As I approached the exit of a supermarket the other day, I fondly witnessed a teenager rush over to a man with disabilities and carry his grocery bags to his car. Though I was pretty uptight from a stressful week and not in the best mood, it was quite impossible not to be in a brighter mood after seeing that simple, random act of compassion.
I was grateful the young boy went out of his way to accommodate the stranger, and declared to myself that no one should ever be rendered helpless or struggle, especially in the presence of people able to offer them assistance. I vowed to myself to always do random acts of kindness whenever possible, and hopefully be able to inspire others to do good the way that caring boy had inspired me.
But then, as I visualized different ways to be active in my new quest, I remembered an ailment many suffer from that is very personal and significant to me: mental illness.
According to Mental Illness Policy Org, about 50% of individuals with severe psychiatric disorders (3.5 million people) are receiving no treatment.
As someone who spent the conclusion of this summer in an inpatient mental health treatment facility, I understand what it’s like firsthand to suffer in silence. I know what it’s like to be born with diseases that have affected every aspect of my life including my daily functioning, weight, social life, grades, relationships, physical appearance, future, and most of all my mind. And more importantly, I know what it’s like to live with them constantly being neglected and invalidated.
If you had a broken leg, you would seek emergency care immediately. If you were suffering any strange pain, you would seek medical attention. And if you were diagnosed with a health problem, you would (hopefully) take medication your doctor prescribed to you. Why? Because we care about our overall health, and in order to sustain a comfortable and long life we do what we can to prevent anything that stops us from doing so.
So, when we find ourselves or our loved ones in a declining mental state, why don’t we regard them with the same attention?
There is a stigma on mental health that plays a tremendous role in preventing those with mental illnesses to receive proper care. Many suffering people would rather let their problems go untreated and try to work through them on their own instead of asking for help in fear of getting judged, and I think that says a LOT about our society.
The difference between living in constant pain and gradual self-destruction and living an increasingly positive, productive life can be as simple as opening up to family or friends about feelings of depression, anxiety, or whatever else troubles you. Nobody besides you feels that pain, and the only one who can take the first initiative to getting help is you. That’s why it’s so frustrating to see people who are clearly suffering get told, “everything will get better,” or “just stop being sad.”
The inner pain you feel is as real and valid as any bloody wound or broken bone, and it’s okay to ask for help.
In fact, you OWE it to yourself. You deserve to have the ability to live up to your full potential and achieve success and happiness.
We are refusing to acknowledge conditions for what they really are: the same diseases that can very realistically lead to other physical health problems, crime, incarceration, homelessness and job stability issues, drug addiction, and suicide. These are very real consequences of something that for some reason we decide not to take too seriously.
I am a side effect of the stigma on mental illness.
I am someone who, because of society’s negative associations and attitudes toward mental illness, almost lost everything and didn’t make it to this day. I am someone who did not receive help and treatment until it was almost too late. I am also someone who is eternally blessed to have been able to receive care and medication that completely turned my life around and allows me to live a healthy, happy, bright life in recovery.
I do not get special treatment from anyone, nor do I ever expect any. I do not get excused from any one of my daily responsibilities if I am relapsing or unable to function. I don’t get a free pass in any of the relationships I destroy. I don’t get a redo on the exams I failed and papers I never handed in because I was having a nervous breakdown. But I’m fine with all of that.
My overall physical health is generally great, and I am very lucky for that. In no way do I categorize myself as someone who deserves any type of special attention or privileges. I’m not looking to be saved or pitied. I’m only looking for myself and all others like me to be able to get help and treatment for our disorders without prejudice, and receive support and care without oppression. I’m looking for all those in pain and feeling hopeless to have the ability to speak up and receive the proper care they deserve without being told their problems aren’t real or are just all in their heads.
Our pain is just in all of our heads. It’s with us almost every waking hour, interfering with everything we do. It might not immediately separate us from everyone else, but believe me, it does. People who see us might not be able to see how detrimental it is, but that doesn’t mean our suffering isn’t real. Unless we directly share the way we feel with others, nobody else knows it even exists. We’re not looking for you to run to hold the door open for us or mow our lawns for us.
We just want you to understand that although you can’t visualize our troubles, they still are very real problems that very much exist. And although you can’t see our invisible scars, they were still once wounds.