themighty logo

My Take on 'You Just Want Attention,' and Other Things People Say About Mental Illness

I have heard a lot of people over the years talk about how annoying it is that some individuals use mental illness for attention. Recently, the popularity of platforms such as YouTube and blogging have allowed people to share their thoughts on what they believe to be attention-seeking behavior on what they categorize as “made up” mental illness. I’m going to give my perspective on the idea that some people make up their mental illness for attention, by giving my honest opinion as to how I perceive people’s behavior drawing on my own experience of mental health.

“You just want attention.”

I speak for myself when I say I definitely wanted attention, and sometimes still do need attention, but particularly when I was younger and very unfamiliar with what was happening in my mind. I wanted people to understand what was happening to me, I wanted my family to know about my symptoms, doctors to know, anyone who could help me to know, especially my friends, people I spend a lot of time with. Why? Because when you’re hurting, you want people to know so that they can help you. Help, which can come in the form of emotional support, sympathy, understanding, empathy or just simply another person’s attention.

I can say unashamedly that is exactly what I wanted. People to ask me what’s wrong, or why didn’t seem myself, so that I could talk and express or even just hurt with someone else by my side, and yes I wanted people to feel empathy for me, because the truth is, I felt pretty sorry for myself , along with petrified and frustrated, not knowing how I was going to deal with having mental illness in my everyday life. So yes, I did seek attention because I’m a human being and when I am hurting beyond my own understanding I turn to others.

“You’re weak.”

My opinion might be controversial, but I will say if that means that I’m not emotionally as strong as I could be — then you’re absolutely right I am “weak.” Either way, this is why I actively seek help to manage, maintain and strengthen my mental health every day. I might not be the Incredible Hulk of psychological stability, but I am sure that my self-awareness puts me in a better position to look after myself and ultimately become stronger and more resilient to situations I may face life. Now here is why I will not tolerate being called weak according to some people’s definition — I’m not weak because I am in touch with my emotions, nor because I react to certain situations differently than you. That’s called being an entirely different individual which reflects in my behavior, so if you think of my person as a weakness, I just might have to disagree with you.

“You need to be more positive.”

I couldn’t agree more. I think most people, unless their mind is like a children’s TV show, need to be more positive on an everyday basis. It would sure make life easier if we always thought of the glass half full. But let’s be real, we are adults, children or teenagers and the truth of the matter is we live in the real world where both happiness, sadness, negativity and positivity exist. And everybody takes to that differently. We have all had the different upbringings, environmental influences, biological influences and we will all respond differently to the life we’re living, not because we are a negative person or a positive person, but because how we act is a product of who we are. Our past which is inherently different from everybody else’s. So when you tell me to be more positive, that could mean different things to us both.

For example, I could see it as getting up having a shower and going out for a walk, and you could see it as speaking affirmations in the mirror. You might say, isn’t it such a beautiful day, and I might choose to say nothing and just breathe in the air and admire the trees. When you force a generalized idea of what positivity it on everybody, not only is it annoying, but it actually has the reverse effect — because you start to believe if you do not experience this positivity, something is wrong with you, which is simply not true.

“At least you’re still able to do XYZ.”

Thanks for pointing that out, bud! I almost forgot. This links in with the former point about positivity, however I do feel like as a society we do this way too much. There will always be people in worse circumstances than we are in, but because we are not them — it is almost impossible for us to know, feel or understand the exact nature of their suffering. However, we do happen to be ourselves, in our own bodies, in our own mind and can definitely feel the extent of our own suffering. I know this first hand, because I realized for most of my life, I have denied myself the right to feel what I feel because I don’t think I have it that bad. There will always be people worse off than others, and when people have nervous breakdowns and recluse, self-harm, withdraw or die by suicide you have to conclude that suffering is suffering and it needs to be addressed in its own context, with its own attention and its own sensitivity. It’s hard to help others if you’re not willing to accept your own pain and recover.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via dmbaker