All of this will be old news to many people by now. But, sometimes, the world needs a little help remembering important things. Right now, Earth has approximately 7.4 billion* people roaming her (the world’s birth rate is just over twice the rate of deaths), and a sizable number of her inhabitants live with some sort of mental disorder or illness.
“Just snap out of it” and “do something about it already” are two incredibly insensitive things that one can say to a person living with a mental illness or disorder. We’ve heard it countless times, and often from loved ones.
One of my biggest pet peeves is hearing from family members that my depression will pass and that I’ve just got to get over it. There seems to be a lack of understanding or compassion when statements like these are given to me. Yes, they might feel like they mean well and it might actually be coming from a place of love, but the choice of words often can do more damage than good. Another thing that bothers me is that I can be, at times, treated with hostility, rather than love. When that comes from strangers, I am not effected. But, if and when the hostility comes from someone in my circle, naturally, I hurt.
I’ve spent twenty years dealing with depression. This clearly should tell my loved ones something. One does not just “get over” depression, nor can one “snap out of it.” If it was that easy, I would have been free of it 19.5 years ago. Mental health is a daily task for every human. It is in everyone’s best interest to check in with themselves every day, whether mental illness exists or not. For those of us who live with any kind of mental health issue (depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, PTSD, obsessive compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder, dissociative disorders, etc.), we do have to be diligent about monitoring our environment, our nutrition, and our moods in order to maintain our health. When we don’t, the disordered mental health we live with can take over.
For the last three months (maybe four?), I’ve been going to a therapist. The time I’ve spent with her has been incredibly helpful. Not only am I learning a lot about myself and humanity in general, I am learning how to live with the mental health of others. Someone in my life has finally gotten the DSM diagnosis he deserves. An actual licensed psychiatrist said “you fit the criteria for this mental disorder and these are things that can be done to help manage it.” It’s a relief that he now has an official diagnosis and seems to be, at the bare minimum, attempting to manage it. Frankly, I feel that this person could benefit from weekly counseling sessions and other mindfulness based therapies, but I am not a licensed therapist or psychiatrist, so I can’t (won’t) consistently urge him to follow through.
It’s not my place to tell a person how to manage their mental health, especially if they don’t ask me how they should. I have always believed that it’s improper to hand out advice willy-nilly to people without being asked. If someone wants advice from me, I am happy to give it.
So, I am learning how to live with a person learning how to live with their own mental health concerns. I am also learning how to be mindful when I am given unwarranted or unnecessary advice (that is often lacking compassion, empathy, or validity). And, I’m learning how to let go of any hurt that may have previously been caused or continues to be caused at the hands of someone’s altered mind. One person’s experience usually doesn’t reflect my own, nor does it need to dictate my own. How I choose to react in a situation is my responsibility, and the reactions of others are theirs.
We should all be treating each other with kindness and compassion. It can be difficult at times, especially for those of us who sometimes find it difficult to feel love for ourselves (or even understand love and care).
Mental illness is rather common. This is why I am a huge supporter of mental health advocacy. [I’m also a huge fan of preventative and holistic health care. I’ll talk about my favorite places for healthcare, Northern & Western Europe, in another post.] If you or someone you know lives with any kind of mental disorder or illness, there is a wide array of information out in the world for you. By doing research, not only will you become better educated, you will be able to care for your community with compassion and an open mind. We appreciate people who are willing to take the time to understand where we are coming from and how we live our lives. Receiving compassion and love does actually alleviate a lot of stress we deal with. The less stress we experience, the easier it is for us to focus on being as healthy as we can be.
Here are some great resources to get started with:
Bipolar Disorder: Effects on the Family
NAMI: Mental Health Conditions (I love NAMI. It’s a fantastic resource for everyone.)
National Institue of Mental Health: Topics & Info
NIMH: Borderline Personality Disorder
NAMI: Borderline Personality Disorder (Again, a great resource, especially for something that is under diagnosed, but more common than people realize.)
NEWSWEEK: How Colleges Flunk Mental Health (An interesting read, and has light a fire under my bum. I’d love to finish my college education with Social Work and do advocacy on college campuses for students.)
An Open Letter From Those of Us… (This is a go to piece for me; it might be BPD specific, but the soul of it can be applied to many mental health experiences.)
There are so many other resources out there, but these are trustworthy resources that can get you in the right direction.
Seriously, if you or anyone you know is experiencing any kind of mental health issue, help is out there. I promise, it doesn’t matter how large or small the issue is. There are a lot of trained professionals and support groups out there in the world. Utilize them! You and your mental health are essential and important! I know, first hand, that one can never just snap out of their mental illness. It takes time, care, compassion, and love.