the way we talk about mental health is bullshit
I’ve been trying to understand my motivation to talk about mental health. Obviously, if you’re reading this in the first place, you know I’m constantly talking about it in relation to my own experiences. I really feel like people connect with me and my blog because they’ve had similar stories or felt similar things. But that doesn’t fully explain why I write. It doesn’t justify all of my mental health efforts through my student government here at Richmond. It doesn’t explain why I feel such a need to discuss mental health and be as honest as I can about my own life and my own struggles.
The first response that comes to mind is, “I don’t want anyone to ever have to go through what I went through.” It feels so mechanical, so robotic to spit out that sentiment. Then, when I actually think about what that statement means, I realize that I don’t agree with it. At all. It’s a shitty response.
I spent a lot of time and even years believing that I could never have depression, anxiety or any mental health issue. There was not a single thing wrong with my life, no traumatic event, nothing. So how could I ever be not “okay”?
I'm working on a lot of mental health projects through WCGA (my student government) and through those I got to talk with Dr. LeViness, the director of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at the University of Richmond. He told me that mental health issues or illnesses are like the “common cold;” anyone can suffer. No one is an exception.
You can't really prevent a lot of the issues associated with mental health and you definitely can't predict it. But more importantly, I don’t think you should try to.
My focus is on treatment. Okay, you’re “going through something,” or “not doing well”... but what does that mean? Better yet, how can you improve how you’re feeling?
This idea that mental health issues can be eradicated or even prevented is absurd to me. Mental health will always be an issue and an important one because every single human has a mind; it doesn’t matter what background you have, your intelligence, or your life because every human has a brain. Whether it’s mental illness, which can seemingly come out of the blue, or mental health issues, which tends to be more circumstantial, no one is an exception.
So, if we can establish that mental health issues are inevitably going to happen, we can already break apart this idea that someone could “never have to go through it.” But there’s a part of this statement that bothers me even more than perpetuating false expectations.
When I was suffering through depression last year, a family friend told me to change how I think about my mental illness: “Treat it like a blessing to see things in a way that others can’t.” That has always stuck with me. I have learned the most about myself and the life I want to live from suffering from depression and anxiety. It feels like I’ve been given a second chance.
This applies to way more than just mental health: adversity throws us into the current to prove that we can survive. Then we get to take a deep breath, watch the current behind us, and walk away standing a bit taller.
Then there are some who simply can’t swim to shore. Some people who give up too soon. This doesn’t just mean ending their life but becoming a shell of a person. Not being able to recognize themselves. Feeling like they’ll never get their head above water again. This is why I’m so passionate about mental health: to give others the same hope and resources that I was given that allowed me that second chance.
Do I wish that everyone experienced mental illness/health issues? No. But, if it’s going to happen, we can’t talk about it like it’s a death sentence. We can’t shame people into not asking for help. We can’t pretend that the suffering population is small and isolated.
So, instead of “hoping that no one will ever have to go through it,” let’s cut the bullshit.