It’s hard to believe it is 2017! I am not sure where the time has gone, but I do know after all these years of living with the stigma of mental illness it is for sure past time we talk about it. There are so many anti-stigma efforts and I do feel like we are moving the needle some, but it is not enough. And from my perspective it is not happening fast, it is a slow drip-drip-drip.
I never thought I would have to live with some illness called bipolar disorder that many people really did not understand and if you said you had a manic episode they really would not know what you meant. Really I wasn’t sure what it meant for many years, until I studied it so much so I could manage it. In reality, everyone with bipolar disorder experiences it a little bit differently. Clusters of symptoms may be the same, but how we behave and handle our illnesses are generally not a carbon copy of it.
We have to talk about mental illness because quite frankly it is so complicated it is hard to understand. Some illnesses are easier than others but I would argue for even the people who have anxiety disorders they will find not everyone understands how debilitating that can be. Many people believe you should just be able to take a pill and “get over it.”
With 1 in 5 Americans living with a mental illness that equates to about 20% of the populations. Yes, there are far less of us who have severe mental illness like bipolar disorder, major depression and schizophrenia, but we still represent million of people. This really means that everyone knows someone who has a mental illness…and if you think you don’t it is probably simply because they don’t talk about it.
I want you to ask yourself the question, “If I found out my best friend had been struggling with severe depression for years, would that change how I felt about them?” What about if you found out your sister had been struggling with postpartum depression with psychotic features would you know what that meant? How about your boss at work who seems to have major mood swings between being very gregarious and not talking at all. What do you say? What do you do?
If we don’t talk about mental illness we will continue to find ourselves in these socially awkward situations where we don’t know how to react or what to say. Granted it is not as bad as it used to be, but it could be a lot better.
Of course I don’t believe everyone should write a blog or a book about their struggles with mental illness. But I do believe people should not have to be afraid to tell others they are struggling with a mental illness. It is truly a shame to have to keep something a secret that occupies a great deal of time and effort. Managing a chronic mental illness is a HUGE effort. There are doctor and therapy appointments, medication side effects to deal with, prescriptions to refill, and symptoms to deal with. It is at times a very hard road to journey on.
My one wish is that other people could feel more free to talk about it so there will be a greater understanding. Maybe then those who live with mental illness will feel more supported. Maybe then there will be more research dollars to help fund better treatments with higher efficacy. Maybe then there will be better access to care. Maybe then people with mental illness won’t be housed in jails and prisons. Maybe then our society will be more compassionate. Maybe….just maybe people won’t have to suffer in isolation.