Today is World Mental Health Day.
Once upon a time, I didn’t think that I would be able to work through the problems that I had. It took me a few years, a lot of stops and starts, but I can say that I’m in a better place now.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that my problems have magically gone away. But over time, plenty of help, support, and love, and of course the grace of God, I have gotten to a place where I can look myself in the eye and know that I can do it.
Everyone deserves to be at that place in their lives. Because without you in the world, the world becomes a different place.
So with that, here are five misconceptions that I had about mental health and mental illness, and why I’m glad that I was able to change my personal narrative around them.
1. “You’re weak if you go and seek help.”
THIS was one of the biggest reasons why I waited so, so long to go out and seek help. Scratch that, this was the reason why it took me so long to get help and why a high school teacher literally had to drag me to the counsellor’s office the first time around. Especially in high school, our outward facing image is so crucial. Any sign of “weakness” is taken note of and can be used against you at any time. So going to seek help for things that I had no idea how to even begin to describe terrified me. What would other people think of me?
I’m here to tell you that you’re not weak; in fact, you’re strong. Admitting that you need help is probably the bravest and strongest thing that you can do. And what’s even better is that there are people around you that will, and want to, help you get through this!
2. “All mental illness looks the same.”
So far from the truth! I thought that because I wasn’t exhibiting certain stereotypical symptoms that I didn’t need to be concerned for my own wellbeing. But in fact, mental illness impacts everyone differently. Just the same way that no two people are alike, the symptoms that we exhibit, our triggers, and how we react to things will vary from person to person.
3. “Depression is just a phase and you’ll grow out of it.”
You substitute depression for any other mental illness, for that matter. When I first was dealing with depression, that’s what I was told at first. That I would grow up and magically become happy. And while emotion is a willpower game, it isn’t just a phase.
Taking the time to talk to people about your mental health, whether it be family, friends, or in serious circumstances, a counsellor or psychologist, is definitely a great way to help you grow through a mental illness. There is no magic bullet or quick and fast cure, and it should definitely not be ignored. Take note of what you’re feeling and talk to someone you trust. As my psychologist said to me last year, “emotions can’t hurt you. Embrace them and work through them with someone you trust.”
4. “But you look normal. How can you have mental illness?”
I remember being asked this and I really had no idea how to respond. I never asked for clarification, but my assumption is that I looked “normal” because I still went to class (most of the time), looked cheerful (most of the time) and was able to get my work done (for the most part).
This kind of thinking assumes mental illness as two extremes: you’re either functioning, or you’re not. Different people cope in different ways. One of my biggest regrets, as mentioned above, was not recognizing that I needed help and not accepting help sooner. Instead, I pushed myself to the edge and forced myself to be busy so that I wouldn’t have to think about the potential mental illness that was looming inside of me.
Unlike physical sickness, sometimes mental illness doesn’t show outward, physical symptoms until it’s too late. For this reason, I encourage everyone to keep an attentive eye on your friends and family for anything out of character. Even just lending a listening ear can help so, so much.
5. “You will never get better from your mental illness.”
This was my biggest fear, and probably another reason why I resisted finding help. I didn’t want to admit to other people, but especially to myself, that I had a mental illness. I thought that you truly couldn’t get better and that I would be stuck with it forever.
After nearly five years, i can look back and say that things get better. Treatment and counselling does work. While it will always be part of who I am, I have grown to not let it get in the way of achieving my goals and dreams. Symptoms that once kept me as a prisoner in my own mind no longer hold me back.
Say it with me: You are strong and you will get better.
We’ve made progress, but we can do so much better.
Though we’re having more open and honest conversations about mental illness and the importance of mental health, there is still stigma around the topic that is keeping people from coming forward to receive treatment.
I encourage each and every single one of you to just be open and present. When someone shares something with you, listen and be there. That might be the first time that they are opening up to anyone about something on their mind, and that might also be the first time that they are being listened to or taken seriously.
If you notice actions that are out of character from a family member or friend, keep tabs on the situation and reach out to them. A simple “Hey, how’s it going?” to stay connected can go a long way.
Finally, if you’re going through something right now, I encourage you to talk to someone or reach out to find help. If you’re worried about being judged, I want you to know that I’m not judging you. Whether I know you personally or not, I want to be there for you. I want you to get through this and I know that you will!
I’m here for you.
Mental health and mental illness is definitely a touchy topic that can escalate very quickly if kept hidden inside or untreated. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness and/or suicide, there are a number of local crisis centers Canada-wide that are 24-hours and ready to help and support you. You can learn more here.
I’m no psychologist, psychiatrist, or counsellor, but I do consider myself to be an excellent listener. If you want to chat or need someone to listen to you, get in touch with me here.