I am a mom of two awesome children who teach me more than I ever thought possible. I love writing, exercise, movies, and LGBT advocacy.
It's only been recently that people with mental health problems have been told that it's okay to talk about their struggles. That's something that has sort of fascinated me. When I first realized I had anxiety, all I knew was that something wrong—my heart would race, my breath felt like it was coming in short spurts, and it felt like every issue, small or big, was about an inch away from me. My doctor gave me a prescription for psychotherapy, and I remember staring at the word for weeks afterwards, convinced that I'd gone off the deep end.
The biggest issue when it comes to mental health is the stigma. There continues to be a significant stigma attached to mental health issues, whether it's anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, or whatever. Part of this is something that the media, to an extent, has perpetuated over the years. How many times has something awful happened, and then it's later revealed that the perpetrator had a mental illness of one stripe or another? How many times has a television or movie shown someone with a mental illness as the crazy person—and not just as someone who is trying to get through their daily lives?
Even the detective show Monk, starring Tony Shalhoub, played Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for laughs. Monk was a great show, and it did a good job, for the most part, in shedding a certain degree of light on mental health issues like OCD. But when it's played for a joke rather than as something serious, it sends ripples through the public that it's okay to joke about mental illness.
Anxiety is real.
Depression is real.
These any many other mental health problems, including OCD, schizophrenia, and dissociative disorders, are described with medical exactness in the DSM-V, that increasingly thick psychiatric reference.
It would be trite for me to say that only people who experience these conditions are the ones who "get it." That would imply that there's no point in talking to other people about mental health, and that is far from the point. However, there's a difference between smiling and nodding when someone with mental health issues wants to reach out and actually sitting down with them and listening to what they have to say.
Sometimes, people with undiagnosed issues only know that something doesn't feel right, or they feel that they just aren't coping well with their lives. They may not have the words to adequately express what's happening, or they may simply be dancing around the words that actually express what's going on, but they know something is "off" and they're looking to you for understanding and support.
Give it to them, if you're able. Let them know that they are going to be okay, and that you may not fully understand what's happening inside their heads, but you'll help them get more help if need be. It's also okay to be a presence for people; by simply listening, you're giving people with mental health problems a signal that you understand that what's happening is indeed real and that you're there for them.
Sometimes, that simple signal is all someone with mental health problems needs in order to know that they are not as alone as they might feel.
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While I understand there are times that we have become an overly sensitive society, I also know that you lose absolutely nothing by being kind to each other.
There have been times where I've found out much later that just saying "hi" to someone and asking if they were doing okay was enough to keep them trying to push through the dark times they had been having.
Is it always that simple? Smiling at someone and asking how they've been doing?
Sometimes, yes. John Lennon and Paul McCartney had that right: love is, sometimes, all you need.
It's easy to dismiss someone as "always sad" or "on edge" or my personal favorite, "moody." We are a society that loves to label things, particularly people, we don't always understand. All of us have something we deal with on a daily basis, whether it's a family member who's struggling with job loss or a health problem, or some sort of daily stress. Imagine what things would be like if we took just a second out of our day to just be kind to each other instead of walking through life with blinders on.
Even something as simple as remembering that we all have something and we don't know what each of us is carrying with us daily can be enough for us to flip that switch and try to make kindness a regular occurrence. I know that's tough. There are days where we all wake up and are just in the mood where we could completely tear someone's head off. But before that feeling gets too dark, take a breath and try to remember the realities of our world today.
One out of five Canadians right now will be dealing with some form of mental illness. That's about 3.5 million people, or a city roughly the size of Montreal and a little bit bigger than Athens, Greece. That's men, women and kids - and they may not all be talking about it.
Imagine if we opened ourselves a little bit more to those dealing with mental health problems and talked with them if they wanted to talk about it.
We'd help someone struggling with a broken leg, right? Why not someone who needs help with their mental health?
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.