The phrase “mental health” often connotes something taboo or an issue best discussed behind closed doors. So naturally, when Mental Health Awareness Month rolls around the vibes aren’t ones we openly embrace.
Like any opinionated person, there are a handful of issues that hit closer to home for me than others – whether that be from a passionate resolve or simply personal experiences. Mental health is one of those issues.
I could “write around the bush” so-to-speak, weaving euphemisms in and out of an editorial and leaving an overall sense of vagueness, but where’s the fun in that? Mental illness and I go way back. For many generations, on both sides of the family, various forms of mental illness have presented themselves and successfully filtered into the genes of my descendants - borderline personality disorder, dissociative identity disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression and anxiety. You name it, we got it.
Enter: me. With a life full of medical obstacles and a seemingly endless journey of regularly discovering new flaws within my biology, I’ve adapted the Maybelline-esque slogan of, “Maybe she’s born with it... no she was definitely born with it.” So, when I tell you that I frequently struggle with both anxiety and depression, I’m hoping that you’ll see that it’s really in the luck (or lack thereof) of the cards that I’ve been dealt.
A common misconception about mental illness is that happiness and depression/anxiety cannot co-exist. That’s not necessarily, and is most often not, the case. Those who know me can tell you that I have no shortage of laughter to go around. In fact, often times humor is my greatest ally. However, laughter and joy in one moment do not equate the absence of something deeper.
Each day brings something new. Some days are good days. Some days are bad days, and some days are really bad days. Life changes. Moods fluctuate – that’s just the way things work. In fact, I’d venture to say that the same is true in your own life – mental illness or not.
For me, one of the worst aspects of struggling with a mental illness is the sense that I’m alone. Whether true or not, the overall feeling of isolation is hard to overcome. As I previously stated, the still-taboo nature of mental illness is apparent, but additionally, many people are unsure of how to approach, empathize with or even help those around them struggling with mental or emotional issues.
My advice, though everyone is different, is to meet people where they are. Listen to them, actively and unconditionally. Support them, in a way that’s specific to their needs. Comfort them, with action that they find comforting, not that you find comforting. Show interest in who they are as a person, and if you care about them, let them know. Mental health is a process, not a destination. As we entrench ourselves in the day-to-day of May, Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s do just that—become aware.
For more information about Mental Health Awareness Month, visit www.nami.org/mentalhealth month.