is actually an extremely low 3 to 5 percent.

As it turns out, folks with psychiatric disabilities are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violent crimes. But despite that, a study of American’s overall attitudes on mental health conducted over nearly 50 years found the proportion of Americans who describe mental illness in terms consistent with violent or dangerous behavior nearly doubled over that time. Many of those surveyed believed that folks with mental illnesses posed a threat for violence towards others and themselves.

Bernie Sanders isn’t a catalyst; just as one man with a mental illness shooting a pastor is more anomaly than norm. The problem doesn’t begin or end with either case, but both cases point out why it’s so important that we change the way we portray and talk about mental illness.

The vast majority of news stories on mental illnesses focus on negative characteristics such as unpredictability and unsociability. Positive stories that highlight the recovery of folks are notably absent.

Pop culture doesn’t help. Characters with mental illness on television shows are depicted as the most dangerous of all groups. In fact, 60 percent of television characters afflicted by mental illness carry out violent crimes and act as the antagonist.

As mental health advocates and allies, I believe we can more effectively help by sticking to facts and statistics rather than wasting our time being outraged over a dumb one-liner in an election cycle filled with polarizing candidates.

There have been so many articles and blog posts regarding Bernie Sanders’ attempt at a joke, but I’ve hardly seen any showing concern for mental illness being blamed once again for a nationally publicized act of violence.

I believe the effects of the stigma and discrimination caused by stories like the Idaho pastor shooting are profound and wide-reaching. Said stigma leads others to avoid living and socializing with those diagnosed with a mental illness. It also leads to hesitation when it comes to working with, renting to or employing people with diagnosed mental disorders.

This is a problem on a couple of fronts. First, it compounds feelings of low self-esteem, isolation and hopelessness which are already hallmarks of some mental illnesses. More importantly, it deters the public from seeking out the care they so desperately need because of the embarrassment and shame attached to stigma.

In response to this stigma, people with mental health problems can internalize public attitudes, begin to conceal symptoms and fail to seek treatment, which can have deadly result.

As somebody who suffers from a mental illness, I understand the burden we can carry and how easy it is develop a proverbial chip on our shoulders. I also understand that if we focus on one stupid joke by a guy who likely had no malicious intent, we are veering away from the bigger problem.

Focusing on that bigger problem allows us to demonstrate on a larger scale how conversations about mental health are framed, and done effectively, can provide us with the ability to reframe those conversations and educate a misinformed public.

Follow this journey on Dad; diagnosed


My wife spent a week on a psych ward following the birth of our first son. She had a miserable fight with postpartum depression and sleep deprivation. One year later, nearly to the day, I landed in the ICU and then a psych ward following a suicide attempt.

Shortly after, our marriage nearly fell apart. She left for two weeks, and they were the saddest and scariest days of my life. Once she came home, we started intense marriage and individual therapy, laying all our cards on the table. It was now or never. Eventually, we both decided to stay, fully aware of what that meant.

The dust has settled on that hard season, and while I’m not a professional therapist, I’ve been both the one who needed support and the one who was asked to support a struggling spouse. I’m writing only from my own experience. After living through it, here’s my take on what to do when you’re married to someone with mental illness and things are getting hard.

1. Don’t just hope for the best. Do something.

When a friend confesses their marriage is unraveling, I immediately tell them, “Counseling saved our marriage and quite possibly my life.” The vast majority of the time, that statement is met with, “He would never go for that,” or “I’ll be praying about how to best approach that subject with her.” Most folks do not like the idea of airing their dirty laundry to a complete stranger. I get it. Me too. All I can tell you is after walking through it, I am a firm believer in the safety and stability of talking with a legit professional on a consistent basis.

2. Stop trying to fix your spouse.

I am not my wife’s therapist and she isn’t mine. While we play a primary role in each other’s support systems, we are not professional helpers. On the days when Lindsey comes home and finds the fog of depression lying low on the living room couch, she has learned to just say, “I’m sorry you’re having a tough day. I’m here if you need me.” It’s not healthy for either of us personally, or for our marriage, for her to do any more than that. It isn’t her job to try and fix me or convince me that she’s going to be there for me. After all, she proves that by staying.

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3. Talk about it with each other.

