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Why I Hesitate to Call This a 'Before and After' Photo

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Facebook posts about mental health have been going viral in the past couple of weeks. Are we finally experiencing some kind of “aha” moment about these “invisible” diseases that still remain so misunderstood?

Last month, Amber Smith shared a Facebook post using before and after photos to show the reality of her panic attacks. The post went viral and thousands of people were touched by the depiction of emotions in her photo. Amber explained she shared the picture because it’s easy to let people only see the “normal” side of her. But she wanted to show the reality of her anxiety disorder.

Then, a video posted on Facebook by Doug Leddin talking about his 10 year struggle with depression has already had over 25,000 shares. In the video, Leddin describes what many people who suffer with a mental illness are most afraid of.  Leddin says, “What we fear the most isn’t the dark place that we’re in, or the dark times that we’re going to go through, or what we’re capable of doing. What we actually fear the most is that our friends won’t understand; that we’ll lose them…that our own family… and colleagues will look at us differently.”

Amber and Doug inspired me to create a Facebook post with my own photo showing a “before and after” of depression. I asked the question: “Can you see depression?” That blog post had the most views I’ve ever had.

Two images: On the left, a woman who is made up. The text reads: This is what I let the world see. On the right, a woman who looks more disheveled. Text reads: This is what depression looks like on me.

I hesitate to call these photos “before” and “after” because the illness is always there lurking in the background just waiting to “get” you. That’s the whole point though, isn’t it? To try and show the world something that can be fairly easy to hide. But if we don’t talk about it, if we don’t open up by showing a picture or making a video, then the stigma attached to any mental health condition will only continue. 

I had my first severe depressive episode when I was 18. I’m now 46. I’ve had postpartum depression and also have generalized anxiety disorder, which means I don’t have panic attacks, but rather a constant nagging feeling of anxiety that ebbs and flows and prevents me at times from even stopping at the store to get my daughter a slurpee.

Here’s an analogy I’ve used with my own friends and family: depression is pain on the inside no one else can see. I’ve compared the internal pain and turmoil to feeling like I’ve been emotionally and mentally burned on the inside from a fire. I would be in a hospital if that much pain showed on the outside.   

I had so many supportive responses to my Facebook post, that it kind of feels like coming out of the closet. I am no longer afraid that the general public will be able to see a post of me looking horribly depressed. I am passionate about mental health advocacy. And that means getting very, very real.

The more people are willing to be vulnerable and show the “ugly” side of a mental illness, the more people might be able to imagine what it is like to walk a step in our shoes.

It is only by speaking and showing our truth that we continue to fight the battle against stigma and increase mental health awareness. We speak for those who can’t. For those who lost their lives to their illness and for those who fight on in silence. We want to encourage others to ask for help if they need it. To say “you are not alone.” We speak out to be heard. And finally, to be seen.

Follow this journey on Gerfunkled.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a meme, image or sign you’ve seen shared online that struck a chord with you, for good or for bad. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: May 5, 2016
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