In the aftermath of Robin Williams' death (I AM SO SAD), I've seen a lot of people speaking out once again about the horrible stigmas associated with mental illnesses. I've heard about people lashing out at Robin Williams and referring to him as "selfish" and "a coward," among many other things I'm sure.
There are a lot of issues that need attention in this world, but I must say that this is one I am especially passionate about. People with mental illnesses get stereotyped and discriminated against like nobody's business, and I'm so tired of it. I guess I just wanted to join the bandwagon of people speaking out against this issue by briefly writing a few words to:
a) people suffering from mental illness
b) people who know/love someone suffering from mental illness
I also want to provide some resources that might be helpful and inspiring if you fall into either or both of those two categories.
If you are suffering from mental illness...
~ You are NOT a fundamentally flawed piece of insignificance and shame, which is probably what most people will lead you to believe with their thoughtless comments and actions. You are struggling with a very real, very valid issue. Your struggle is just as significant as someone with a terrible flu or a body that is broken in nine places. The status of your mental health is NOT YOUR FAULT and I understand that you can't just wake up in the morning and will yourself out of it. You matter. Your story matters. You are doing the best you can.
~ You are not alone. One in four people struggle with mental illness, and there is help available if you're one of those people. I will provide some resources below, but nothing beats professional consultations. Just remember that the first step is usually the hardest, but it's also the most important. For the longest time, I did not discuss my own struggles with mental health. To be honest, I STILL don't discuss them very much because we've been conditioned to believe that struggling with mental health makes us weak and that our problems aren't valid because they can't be seen with the naked eye. The fact of the matter is that some people may very well judge or misunderstand you. But for every person who does that, there are probably ten more who won't. So try to speak up (and I will too). Find people who understand. Find people who can help. But whatever you do, don't go at it alone. Don't be the next shocking suicide story because everyone thought you were totally fine and dandy when you were actually living in a mental hell.
~ It really does get better. I know that probably sounds like an annoying and infuriating cliche if you're depressed or mentally ill, but if you stop reminding yourself that things will get better (even if you don't always believe it), you will sink even further into that black void. You will not be like this forever. Your condition will improve, and I strongly believe in the hope and promise of a better, more fulfilled future. You do not have to give up. You do not have to kill yourself. There are so many ways out of your mental prison. They might be more tedious to get through, but they're there. I promise.
If you know/love someone who is suffering from mental illness...
~ Do not try to "fix" them. Trying to fix someone with a mental health issue is the equivalent of giving someone with a gaping wound a band-aid. "THIS OUGHTA DO THE TRICK." No. It won't do the trick. If anything, it will make matters worse. Sure, some mental health issues are less serious than others and can probably be alleviated (or even cured) with some good old-fashioned self-help or other forms of self-therapy. I once dealt with some minor mental issues by myself and turned out okay. (See my eBook.) But most mental health issues are too great to be dealt with by non-professionals. Be there for your loved ones in any possible way that you can, but don't discourage professional therapy---ESPECIALLY if you suspect their life could be in danger.
~ Do not judge, stereotype or belittle them. Dealing with a mental health issue is hard enough as it is. It's even harder to talk about. If someone takes the brave step of opening up to you about an issue they are having only to be met with a barrage of cruel or ignorant comments, that is as detrimental to the personal growth process as someone pushing a baby who is trying to take his/her first steps. They will never want to open up to you (and probably anyone else) again. They will keep it all bottled up. And when they keep it all bottled up, tragic shit starts happening. When a loved one is trying to talk to you about something like this, you listen. You don't offer meaningless advice. You don't blame them or their life habits. You don't attack them. You don't make assumptions or ignorant comments based on a small amount of knowledge. You listen and be there for them unconditionally. You let them know that you love them just as they are and that you're willing to see them through their struggle. Anything less than that could be a tragic mistake.
~ Educate yourself. There are oodles upon oodles of resources about depression and mental health out there, so if you have little knowledge of these issues or think they're not that big of a deal, I suggest you get busy. Do some Googling. Crack open some books. Talk to some mental health professionals. The more you understand, the better you can deal when someone you know or love is struggling to maintain their mental well-being. Knowledge is power in this case, so suck up as much of it as you can.
Helpful and inspiring resources
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
TWLOHA (my favorite organization): http://twloha.com/home
Another great organization: http://www.bringchange2mind.org/
Awesome blog post #1: http://keltiecolleen.buzznet.com/photos/strugglingwithdepres/
Awesome blog post #2: http://sarahbessey.com/depression-fault/
Awesome blog post #3: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2011/10/adventures-in-depression.html
Awesome blog post #4: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2013/05/depression-part-two.html
One of my favorite movies ever is "Silver Linings Playbook," and it sheds a thought-provoking light on mental illness. I recommend buying the DVD and watching the special feature titled "Silver Linings Playbook: The Movie That Became a Movement." I couldn't find it online, but it's definitely worth watching if you struggle with depression (of any kind, of any severity) or any other mental health issue that makes you feel as if you're not an important part of the world. http://www.amazon.com/Silver-Linings-Playbook-Bradley-Cooper/dp/B00A81MV3U/
An online hub for all things mental health: http://psychcentral.com/
Please take care of yourself. You are so important.
p.s. I am not a mental health expert, and nothing I say on this blog should substitute professional guidance. These are simply my views and opinions on the subject.