Happy Mental Health Awareness Month!
Mental health shouldn’t be difficult to talk about, but it is for most people due to the stigma surrounding mental illness. We all struggle with our mental health from time to time, some more than others, just like we all struggle with our physical health.
For years I remained silent about my experience with mental illness. I didn’t want to scare people away or have them look at me differently. I was ashamed, didn’t think people would understand, and ultimately just feared being judged. When I finally did start talking, I did so in baby steps.
It wasn’t until this past year that I truly opened up, about nine years after I really started struggling with depression and anxiety.
Hearing and reading other people’s experiences with mental illness over the years brought me great comfort and made me feel less alone. I admired their honesty and courage it took for them to share part of their stories and never in a million years did I think I would do the same one day. Eventually I got fed up hiding parts of myself, keeping secrets and feeling ashamed of who I was. Anyone who has done that knows that it’s really exhausting. I realized that by remaining silent, I was letting the stigma that I so desperately want to be erased hold me back. When I began talking about my experience with mental illness, I had a much better reaction than anticipated. I learned that a lot of people around me were struggling with mental illness, too.
This mental health awareness month, I challenge you to start a conversation about mental health. The conversation could begin by reaching out to someone you think is struggling with mental illness or by sharing your own experience with mental illness.
Courtesy of Do Something.org, here are 5 facts about mental illness that might surprise you, and help you start a conversation about mental health:
- In 2010, there were an estimated 45.9 million adults (age 18 or older) in the US with a mental illness.
- Mental illnesses are more common than cancer, diabetes, or heart disease.
- More than 2/3 of Americans who have a mental illness live in the community and lead productive lives.
- Mental illness and intellectual disability are not the same. Mental illness affects a person’s thinking, mood, and behavior, whereas those with an intellectual disability experience limitations in intellectual function and difficulties with certain skills.
- Between 70 and 90% of people with mental illnesses experience a significant reduction of symptoms and an improved quality of life, with proper care and treatment.
Opening up to people is scary and hard, but oftentimes the anticipation is worse than actually doing it. It may be uncomfortable, but the only way we’re ever going to get comfortable talking about mental health is by having these conversations much more frequently. Know that everyone you talk to may not be understanding of mental illness. It can be upsetting, but if you prepare yourself for it you can use that opportunity to do your best to educate and help people understand.
It’s important to remember that mental illness doesn’t define a person. Mental illness is just a fraction of someone’s complex, unique life, but it’s a fraction that no one should feel they have to hide. Know that there is no shame in struggling with mental illness and that you are never alone.