This webcomic is funny because we think of it as ridiculous–who would ever invalidate someone else’s suffering like this? Who would ever deny that a person throwing up in the toilet needs treatment? Who would ever question that a person in the hospital needs to lie down and rest?
And yet we do invalidate others’ suffering, when it comes to mental illnesses.
What People Have Actually Said To Me About Mental Illness
Here’s just a sampling of what I’ve heard over the years, as a sufferer of depression and anxiety:
- “Ugh, God, you’re talking about that mumbo-jumbo again” (meaning my recent Facebook status about depression)
- “Let me just play psychologist here for a minute–don’t you think that your depression comes from feeling entitled because you were never encouraged to work for anything?”
- “Well, I just think all that stuff [mental illness] is a scam to get drugs to sell on the street. They ain’t dying, so why else would they try to get medications?”
- “Anxiety, huh? Well, when I was a kid, we had things to worry about like when food was gonna get put on the table next. What do you even worry about?”
How Is This Kind of Talk Reasonable at All? It’s Not
Would we talk to cancer patients this way? Would we talk to people with physical, measurable illnesses this way? No, and why not? Because we believe them–we can easily see the symptoms for ourselves. Mental illnesses rarely have this same level of validation–there isn’t a visible rash, nor injuries (except in self-harm cases), and our suffering is described in feelings. Thus, many people pass off mental illness as laziness, whining, or attention-getting, as this Huffington Post article describes.
Here’s the bottom line: Mental illnesses exist, as these 10 artists and writers have proven, and they DO cause suffering and pain which requires treatment. Frankly, at this point in my life, I am quite done with people who act as if those of us with mental illnesses are faking or exaggerating. People who choose to believe that mental illnesses are exaggerated, brought on by lifestyle choices, or are otherwise “our fault,” have obviously never had a mental illness and therefore don’t have the knowledge to argue about whether it exists or causes real suffering. If getting rid of depression and anxiety was as simple as “thinking positive” and “sucking it up,” I would have been clear of it years ago. As it is, I’ve battled both since I was at least 8 years old (I’m 29 now).
How to Properly Support People with Mental Illnesses
There are plenty of opponents of proper mental illness treatment out there, but there are just as many people who would like to help but just don’t know how. Either they are fellow sufferers, or they feel powerless in the face of this looming darkness and struggle that their loved one is caught in.
Wanting to help someone with a mental illness is a noble cause, but we are not born knowing how to support someone like this. From my personal experience, here are helpful and non-helpful things to say and do for your loved one/fellow sufferer:
I don’t know if we’ll ever find “cures” for mental illness, nor do I know if we’ll find the causes of it in my lifetime. But I do know that continuing to devalue the suffering of people with mental illnesses will only further the stigma and keep people from seeking treatment. Mental illness happens; we are not “crazy” or permanently broken, we are fellow human beings, and it’s time we were treated as such. Proper support now may mean your or your loved one’s survival later.