Advice For When Your Mental Illness Isn't Taken Seriously
Not long ago, The Mighty published an article I wrote regarding the “functionality” of some people who live with mental illness. Many people shared and liked the article because it allowed them to voice what they couldn’t put into words. From the comments I was able to read, a lot of people felt identified and many added their own personal stories of not being taken seriously. As a psychologist, while I was glad to be able to help raise awareness, I was also sad and worried because so many people, tens of thousands of them, complained that they still weren’t taken seriously.
So, what can you do if you’re in this position? While each case is unique and complicated in its own way, this is the advice I have for you:
1. Know your illness or disorder. If you don’t know exactly what your diagnosis is or are confused about it, then know your symptoms.
Here’s the thing: When you’re going through a crisis (by crisis I mean a
moment in which your disorder is getting the best of you) it can be hard to know what to think. The reason why people can’t “talk you” out of your crisis is because you are probably not thinking very coherently in that moment. Neurologically, your brain starts working differently by increasing or decreasing the amount of activity in certain areas, which will make you feel and think differently from your usual self. Because of this, you can sometimes forget what made you act the way you did or what the motivation was for a behavior. You can be focusing on one symptom while not taking into account another because it might be more subtle for you. Sometimes you will feel that you can’t explain what you’re feeling or thinking during a crisis because it gets sort of hazy and then, when you’re questioned by someone else who is trying to understand what you’re going through, you might not be able to explain correctly what’s going on. My advice for this is that when you’re going through a crisis, somehow try to make these feelings and behaviors conscious and keep track of them by either drawing, writing or even recording yourself or talking to someone who can help you recall later what you were going through.
2. Tell someone you think would understand…
If you’re a “high functioning” person with a mental disorder, chances are many people around you have no idea what you’re going through. Two of the statements in the article many people were touched by were,“I can be dying inside while going through the motions of the day,” and, “these ‘high functioning’ people don’t do it because they want to fool others, they do it because they want to produce and be a
part of society.” So many people are in the mentally illness closet. Each person has his/her own reason for being there. Whether it’s because others depend on them, or the stigma in their families or society is too strong, or there is no apparent help available, the truth is that mental illness is lonely. When you’re dealing with the demons that inhabit your reality, you’re dealing with demons that inhabit your reality and because of that it seems that nobody can understand them. But sometimes it’s less about fighting those demons for you and more about being with you while you fight them.
3. …but don’t expect everyone to understand.
The stigma of the “mentally ill” is real. Unfortunately, a large number of people are ignorant regarding mental disorders. With people freely using psychological terms for everyday emotions such as swapping sadness for depression, fear for panic, happiness for mania, and labeling all mentally ill people as “crazy,” we still have a long way to go. Fortunately, however, mental health awareness is increasing exponentially, allowing the generations to come to enjoy a world more empathic than ours. So, you might be met with many people who will downplay your struggles
or even press you to change your situation. Most of the times the culprit is lack of knowledge, or sometimes it is fear of not knowing what to in order to help you.
In any of these cases, if the person is important enough for you, take the time to truly explain what’s going on and tell them what you expect of them and how they can help.
4. Know that mental health professionals are people too.
Whether you agree or disagree with how this should be, there is a fact: there is no mental health professional who is an expert on every single mental illness and disorder. Each one is so complex in its own way that it takes many years to be able to really understand them and their treatments. Try to look for someone that specializes in the disorder you have and if you’re unsure about a professional, feel free to ask him/her if s/he has experience treating your disorder.
Finally, I’d like to add that it’s important to be kind and nice to others. Here we are, “high-functioning” people with a mental disorders who others have no idea that are struggling. How many of us are there? It seems to me that a lot; a whole lot that we never even thought of. Just like a nice gesture, a smile, an affirmation of our existence goes a long way for us, it will also go a long way for that stranger that might be more like us than we thought.
We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.
Thinkstock photo via Veleri