MHAW: Silence and Stigma

This week has been one of mental health awareness, and in typical Saf fashion I left this post to be written at the last day. In NZ it’s been Mental Health Awareness Week, while elsewhere it’s been Mental Illness Awareness Week. Exactly a year ago I wrote a post about why awareness is important, and a year later it’s still just as vital.

It was maybe a month or two ago that a friend on Twitter opened up about their own struggles with mental illness, which prompted an open discussion among our little community. A lot more of my friends were struggling with mental health than I realized, and I’m sure others felt the same about me.

Despite my personal vows to be open and honest with regards to mental health, I suddenly realized that I am essentially a freezer of feelings—I carefully tuck the bad ones away in a back shelf and leave them to freeze for a few months, until the power breaks down and they begin to thaw. I fully contribute to the lack of awareness, in part because I don’t like to show weakness, and that is a failure of mine.

In short: I have depression. I had it as a teenager, and now I have it again as an adult coping with CFS. It’s hard, right? I’m already exhausted enough from the fatigue, but then I have the extra layer of weariness that depression brings. A couple weeks ago I woke up with literally no energy to even move. I spent a good half hour lying on the bathroom floor feeling like my very soul had been sucked from me, wondering, what even was the point of showering?

Of course I showered. I ate. I washed my face and brushed my teeth because I have by this point learned that sticking to routine helps to drag you out of that shadowy mud just a little. But still I fell right back into bed and read Catching Fire for the rest of the day, identifying with Katniss’ own depression, and her dawning understanding of her mother’s.

I always talk about how important representation in media is, and it’s equally as important with mental health. Katniss Everdeen, a heroic young girl whose final film is the most anticipated of this year, is also a young girl who struggles with depression and PTSD (and who wouldn’t, after what she’s been through?)

Patrick Ness’ More Than This also deals with heavy mental health themes—and really, Young Adult fiction is rife with this sort of representation. Even Twilight! Which, I would argue, is part of the reason so many young girls identified so strongly with Bella. It’s not just the swooning over Edward or Jacob, it’s that the way Bella’s depression happens is a feeling they understand, but never have explained to them. My own sister and I never discussed mental health, my teachers never talked about the dangers of suicidal feelings or how anxiety can suck the joy out of life; every single adult I looked up to kept tight-lipped about mental illness.

I don’t in any way hold that against anyone—have I not done the same? Our generation is so much more connected through social media and the internet, and yet we still fall into old patterns of silence and secrecy. Whenever a new shooting in America happens, the idea of those men being mentally ill brings the subject to the foreground again, reinforcing stigmas and negative stereotypes, while those of us struggling often step back and shake our fists in silence, anxiety sewing our mouths closed.

So, some things to remember:

  • Just because someone is mentally ill does not mean they are going to shoot anyone;
  • Asking for help and finding a therapist does not make someone weak;
  • Medication can seriously help some people and should not be frowned upon or joked about;
  • In fact, let’s stop making light of depression or OCD or anything of the sort—jokes can be more harmful than we realize.

As always, I am thinking of the youth. Of the children and the teenagers who fight with mental illness in isolation without the knowledge or the tools to properly communicate what they need, just like I once did. Of the girls who have the constant pressure to be perfect in every way, of the boys who are told that crying is a weakness and expressing emotions makes them unworthy. If we, as adults, don’t open up and help those around us, who will stop the next generation from doing the same?

I will make more of an attempt to be open about what I’m dealing with in an effort to help others feel less stigmatized and alone. I understand why it is hard to talk about, and I don’t judge anyone who stays quiet. I’ve always been willing to be out front, yelling, shielding those who need it—and I’ll continue to be that person for as long as I can.

If you are dealing with mental illness: you are not alone, and I will always be a willing ear. If you are not: be patient and kind, and let your friends know you will always be there. You never know who might need to talk.

Of course, this is just America. Source.

Casual reminder that I have a Patreon that helps me keep writing and photographing away.

3 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I’m glad that you are working to make people more aware. Like you, I have a history of depression. I’m so fortunate that I have had the support network and resources (supportive family and friends, therapist and medicine) to help overcome it and keep it under control, and I wish everyone had access to the type of treatment that works best for them, and they knew that they could call on it if needed. Lots of hugs.

    For those with depression or other mental health challenges, you are not alone – there are people like you who are going or have gone through similar things, and there are people who can assist you in getting better, from little things to big things.

    And for those who aren’t facing mental health challenges right now, be a lifeline to those around you who might be. Learn how to care and respect those who suffer from depression and stress and OCD and whatnot.

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