Mental illness is the gorilla in the room that nobody wants to talk about. It is that dirty secret that everyone knows but never openly acknowledges, instead whispering about it in dark corners where others cannot hear. It has become an epidemic of catastrophic proportions, yet it is still regarded with fear because those who have never been there do not understand it and those who are suffering have been beaten down so badly by their inner demons that they often no longer have the will to speak up.
The mentally ill are stigmatized by society and the media to believe there is a great indignity and shame in our diagnosis. Those with mental illnesses are looked upon as broken, damaged, looney, flawed, crazy and mental. We have become a joke. Worse yet, we are seen as dangerous, to ourselves and others. Regardless of the broad range of mental illnesses, we are all painted with the same broad brush.
It doesn’t matter that mental illness has bona fide physical and genetic causations. It is an invisible illness. Since the pain cannot be seen, it is doubted. We are treated like it must be all in our head. We are told we should just try to be happy. We are made out to be drama kings and queens, just looking for attention. Though no one would dare to accuse a cancer patient of faking their pain or suggest someone with a broken leg just try walking, we’re left afraid to speak out because we don’t want to be judged or be forced to justify our pain worthy of validation.
It does not matter that millions of people suffer from some type of mental illness in their lifetime, with depression and anxiety being at the top of the list. It doesn’t matter that it affects people all over the world from all walks of life. Mental illness does not discriminate. It affects the rich and the poor, people of all races, religions, ages, sexes and sexual orientations. Even though mental illness is a global crisis, talking about it is still often taboo.
Anyone who doubts the far-reaching impact of mental illness today need only spend five minutes doing internet searches. Take a look at larger sites that share stories of people faced with mental illness like The Mighty. Every single day, dozens of new stories are posted by people whose lives have been impacted by mental illness. Those are just the people who were brave enough to speak out that day and whose stories were chosen to be published. A drop in the bucket. Pick any large blogging site, such as this one WordPress, and do a search for “mental illness” or “depression”. You could spend hours reading page upon page of personal stories and blogs written from the last couple weeks alone by people suffering themselves. Celebrities are even beginning to come out more and more to say that they, too, are struggling and suffering from their own battles with mental illness.
And yet, those of us suffering still cling to that shame and that fear. It has become so ingrained into our psyche that we pause each time we go to speak out, weighing the consequences. Often we minimalize our suffering to avoid judgment or pity. We don’t want pity. We want, no we DESERVE applause for living through all that we have, struggling to get up, live and function each day while battling our own minds.
I have been called brave and inspirational for speaking out about my own journey and battles with mental illness. I honestly feel neither brave nor inspirational. Those of us who are speaking up are honestly fed up. We are tired of suffering and struggling every single day. Even more so, we are tired of seeing others walking that path, as well. We can spot our own kind. We know that empty, pained look hidden behind that too tight smile and those encouraging lies that you’re “hanging in there” and are alright. Our heart goes out to each and every one of our kind we see because we’ve all walked that path and wouldn’t wish it on our worst enemies.
We speak up not thinking that we can change the world but because we are exasperated by it. We cannot believe that anyone could stand in a field surrounded by landmines, denying their existence even as explosions ring out around them on all sides. People are dying from this illness. Lives are lost every single day. Families are destroyed. Millions of people are not faking this, hoping for attention. It is an epidemic of global proportions.
I see stories and comments every day on social media that turn my stomach. Stories of mothers losing children because they fell through the cracks of the mental healthcare system and died. The truth is that the mental healthcare system as a whole in this country is broken and flawed. There are so many people suffering that facilities and agencies do not have the manpower to handle it all. The laws and regulations surrounding many aspects of mental healthcare are outdated and archaic. Mental hospitals are overcrowded, understaffed and have become corrals and waystations in many cases, where people are held until other options can be found. Drugs are being pushed in many cases above therapy and treatment. People are falling through the cracks.
I see stories about violent crimes being committed by people with a history of mental illness, followed by an outcry about the need to lock up the mentally ill for the safety of all others, and to take away some of our basic rights because of the actions of a select few. It does not matter that studies have shown that those suffering from mental illness are more likely to be victims of a crime than perpetrators. The fact that some mentally ill people have been violent apparently means that we are all dangerous, loaded guns just waiting to go off.
I see stories about celebrities killing themselves after losing a lifelong battle with their own minds. There’s such compassion in those brief moments after a beloved icon has died. Yet it is fleeting. It leaves me bewildered because when the average person shares their own struggles, they are faced with judgment and stigma. If a larger than life entity has suffered, it must be true and it is heartbreaking. The rest of the populace, however, must be faking it.
I see ignorant comments suggesting that the rise in mental health diagnosis has to do with it’s increased presence in the media, as if people are choosing to be mentally ill because it is trendy. The truth is that people are hearing more and more about mental illness in the media because more and more people are getting fed up of being lost in the system, fed up of being treated like they are crazy and broken, fed up of struggling and suffering every single day. We need help. Society says the squeaky wheel gets the grease so we’re ready to squeak, scream and yell if that’s what it takes to get help.
There is hope, though. More and more people are speaking up, adding their voices to the collective. Some celebrities are braving the stigma, as well, hoping their faces and names might bring added attention to the cause. We are beginning to get organized, to create a unified front and to stand together and fight. We have a very real chance to make a difference together and to see real change. We must be diligent, though, and keep speaking out. Do not fall silent. Do not give in or give up. This is a battle worth fighting and one we can win if we maintain our united front.
Enough with the stigma. Enough with the judgment. We are tired of suffering, of struggling, of crying out and receiving little to no help. We are tired of fighting the system and society. We are your mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives, children, co-workers, bosses, teachers, classmates and friends. We are millions strong. We deserve to be heard. We deserve to be helped. We deserve to be healthy.
Whenever there is an epidemic facing even a portion of the world, people rise up in droves to help resolve the situation and help those suffering regain their lives with dignity and compassion. Mental illness has become an epidemic on a global scale. Stop pretending it doesn’t exist because you cannot see it. Look around you. Truly look. Look at the tears in our eyes. Look at the gravestones in our cemeteries. Mental illness is real. It needs to be addressed. We all cannot keep living this way.
Republished on SelfGrowth on 10/17/16.
Republished on The Mighty on 10/25/16.
Republished via The Mighty on Help Minds Heal on 10/26/16.
Republished via The Mighty at The Inner Battle on 11/13/16.