There is great power in being able to tell our stories, either to our partner, a counselor or a trusted friend. Being able to name our pain, our struggles and frustrations, and even our greatest hopes is a catalyst toward true change. There’s a conventional wisdom that says not to go to bed angry. I disagree. Sometimes you go to bed with a hurt heart, with the full intention of waking up and talking about it once things settle down.

4. Cry together.

Recently, I picked up my son from daycare with a dog, a Christmas surprise. Everything was great and I was his hero for the day. But as I went to bed that night, I burst into tears. Three years earlier, I missed his first birthday because of my suicide attempt. At times the guilt still gets the best of me.

Instead of trying to fix anything, Lindsey held my hand and cried with me. Her words were soothing to my soul. She said, “I rarely think about that first birthday. What I do think about are all the memories we have created in the years since. I can’t help but think that our relationship would have never become this deep if we hadn’t walked through such a living hell together.”

5. Look for opportunities to laugh together.

Life tries to get the very best of us, and sometimes, it works. Whether you are the one in ICU or the spouse sitting at the end of the hospital bed, life is full of experiences that leave us questioning our decisions. Learning to laugh together is powerful medication. Whether it’s finding a weekly show you both enjoy or laughing at your kids’ silliness, I believe laughter is an extremely powerful tool for remaining connected and finding joy in life.

6. Know your limits.

In the Christian circles where I grew up, I often heard, “Stay because marriage is a sacred bond.” Or “God hates divorce.” In other circles, it seems just the opposite: that feelings trump commitment and if you aren’t happy, you are entitled to simply walk away, no questions asked.

I can no longer accept either approach as the only option. Each marriage is unique, especially where mental illness is concerned. You have to take a serious look at your situation, self and sanity. Decide what’s best for you, your spouse and your children, if you have them. Sometimes the best way to love and honor everyone involved is to leave.
I don’t believe “When you have done all you can do, stand” is always the best advice. I have seen firsthand that separation or divorce is sometimes the next right step, and can breathe peace into a family.

7. Take care of yourself.

Marriage is stressful, no matter what. But being married to a person with mental illness can add to that stress. Take time for yourself. Sometimes it’s impossible to leave your responsibilities. In that case, find moments of quiet to enjoy something simple — a cup of tea, a few pages of a book — even within your routine. Give yourself space to breathe. It matters.

8. Love beyond the labels.

When your spouse who has a mental illness can’t explain “why” normal life feels so hard, it can be frustrating. We know their labels, we’ve read all about their symptoms. Labels are important from a medical standpoint, because they show professionals the best course of treatment. But labels in marriage are detrimental. Don’t become so stuck on them that you forget to love the person you married.

9. Be honest.

When something frustrates you, speak up. There’s nothing worse than an old sore that’s been left to fester. If something hurts your feelings, say so. Nobody wants to have to dig to find out why you’re pouting. Just follow this simple rule: tell the truth in love. It’s always the right choice.

10. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries.

When you make the decision to stay, you have to make that decision for yourself. If you decide to leave, that’s your decision, too. Once you’ve made your move, you must set clear boundaries with friends and family. Your marriage — both its joys and dysfunction — is nobody’s business but your own.

11. No more comparisons.

One of my favorite quotes is, “You can’t compare your insides with everyone else’s outsides.” Nobody has the perfect marriage. Let go of what you think it’s supposed to be, and live in the relationship you actually have. Stop trying to have your friend’s marriage or mimic your parent’s relationship. Nobody has the magical romance they portray on Facebook, so shut that noise off.

If you’re married to someone in danger, or someone whose struggles make them a danger to themselves or others, here are some resources:

Postpartum Depression: 1(800) PPD-MOMS

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1 (800) 273-8255

National Alliance on Mental Illness

Of course these things only apply if you are safe in your marriage. If you are not, please seek professional help.

Follow this journey on I Am Steve Austin. Click here to sign up for his free “Manifesto for Hard Days.”

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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In a shot at the Republican presidential candidates, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders made a joke about mental health during the Democratic debate in Flint, Michigan, on Sunday night.

We are, if elected president, going to invest a lot of money into mental health,” the Vermont senator said, according to Business Insider. “And when you watch these Republican debates, you know why we need to address the mental health.”

His comment was met with applause, but on Twitter some thought the line was insensitive:

 

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Others were more understanding:

 

Do you think Bernie’s joke was fair? Tell us your opinion in the comments below.


Dear presidential candidates,

I want to first off thank you for attempting to “step up to the plate” to move the country in the direction you think is best. I don’t agree with everyone’s policies, but I understand that being a presidential candidate forces you to be the target of scrutiny and face an immense amount of pressure.

During debates and other heated discussions, often your goal is to point out the flaws of opponents and make sure potential voters know who not to vote for. Often inflammatory language and insults are thrown, even without meaning to. I know we sometimes say things that we don’t mean during arguments, but there is no excuse to use mental health conditions as a way to demean or imply something negative about your rivals.

According to the National Alliance on Mental illness, we live in a country where approximately 1 in 5 adults (43.8 million Americans) and 1 in 5 13-18-year-olds will be diagnosed with a mental illness at some point during their life. “Serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year,” so even if you don’t care about your potential constituents who live with mental illness because it’s the right thing to do, you should care about us because it would be a fiscally responsible decision.

Also, we don’t know how many people have lost jobs as a result of stigma in the workplace or taking sick days due to mental illness symptoms. That is a legitimate fear of mine despite the fact that I have worked hard to get further along in my recovery process.

I also worry about the costs of treating my mental illness because even though my family has health insurance, mental healthcare is the highest-costing care I receive, and I am still lucky because many people have to choose between paying the bills or seeing a mental
health professional. There are probably thousands, possibly millions of people suffering from undiagnosed mental illness due to lack of mental health education and resources.

Suicide rates are increasing daily, and we can’t ignore this tragedy that continues to steal lives. About 42,773 Americans die by suicide each year, and suicide costs the country $44 billion annually. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death, while homicide is 17th, and suicide is the #1 cause of death for teenage girls worldwide.

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As someone who lives with mental illness, I see and hear the stigmatization on a near daily basis, most often on the internet. What I mean by mental health stigma is all the negative attitudes (including hate) and misinformation regarding mental health/illness. Sometimes I reply to comments with statistics about mental illness or explain how these words can harm people, while other times I am not emotionally equipped to take on trolls and people who are willfully and stubbornly ignorant about mental illness.

I can back away from the computer and carry on with my day because I worked hard in therapy to learn coping skills to deal with situations that can really upset me. However, when a person who could be the next leader of your country starts saying stigmatizing words, it’s hard not to get frustrated and infuriated.

Every time you describe your opponent as a “lunatic” for having views you don’t agree with or call him or her “bipolar” for frequently shifting views, you are insulting nearly 20 percent of the American population. You’re perpetuating the idea that mental illness and those who live with have them are inherently bad while negating the seriousness of these conditions have a negative impact on our daily lives — even if that is not your intention.

You remind me of all the people and media in my life that told me that only certain (dangerous) people have mental illness, not someone like me, even though people who live with mental illness are more likely to be the victim of a crime than commit one. Stigma caused me to spend years suffering in silence from experiences I couldn’t explain because I didn’t know the truth about mental illness or that there are people ready to help me take on my Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), panic attacks and depression.

I do not want to censor anyone, as I am proud to live in a country with free speech, but we have to realize our words have repercussions, especially words of someone with influence. Sticks and stones may break bones, but words can lead to stigma and suicide. You are all educated adults, so you probably have a vast vocabulary. Maybe it’s time you start using it.

Sincerely,

A proud voter and citizen

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.


Getting a proper diagnosis for a mental illness can take time. And although researchers are always looking for new ways to make diagnosing easier and faster, no simple, magic test exists to declare if someone has a mental illness, and which one. For someone seeking treatment for their symptoms, this of course is frustrating, especially when you consider that it can take up to a decade for someone to reach out for help in the first place.

If you’re a person who recently sought help but hasn’t yet received a diagnosis — congratulations. Don’t get too frustrated. You’re beginning quite a journey, and the people who came before you have a few wise words to send you on your way.

Here’s what our mental health community wants to tell someone still waiting for a mental illness diagnosis:

1. “Don’t be ashamed of your symptoms. Reaching out for help is the best thing you can do for your mental health. It does get better!” — Amanda Huston

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2. “Don’t be ashamed of finding out for sure. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. You’d go to the doctor if you had symptoms of the flu and wanted to know for sure. Just find a good support system and cut out anyone who makes you feel bad about yourself or your illness. Take care of yourself.” — Deanna Yourgans

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3. “Reaching out for help is really hard — but you will benefit from it! Before you see a doctor, it can be helpful to write a list. What kind of symptoms do you have? Do you have problems with your mood? Do you have sleeping problems? Do you eat well? Have you lost or gained weight? What about your concentration? Do you have physical symptoms too like headaches, stomach pains or back pains? Writing a list can help you not to forget anything important. Another thing you want to think about are questions you might have for the doctor. How sure is the diagnosis? If the doctor will prescribe you medication, what side effects can occur? Is there anything beside medication you can do to help you? It can be a great relief to finally have a proper diagnosis, because it explains a lot and it also helps you to receive proper treatment. It helped me a lot to finally have a name for the symptoms I have experienced.” — Borderline Heart

4. “If you’re worried about getting diagnosed because you don’t want to be ‘labeled,’ know there are actually some benefits to having a mental illness diagnosis. You can receive disability accommodations at school and in the workplace (depending on your illness and limitations) that would be difficult to obtain without a diagnosis. It’s easier to educate yourself and others about your illness if you have a specific diagnosis to research. I just got a letter from my doctor that allows me to have an emotional support animal because of my diagnosis.” — Melanie Faith

5. “A diagnosis is just a means to establishing a treatment plan. It does not define you. It does not change who you are. It simply helps you to get the help you need to heal.” — Danielle Gitkin Hark

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6. “Don’t give up or get discouraged at the amount of time it takes to receive a diagnosis and find what’s right for you. You will figure it out and it will be manageable.” — Amanda Keehn

7. “You’re not a freak. Being diagnosed isn’t a label to identify who you are, it’s merely an identification of something you have.” — Megan French

8. “Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Don’t let it consume you. Get up, get out and find someone anyone to talk to about your problems. Keep talking until someone listens. There is help out there.” — Nicki Mcpherson

9. “Like any other illness, a diagnosis and proper treatment can be healing. Let yourself heal.” — Emily Waryck

10. “Don’t be afraid to talk about it. Talking about it is the first step to accepting it and accepting it will lead you to getting the help you need.” — Kalyn Laura

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11. “Don’t wait. This is not your fault.” — Jamie Bredeson-Wobbema

12. “Don’t focus so much on diagnoses. Focus on health. I think the system uses diagnoses sometimes to disempower. And society can place so much stigma in them. Focus on health, not pathology.” — Nicole Williams

13. “Don’t be ashamed. If it was a physical illness, you would treat it. Your mental health deserves treatment, too.” — Nicole Backen

14.You are the strong one for reaching out for help.” — Jason Reed

15. “You deserve answers and treatment. You are worth it.” — Chelsea Noelani Gober

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16. “You are not the first and not the last one with your symptoms. You are you. You are just fine.” — Deborah Bellinger

17. “I find the proper diagnosis isn’t the biggest thing for me, but the treatment is. If you’re experiencing symptoms, you don’t have to keep suffering. The quicker you get treatment, the quicker you will feel better. I live with depression, anxiety and PTSD, but it’s not who I am. A diagnosis will not turn you into ‘the mentally ill’ — you will be a person who lives with a mental illness.” — Marlena Davis

18. “You aren’t alone, there are a lot of people living with mental health issues, and you can have a supportive, successful and awesome life. You will learn to see good things in your symptoms and be more empathetic and caring then before.” — Aliçia Sarah Raimundo

19. “You are your best advocate. Don’t settle for ‘slightly better.’ You deserve to feel well again.” — Gen Somers

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20. “Research, research, research.” — Carl Schwichtenberg

21. “Sometimes even the strongest people need help. There’s no shame in reaching out.” — Danielle Gitkin Hark

22. “Leave the diagnosing to a psychiatrist, not the Internet. The Internet is a great resource if you’re looking for mental health professionals, more in-depth info or need to find a support group — but don’t let it be your only resource. It can be overwhelming to read through articles, and you might see stigmatizing opinions that won’t help your mental health.” — Nicole Campbell

23. “Don’t worry about the label of your diagnosis. A diagnosis is just a name and a tool to begin the creation of a healthier and stronger you.” — Rhonda Lynn Walker-Trayers

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*Answers have been edited and shortened.

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