Why I'd Rather the Mental Health Community Didn't Say 'You Are Not Alone'
“You are not alone.”
This is the mental healthcare world’s signature phrase. The line itself has become a spectacle, featured on brochures, social media posts, advertisements and more. As mental health warriors, we are constantly told that we are not alone, we do not face our battles on own, and there will be someone there for us when we need it. You are not alone. Support is available: friends, family, healthcare providers, etc. Yet, the reminder that we are not alone does not always succeed getting me to feel less alone. Sometimes, it backfires and results in me being reminded of just how alone I feel I am.
In my personal experience, having recently been through a significant downward spiral and currently taking very different steps than previously towards being stable in my own life again, I’ve come to realize how much I do not care for this phrase; that is, the dominantly perceived notion, connotation and implication of who and what exactly “should” be helping us feel not alone. It is also my past experiences with people who’ve said the phrase to me, but failed to live up to their word of support, that have affected my thoughts on the phrase. In any case, as I slowly but surely work to lift myself up and continue to take small but significant steps towards wellness again, my relationship with “You are not alone” has changed.
“You are not alone.” To me, the phrase arguably implies that one will feel less alone around those who are stereotypically put in the category of one’s “support system:” family members including mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters; friends of similar age, interests and tastes in music and television; healthcare providers including therapists, psychiatrists, primary doctors and more. It implies that simply seeing and hearing the phrase will succeed in taking away the solitary feeling. It insists on carrying the same meaning and weight for everyone it is expressed to. This is simply not the case. At least, not for me, and as much as I feel it is also not the case for many of my fellow warriors, I can only speak for myself.
I wrote this piece over a few days. When drafting this section, I’d just gotten out of my first appointment with my new psychiatrist. As I walked out back through the waiting room, I saw a fellow member of my Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) group sitting down, and ecstatically said hello. Even though I was still new to the group, I felt comfortable there from the first session I attended out of the two total at the time. The group shattered every unappealing notion about mental health support groups that exist, and joining the group was a decision I immediately deemed worthwhile. My fellow WRAP-mate and I had spoken only the day before about our shared passion for music. I mentioned I was at the clinic for my psychiatrist appointment and he responded, “Me, too.”
There it was.
The real magic phrase.
I hear it from the mouths of my fellow warrior group members.
I see it written by my fellow warriors in online group forums and social media threads. I say it to my fellow warriors in person and online.
This is what “You are not alone” means to me. It is knowing that I am not alone in what I experience, that there are many others all over, near and far, who I share this experience with — the good, the bad, and everything in between — the experience of having a mental health condition that impacts one’s life so significantly at any given point, and the experience of taking proactive, positive steps towards wellness, stability and a quality life.
We are each on our own journey as individuals, but I believe we also share a collective journey as We. We are bonded in ways that those who do not share our experiences can never truly understand. This bond, no matter where life takes us, no matter where we each take ourselves in life, is omnipresent and unbreakable. “We” are my regular, comforting, and uplifting reassurance and reminder: I am not alone. You are not alone. We are not alone. We are together. We are beautiful.
To my fellow WRAP mates, this piece is inspired by and dedicated to you. Thank you for welcoming me into the group, accepting me and embracing all I am. I am thankful that you are all now part of my journey to wellness, and am equally grateful to be part of yours. To all my fellow warriors out there, keep the faith and know we are all amazing.
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