On Behalf of the Mental Illness Community: Enough Is Enough
Mental illness is the gorilla in the room nobody wants to talk about. It is that dirty secret everyone knows but never openly acknowledges, instead whispering about it in dark corners where others cannot hear. Even though it’s common, it is still regarded with fear, because those who have never been there do not understand it, and those who are struggling have been beaten down so badly by their inner demons, they often no longer have the will to speak up.
People with mental illnesses are stigmatized by society and the media to believe there is a great indignity and shame in our diagnosis. Those with mental illnesses are looked upon as broken, damaged, looney, flawed, crazy and mental. We have become a joke. Worse yet, we are seen as dangerous, to ourselves and others. Regardless of the broad range of mental illnesses, we are all painted with the same broad brush.
It doesn’t matter that mental illness has bona fide physical and genetic causation. It is an invisible illness. Since the pain cannot be seen, it is doubted. We are treated like it must be all in our head. We are told we should just try to be happy. We are made out to be drama kings and queens, just looking for attention. We’re left afraid to speak out because we don’t want to be judged or be forced to justify our pain worthy of validation.
It does not matter that millions of people have some type of mental illness in their lifetime, with depression and anxiety being at the top of the list. It doesn’t matter that it affects people all over the world from all walks of life. Mental illness does not discriminate. It affects the rich and the poor, people of all races, religions, ages, sexes and sexual orientations. Even though mental illness is a global crisis, talking about it is still often taboo.
Anyone who doubts the far-reaching impact of mental illness today need only spend five minutes doing internet searches. Take a look at larger sites that share stories of people faced with mental illness. Every single day, dozens of new stories are posted by people whose lives have been impacted by mental illness. Those are just the people who were brave enough to speak out that day and whose stories were chosen to be published. A drop in the bucket. Pick any large blogging site, such as WordPress, and do a search for “mental illness” or “depression.” You could spend hours reading page upon page of personal stories and blogs written from the last couple weeks alone by people who are struggling. Celebrities are even beginning to come out more and more to say they, too, are struggling with their own battles with mental illness.
And yet, those of us struggling still cling to that shame and that fear. It has become so ingrained into our psyche that we pause each time we go to speak out, weighing the consequences. Often we minimize our struggles to avoid judgment or pity. We don’t want pity. We want, no we deserve, applause for living through all that we have, struggling to get up, live and function each day while battling our own minds.
I have been called brave and inspirational for speaking out about my own journey and battles with mental illness. I honestly feel neither brave nor inspirational. Those of us who are speaking up are honestly fed up. We are tired of struggling every single day. Even more so, we are tired of seeing others walking that path, as well. We can spot our own kind. We know that empty, pained look hidden behind that too tight smile and those encouraging lies that you’re “hanging in there” and are alright. Our heart goes out to each and every one of our kind we see because we’ve all walked that path and wouldn’t wish it on our worst enemies.
We speak up not thinking we can change the world but because we are exasperated by it. We cannot believe anyone could stand in a field surrounded by landmines, denying their existence even as explosions ring out around them on all sides. People are dying from this illness. Lives are lost every single day. Families are destroyed. Millions of people are not faking this, hoping for attention.
I see stories and comments every day on social media that turn my stomach. Stories of mothers losing children because they fell through the cracks of the mental health care system and died. The truth is that the mental health care system as a whole in this country is broken and flawed. There are so many people struggling that facilities and agencies do not have the manpower to handle it all. The laws and regulations surrounding many aspects of mental health care are outdated. There aren’t enough beds to treat people with mental illness, and in many cases mental hospitals have become corrals and waystations, where people are held until other options can be found — and people are falling through the cracks.
I see stories about celebrities killing themselves after losing a lifelong battle with their own minds. There’s such compassion in those brief moments after a beloved icon has died. Yet it is fleeting. It leaves me bewildered because when the average person shares their own struggles, they are faced with judgment and stigma. If a larger than life entity has struggled, it must be true and it is heartbreaking. The rest of the populace, however, must be faking it.
I see ignorant comments suggesting that the rise in mental health diagnosis has to do with it’s increased presence in the media, as if people are choosing to be mentally ill because it is trendy. The truth is that people are hearing more and more about mental illness in the media because more and more people are getting fed up of being lost in the system, fed up of being treated like they are crazy and broken, fed up of struggling every single day. We need help. Society says the squeaky wheel gets the grease, so we’re ready to squeak, scream and yell if that’s what it takes to get help.
There is hope, though. More and more people are speaking up, adding their voices to the collective. Some celebrities are braving the stigma, as well, hoping their faces and names might bring added attention to the cause. We are beginning to get organized, to create a unified front and to stand together and fight. We have a very real chance to make a difference together and to see real change. We must be diligent, though, and keep speaking out. Do not fall silent. Do not give in or give up. This is a battle worth fighting and one we can win if we maintain our united front.
Enough with the stigma. Enough with the judgment. We are tired of struggling, of crying out and receiving little to no help. We are tired of fighting the system and society. We are your mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives, children, co-workers, bosses, teachers, classmates and friends. We are millions strong. We deserve to be heard. We deserve to be helped. We deserve to be healthy.
Whenever there is an issue facing even a portion of the world, people rise up in droves to help resolve the situation and help those struggling regain their lives with dignity and compassion. Mental illness has become an issue on a global scale. Stop pretending it doesn’t exist because you cannot see it. Look around you. Truly look. Look at the tears in our eyes. Look at the gravestones in our cemeteries. Mental illness is real. It needs to be addressed. We all cannot keep living this way.
This blog originally appeared on Unlovable.