With everything I’ve ever discussed regarding mental health, which I’m sure I’ve run the gamut of mental health topics over the past year, there’s something I’ve noticed recently that I just feel like pointing out.
When discussing how important it is the end of the stigma surrounding mental illness, there’s a lot of discussion. Sharing posts on your Facebook page about some relatable article or video. Tweeting something out on designated days of mental health observance. But beyond that? That’s where it gets questionable.
I don’t want to be someone constantly harping on about mental illness because with any topic, it isn’t appropriate in many settings. However, on a regular basis, rarely do we go in-depth. Perhaps that is simply a reflection of the conversations and interactions we have anyways, making small talk about approachable things.
Because talking about mental illness isn’t comfortable. It feels awkward, outside of a therapy setting, to talk about how you truly feel. A few close friends and I have gone into the depths of how mental illness affects each other, but that was it. And how are we supposed to understand how mental illness uniquely affects each of our lives, how will we learn? How will we grow?
There’s a reason why I have difficulties with small talk. No, it’s not just social anxiety nor my introverted tendencies, but those certainly play a role. I find the words I speak very valuable, and I feel wasteful when I talk about topics I don’t really care about. Don’t come to me expecting gossip or even a mediocre ability to talk about personal stories. It’s not my thing. Although I do realize it’s a basic part of social interaction, it doesn’t come naturally to me, and I end up thinking often about how I wish conversations were like. The cliche “let’s talk about the universe” and all that jazz.
I think lots of hesitancy comes from not wanting to be “triggering.” Not wanting to set something off, not knowing how they might react to questions or concerns. So we dance around it, keep things very simple to avoid going in a potentially unknown direction. Which I do think you should be smart about how you go about discussing mental health, but how will we know unless we try? Maybe we say something wrong, but the effort in wanting to genuinely know how others think and live is important.
I’m sure we’ve all heard of the phrase, “Talk a walk in someone else’s shoes.” Except I don’t believe that to be true. Even if you’re an empath like me, you cannot truly and completely understand somebody else because you aren’t them. There are so many factors involved in how they go about their lives, but it’s more realistic to walk alongside someone and devote attention to others that goes beyond the surface.
We put up fairly tall walls for ourselves. It’s hard to trust others. Mental health, it’s really personal. Obviously not everyone is busy writing on a public blog about their mental illness -cough, me-. But for people who don’t have a history or any experience with mental illness, who might be trying to understand somebody else who does…heck, even if you do have a personal past with it and trying to understand somebody else’s unique illness, I think we need to practice becoming comfortable with it.
We can take the baby steps. Even just seeing it on social media and elsewhere is very encouraging. But we shouldn’t just stop at the surface level and call it a day. One person’s admittance of mental illness won’t be like somebody else’s. You can’t simplify mental health as a cookie-cutter stereotype of what symptoms you might expect because they might not always be true. It’s about trying to find a middle ground where it’s appropriate to be open and honest with others whilst still respecting their privacy.
Have I made any sense today? I just feel like we shouldn’t be afraid to let our guards down more often, to ask some tougher questions, and dig deeper to understand each other better. From both ends of communication, we need to be open-minded and create a space that welcomes everything, ugly or not.
We’re trying to sugarcoat mental illness. Glamorize the symptoms, make the diagnoses more “trendy.” But that isn’t helping anybody. There are so many resources out there to learn about mental health, but the best resources are people, unfiltered. Not professionally produced content. Not viral little articles from the Odyssey or Thought Catalog. And official, educated places aren’t going to dig deep beyond the common symptoms and treatments.
It’s up to us to keep fighting the stigma. It’s not an overnight process. It won’t always feel great. But for those strong individuals willing to break through the static and spread awareness, and those kind individuals willing to listen and support a cause that might not even directly affect them, we have the power to make lasting change.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie