It’s interesting—I never knew there was a month to honor ‘mental health awareness.’ Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great – awareness is so, so important, but I just never knew that May was dedicated to mental health. Maybe it’s because unfortunately mental health is something that is rarely, if ever talked about in a positive way. Maybe it’s because for me and so many other people mental health is something that we have to think about every, single day – not just during the month of May.
To be honest, I cannot really remember the first time I had my first “wave” of anxiety. I know was young. I know was in elementary school. I know I worried about things that my friends and my fellow 8-9 year old classmates didn’t worry about. For a while I was so scared that I was going to be kidnapped out of my bedroom window that I couldn’t fall asleep at night. And, when that went away—a new phobia would arise. Airplanes. Going to school. Getting cancer. You name it. I worried about it. And now, I am 25 years old, so you can say that I have been dealing with anxiety for about 17 years. I don’t say this to make you feel sorry for me or make you feel bad for me, I say this because the reality of the situation is that for me and for too many other people every month is mental health awareness month. Everyday is mental health awareness day.
1 out of 5 people experience a mental illness. I am sure you have seen this statistic a lot this month. But, what that means is that these are your mothers, your fathers, your sisters, your brothers, your friends, your coworkers, your acquaintances, the woman or the man on the street that’s trying to smile and so many other people. And, mental illness doesn’t discriminate. Mental illnesses occur across gender, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation. The list goes on. Unfortunately, resources for mental illness – like many other things – do discriminate. So many people go undiagnosed and untreated because they cannot afford the (ridiculously) expensive resources to get the help that they need. This is such a shame, and something – that I wholeheartedly think needs to change. And, although I do not have a solution for this problem (at the moment) I do have a temporary solution in response to May being “mental health awareness month.”
What can we do to help those with a mental illness? It really is simple. Two words. Be kinder. Get to know people. Understand that everyone has a story. Everyone is going through something, whether that ‘something’ is a mental illness or not. Don’t call people “bipolar” or “OCD” or “crazy” or “mentally insane” because there are people who have bipolar disorder, diagnosed obsessive compulsive disorder and people who feel crazy and mentally insane each and everyday, when they aren’t. And, don’t just do this in May. Do this always. And, if you are struggling with a mental illness, don’t be scared to ask for help. I know it’s easier said than done with all the stigmas and the negative associations to mental illness, but try your hardest to not feel ashamed or weak or lesser than – because your mental illness is a part of you and makes you the strong individual that you are. Granted, I am still trying to practice what I preach, but what I am trying to say is that no one is alone in this. Find your support system and lean on them, even if it is hard to. Your mental illness doesn’t define you; it is only apart of you. And, happy mental awareness month, everyone!