Tag Archives: mental illness

We Aren’t “Crazy,” We’re Humans, Too

wearentcrazy

Imagine if the following six phrases were spoken to people suffering from physical ailments and injuries:
physicalillness
image source and one discussion of this image

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:

Helpful Words

  • “I am here to listen. I/we love you.”
  • “Do you want me to help you find treatment?”
  • “I have no idea what’s ahead, but I/we will be with you.”
  • “Did you see anything/do anything today that made you happy?”

Non-Helpful Words

  • “I’m not going to talk to you/be around you if you’re just gonna mope around.”
  • “Go talk to a therapist if it’s this bad.”
  • “Things will be better tomorrow! Bye!”
  • “Ugh, can we talk about something happy for once?”

Helpful Actions

  • Check in every day via phone or personal visit. You could take this on yourself, or you could organize a group of friends for this.
  • Offer to help with household chores to take some burden off.
  • Pick up medicines/groceries and run errands.
  • Know the signs of worsening illness, so you know when it is likely necessary to contact professional help.

Non-Helpful Actions

  • Leave the person alone until they contact you (they might never).
  • Shame/judge the person for things left undone.
  • Refuse to help because it might “enable” them to be lazier.
  • Spew random advice at them because you don’t want to have to pay for treatment.

Closing Thoughts

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.

Let’s Not Shame Depressed/Anxious People

Recently, I read an informative article on Forbes.com called “Mentally Strong People: The 13 Things They Avoid.” I did like the points it made about breaking out of fear and learning how to be patient…but I have to admit, part of the article irked me, too. According to this article, I am mentally weak in at least 10 different ways, and have been since childhood. Coincidentally, I have also suffered multiple lapses of depression and anxiety attacks since at least the age of 8.

Striving toward the goals on this list of mental strengths IS a task worth doing; however, this article casts some forms of “mental weakness” as a completely controllable, chosen way of life. I know better.

What Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, According to This Article

  1. Waste time feeling sorry for themselves
  2. Give away their power
  3. Shy away from change
  4. Waste energy on things they can’t control
  5. Worry about pleasing others
  6. Fear taking calculated risks
  7. Dwell on the past
  8. Make the same mistakes over and over
  9. Resent other people’s success
  10. Give up after failure
  11. Fear alone time
  12. Feel the world owes them anything
  13. Expect immediate results

My Big Problems with This List

Most of these points are valid, and can be adopted by changing your perspective and outlook to match; that’s perfectly fine. Unfortunately, there are a few points on this list that people may not be enduring by choice; I am speaking primarily of depression and anxiety. This article, I feel, goes a little too close to shaming/blaming people who have depressed or anxious thought patterns, such as the following:

  1. “Mentally strong people don’t waste time feeling sorry for themselves.” Unfortunately, when you’re depressed, your life is one big cesspool of “sorry.” Life feels pointless; you find yourself pondering the question “Why am I even here? Why do I exist? Everyone would be better off if I just died so I wasn’t taking up space.” And when depression has argued you into a logical corner like this, sometimes you have to spend half an hour mentally talking yourself into taking a shower, let alone getting out of the house and being “useful.” It’s very difficult NOT to feel sorry for yourself when you see other people being normal and having a good life, and you feel like your ability to live is broken.
  2. “Mentally strong people don’t give away their power.” When you’re depressed or anxious, you don’t HAVE any power anymore–that’s the whole problem. These mental conditions encroach on you like a garbage compactor, slowly compressing your thoughts until they tangle and crunch in on themselves. Other people’s opinions simply pile in on top of these already-twisted thoughts, adding more noise and more confusion to the mess of your life. And God help you if others are judging you harshly for going through this mess, as if you CHOSE this punishing way of life, as if you “could change if you really wanted to.” How INSULTING, and utterly unhelpful–comments like that just make the thought compactor move faster, and you’re even more powerless to change it.
  3. “Mentally strong people don’t waste energy on things they can’t control.” Yeah, except anxiety takes that choice away from you, completely. It doesn’t matter if what you’re anxious about is in your control or not–your brain is going to lock on to it and hang on like a hermit crab. The song of worry plays on and on, endlessly, drowning out most other thoughts, diminishing your appetite, and keeping sleep just barely at bay; it’s like trying to walk against a strong wind.
  4. “Mentally strong people don’t dwell on the past.” Fine and dandy, except when it’s 4 am and your brain has decided to play you a never-ending newsreel of all the horrible things you’ve done or thought about in your life. Depression brings up guilt, which in turn regurgitates your past–except that these memories always cast you as the villain, the outcast, the one who should be hated or destroyed for all the failures and mistakes, all the hurt you’ve caused. Mentally “strong” folks, how would you deal with this, when your own brain turns against you? When you’re depressed, you are mentally drowning in this, every moment, and you can’t just “think positive” or “quit thinking about the past” to fix it.
  5. “Mentally strong people don’t give up after failure.” Failure causes a certain degree of anxiety–that’s a given for just about anyone. In normal folks, that anxiety can propel them to greater achievement later. But in folks like me, who already hate and fear failure as if it means certain death, failure binds up our brains in sticky spiderwebs of anxiety, and depression plays the role of the approaching spider. A failure is one more way you’re weak; it’s one more thing to be guilty about, and depression feeds on guilt as spiders feed on bugs, sapping the will to try again–why bother, when you’re just going to fail again and prove what a waste of space you are?
  6. “Mentally strong people don’t fear alone time.” Alone time? Oh, you mean “Incessant Internal Guilt-Trip” time. Or maybe you meant “Wonder-What-Everyone-Else-Is-Doing-Without-Me” time. Perhaps even “Reasons-I-Should-Kill-Myself” time. My alone time, historically speaking, has been full of this kind of overwhelming negativity, and I’m not the only one to experience it this way–depression wraps your brain in this kind of foggy thinking. Even when you are with others, you feel pretty alone mentally, and when you are alone in reality, the negative feelings double in size, because you don’t have other people helping to drown it all out. Every thought process takes a negative turn whether you want it to or not–it’s like they’re all on railroads headed toward the pit.

My Point: “Mental Strength” May Require Professional Help for Some Folks

If you find yourself able to turn your thoughts around by reading helpful/inspiring articles, then that’s awesome. But for people like me who suffer clinical depression and/or anxiety, some of these points may just be too tough to tackle on our own. I think the Forbes article ignores that, as if all people can just fix these skewed mental mindsets on their own. (I tried fixing my depression on my own, and I ended up worse off than before.)

Think of it this way: we would not ask a cancer patient to administer his or her own chemotherapy, nor we would expect a person to perform his or her own surgery in the hospital. Why, then, does society believe that depressed or anxious people can somehow heal themselves–or that they chose to be sick in the first place? Mental strength is a wonderful goal, but for some, it may require more than just a self-help book to achieve. It may require various forms of therapy, friend/family support, medications, etc. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of.