Being Open About Mental Illness

Mental illness can be a tricky topic for a lot of people. Whether you are the person suffering from a mental health issue or not, the topic can be difficult to talk about.
Most of the time this is due to ignorance. Mental health issues have stigma attached to them. Maybe you have heard someone say that someone with depression just needs to get over it and make an effort to be happy. Maybe you have heard someone tell someone with anxiety to “stop being a pussy” or to “man up” or to “get a grip”. Maybe you have heard that eating disorders are self-inflicted, or that someone with schizophrenia is a “psycho”. Maybe you have found yourself being the one that has said these things. This is due to the misunderstanding surrounding mental health problems: they are never a choice, and it does not mean that you are “crazy”.
Mental health problems are not something to be ashamed about, nor are they something that you should make someone else feel ashamed about. Mental health issues and illnesses are real, and they are extremely difficult to deal with, and often debilitating. 1 in 4 people will experience some mental health issue in the course of a year and 1 in 6 experiences this at any given time (The Office for National Statistics Psychiatric Morbidity report, 2001) . Mixed anxiety and depression is the most common mental disorder in Britain, and depression affects 1 in 5 older people. British men are three times as likely to die by suicide than British women, and self-harm statistics for the UK show one of the highest rates in Europe: 400 per 100,000 population. (source) (more statistics for Britain here). That means that a hell of a lot of us suffer from mental health issues/illnesses. It means that even if you do not suffer from any mental health issues/illnesses yourself, then you will know someone who does.
Some people seem to believe that if you are open about a mental illness or disorder, then you are looking for sympathy, shock, or pity. This is an absurd opinion. I am, and have always been, very open in the fact that I have/have had an eating disorder, but I do not want anyone to feel sorry for me. Thanks, but no thanks.  Some people think that you are attention seeking or trying to provoke a reaction. This may be true, but not in the way they perceive it to be. People with mental health difficulties are suffering, and sometimes their illness can be a way of coping, or a way of expressing to the world that they are in pain (think eating disorders and self harm). Not always, but sometimes, this is the only way they can communicate how they are feeling with the outside world. Next time you think someone is looking for attention, it might be the kindest thing to do to give them some, and show them that you care.

People with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, bi-polar, borderline personality disorder, OCD, psychosis, schizophrenia, or any other type of mental illness should not have to hide part of themselves for fear of seeming like an “attention seeker”, or labelled in any other negative way.  They should not have to feel ashamed of an issue that they have the strength to deal with every day. Dealing with mental health issues does not make a person weak. In fact, it is often mental health issues that reveal the immense courage and bravery of a person.

Just because you suffer with a mental health problem should not mean that you automatically hide that part of your life and be made to feel uncomfortable expressing the things you have to overcome in your daily life. When people have a bad day, or they break up with their boyfriends, or have a huge fight with their parents/siblings/friend/partner, they are able to express their feelings of hurt and anger without fear of being judged. However, when someone with a mental health problem has a bad day due to their condition, a overwhelming amount of the time they feel like they are unable to openly admit about their bad day purely because it was down to a mental health problem. It is important to be able to vent and communicate when you are having a hard time, so please make sure to open up to the people around you that you trust and are comfortable with, and if you are that person who someone opens up to, be sensitive and responsive and mature about the situation. Talk to them, support them, and encourage them to seek help from a professional if they are feeling overwhelmed.

Some people find my rather blunt way of stating my problems and talking about them matter-of-factly without appearing awkward or breaking down into a pool of tears quite unusual, but I am fortunate in that I have never felt inclined to hide who I am and what my day consists of just because some of it used to be down to an eating disorder that I suffered with, or anxiety, or a bout of depression. I will not edit out part of my life simply because the way society is has caused a lot of people to feel uncomfortable when the subject is brought up. They may feel uneasy talking about it, but I spent years living with it every minute of my life. We all have problems, and we should all be able to express them as much as the next person.

If you have a mental health issue, be open about it if you can. Communication is key in relationships, and it is key to getting help with whatever it is that you are struggling with. If you don’t have a mental health issue, be aware that others around you do. Be receptive. Be kind. Do some research to further your understanding. The world will be a better place once we eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health issues and illnesses.

 

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2 thoughts on “Being Open About Mental Illness

  1. Rinn @ Rinn Reads

    This is true. I feel the need to explain my past depression to friends, because I know that occasionally I will sink back into it and I want them to understand it’s nothing to do with them – it just happens and I need to ride on through it. I’ve always been pretty open about it, and so far no-one has reacted negatively.

    It actually all started during sixth form, thanks to certain girls you and I both knew. It now causes some serious trust issues, makes me constantly question whether my friends actually like me or if they’re just humouring me and has completely shattered my self-esteem, which is still not even anywhere near where it was, six years later.

    It makes me angry when people tell those with depression or other disorders to just ‘cheer up’. Yeah. It doesn’t work like that. I’m perfectly happy with things as they are at the moment, yet still sometimes it creeps up on me and I never know why or when, but it happens. It’s not a case of just telling yourself to be happy and it happens. People who say that make me mad.

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