(I wrote this on Jan. 29, 2014, and wanted to repost it here.)
The #BellLetsTalk fundraiser yesterday got me thinking.
Bell’s pledge to donate five cents to mental health organizations for every tweet, text, phone call, and Facebook share opened my eyes to the number of humans who struggle each day and feel as if they’re trapped inside their own mind.
I learned that many people are braver than they think. It is awfully hard for people suffering from mental health problems to come out and speak willfully about them. It’s even harder when the audience is a group of strangers. I know first hand that it’s difficult to talk to family members about mental health, so talking about it with complete strangers, those who are unaware of exactly what is going on, can make the healing process all the more complicated.
I witnessed bravery online Tuesday. I saw people stare down stigmas with confidence and determination. I saw barriers being broken right before my eyes.
Whether direct or indirect, stigma can cause an already flustered mind to dig itself deeper and deeper into a hole that’s already deep to begin with. Being judged by others for mental health illnesses, ignorantly, is a problem that more people than there should be face. Fear of being “labeled” with having a mental illness prevents people from receiving crucial treatment. It creates isolation. It makes you feel like no one is there to understand you.
For the younger crowd, mental health illnesses can make the college, high school, or middle school experience exhausting. I’ve witnessed it. Many who bravely come out and publicly fight whatever it is they’re going through are deemed as “just wanting attention.” Those who do suffer from depression feel as if it’s not as serious as it really is. Anything that goes wrong throughout the day – whether it’s a bad test, bad weather, or bad luck – can make someone feel “depressed” when there is more to it. This is a problem many face today because those who label any small problem as depression drown what actually is depression out.
Which is why it was refreshing and relieving to see stigmas associated with those that suffer from mental health issues all but vanish before my eyes. I was happy to see that people of all ages were able to achieve a level of understanding that’s far greater than what’s found when the laptop is shut down.
Tuesday’s experience made today, Wednesday, easier to handle. Today, January 29, made it one year since one of my best friends chose to end his own life. Even today, it is still hard to explain how I felt after receiving the news. I was angry with myself. I was upset because after my dad’s death, just six months prior, I didn’t want to talk about my feelings either. Yet after my friend’s death, I realized just how important talking could have been. In middle and high school, I remember having professional’s come in and talk with students about what to do if someone you knew was suicidal. I selfishly thought that I would never find myself in that situation.
Now, one year later, I continue to think about what I could have done. I think about my own mental health situation and the mental health of the others around me. I think about the progress I feel I’ve made internally but need to realize that change comes slow. One year after my friend’s death and one and a half years after my dad’s, I see the full landscape of mental health treatment expanding quickly but mine slowly. I still rarely talk about what’s going on inside my own head, and still feel talking with someone who is qualified unnecessary.
But yesterday and today isn’t about me. It’s about the families of those affected by what has previously transpired. It’s about the millions upon millions of people who live with mental health disorders worldwide. It’s about learning from your experiences – whether good or bad – and working to ensure those around you aren’t left feeling alone or isolated.
I know what I need to work on and know exactly the impact the fundraiser had on me. The $5.4 million raised was significant and incredibly influential, but even more important to me was the number of courageous people out there fighting. People with and without mental illnesses were coming together in support of the cause.
It gave me hope that one day the stigmas can be defeated and mental health will no longer be an issue people have to stay silent on.