There's a lot of stigma against mental illness, which only makes living with mental illness even more difficult. It brings feelings of shame, embarrassment and guilt about how your mental health is controlling your life and yet everybody else in your world seems to be taking the reigns of their own lives just fine.
Those people that treat mental illnesses in other people like a physical illness are the people that have probably never experienced it. They've never had depression that keeps them in bed for days or the body dysmorphic disorder that makes them have showers in the dark. They've been lucky.
Some of those lucky ones can think that mental illnesses are:
- a lack of will-power
- what defines the person
- curable only by medication
- stemmed from a bad up-bringing
- for attention-seekers
- an excuse not to be responsible for yourself.
All wrong of course -
mental illness is a disease of the mind.They take control of the brain; the computer-like organ inside your head, controlling every thought and feeling you have; and change some of your behaviours.
Mental illnesses can happen at any stage in life to anyone, can be cured by therapy and self-care, and depending on the severity, can let people live an almost normal life. I say 'almost normal' because most of us with mental illnesses can hide them pretty damn well - a statement that has recently been made with a make-up for depression tutorial.
I find it unbelievable when I meet someone who hasn't had a mental illness. To have never hidden in bed because that's the only place that feels safe or never had suicidal thoughts seems crazy to me (excuse the pun). I can't imagine what that sort of life is like, so no wonder that many people can't understand what my life is like.
Some of those who don't understand do their best by trying to treat it like a physical illness, because that's the only sort of illness that they can relate to. They know that hot water bottles make tummies feel better and that resting when you've broken your leg is the way to recovery. They know that a headache can be dehydration and that exhaustion can be from not eating right or not sleeping enough. Without the experience of a mental illness, they're not sure how to treat you or how you wish to be treated.
If somebody saying the wrong thing when it comes to your mental illness, yet you know that they have good intentions at heart, then I think it's important to remember that they simply don't understand what you are going through but are trying their best to make you feel better the only ways they know how. I'd rather somebody who tries to help rather than being scared away by the stigma of mental illness altogether, thinking that they can do nothing for me because it's "all in my head". FYI: it is in my head because that's where my brain is.
Even though it can be infuriating at times, it is okay for somebody to not understand mental illness. Not everyone has experienced a mental health problem and therefore not everyone can be empathetic. Just remember that there are plenty of people that you can talk to that will understand (like me), and that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of.
If you are somebody who doesn't quite understand mental illnesses - please do a little reading. There's plenty of great articles and personal essays all over the internet that describe what mental illness is really like. Also feel free to ask how somebody is doing, especially if you know that they are struggling. One text message really can make a lot of difference.