Breaking the Silence Against Mental Health

I have learned a lot on my journey of self-awareness. It’s taken many days of battling with depression, grief, and shame with small breaks of crying, deep therapy, and breakthroughs. It’s been a difficult journey to get where I am right now, but I still have a lot of work to do.

One of the things I have learned, with the eye-opening help of Brené Brown, is how speaking out about your experiences helps yourself and others. In her book I Thought It Was Just Me (But It’s Not), Brown focuses on how staying silent about your experiences causes isolation. In the case of her book’s topic, it’s a feeding ground for shame. However, the same concept of silence applies to several other areas of mental health. It even goes further than mental health and into areas such as abuse (of all kinds) and even physical health! Speaking out gets the issue out. It’s why I started my blog. I wanted to share my experiences and show how important mental health is. By blogging, I’ve had so many people share their experiences with me or validated my own. It’s a great feeling to know you’re not the only person in the world who experiences the same thing, right? So, why is silence the prevailing solution to mental health?

For years growing up I stayed silent about my depression. My mom didn’t know how much I wanted to commit suicide. I distinctly remember walking around the playground in elementary school finding that next bee sting that will kill me…I’m allergic to bee stings and hoped it would end my life. Those suicidal thoughts followed me into adulthood. However, it wasn’t until near adulthood I opened up about my depression. I thought it was just me who wanted to die…who was so depressed living wasn’t an option anymore. There were so many things about myself that I thought was just me who dealt with it. I thought it was just me who grew anxious so bad I had chest pains that kept me out of school for two months the beginning of my sophomore year of high school. The list of things that I thought was just me who experienced those things can go on and on.

Therapy was a huge reason I began opening up about things I believed were abnormal. Once I got to my current therapist, I was able to check things off the list of things that are normal. Things that weighed on me for years lifted off of me. It was a relief.

Before I go on, let me just say therapy is something I highly recommend to anyone who needs it, wants it, and sadly can afford it. Sadly, our government doesn’t take mental health seriously enough to help more people have access to it. While therapy is a great asset to have in your belt, opening up to friends, family, and peers…in a responsible way…can provide you with a lot of relief.

Last fall when my therapist left the college campus for a new job, I took my anger out in the reasons why she was leaving (administrative reasons just to be clear) by spreading it to everyone who would listen about the importance of mental health. Granted, my initial reasoning was that I was just pissed off (not sorry for the language) that the administration could care so little about their students’ mental health that they could let such a great therapist go. She was in such demand she had almost no wiggle room to accept new patients. I might be a bit biased, but she was the best therapist there.

My shouting turned into a personal movement to get this idea knocked through the administrators’ heads that mental health is important. There are so, so many aspects of college that cause mental health crises among students; it makes them even more difficult if you’re entering college with mental health issues already. College is stressful. Aside from the homework and the studying, you’re dropped into a whole new lifestyle. Students are faced new freedoms they didn’t have when living at home with their parents. Students are given good and bad opportunities. Peer pressure can be debilitating. There are so many pressures students today face. Mental health support on campuses are extremely important. Despite my shouting, nothing has changed on campus. I’d go further to say they’re getting worse.

During my shouting, many Facebook rants, my pleas for students to send letters to the administrators, and a campus newspaper article written on the topic I was surprised that so many of my peers were listening and agreeing! There were several instances where people I had classes with messaged me on Facebook or stopped me in the hall to thank me for my voice and shared their own experiences with me. It helped them knowing they’re not alone in these struggles with mental health issues. It is easy for ourselves to persuade ourselves that we’re the only ones suffering when there are hundreds of people out there suffering too.

It was an eye-opening moment for me. I stopped being silent about my severe depression and I became wiser on how to share my experiences. Of course, I started this blog. It’s connected to my personal Facebook and Twitter accounts so the word spreads easily when I post. I’m absolutely stuck on how to help locally with mental health awareness. Maybe one day I’ll figure something out. My heart breaks for the students on campus suffering without the proper help. I can only hope they find the support I found.

For people who aren’t as open as I have turned out to be, just speaking to close friends you trust is a start. At least one of your friends have experienced depression, anxiety, ADHD, ADD, OCD, etc. We’re all human. These things are natural. I haven’t met one person who can’t honestly say they haven’t had experience with one mental health issue.

I’ve lost and gained friends over the years. I think a lot of my losses are because I’m just a overwhelming person to deal with sometimes. My depression and anxiety makes me a living roller coaster sometimes. Even I struggle to hang on when things get up and down. However, I’ve learned who I can open up to totally, who I can kind of open up to, and those I just don’t speak around. Through these connections, I’ve learned there are things about me that I once thought were abnormal, but others experience it too! My therapist is great and I listen to everything she says. However, having our therapy sessions validated by someone outside of them is pretty great.

I have a friend I’ve come close to over the last few months. We talk nearly daily. Through our friendship, I learn I’m not the only person who hyper fixates on something or someone. If you’ve seen my art, it’s not a secret I fixate on Eva LaRue. And I won’t apologize for it! I tend to fixate and become obsessed horribly with people and things. I used to think it was abnormal, but it’s totally normal. I’m creative, so mine shows through my art. Gratefully, Eva LaRue responds enthusiastically to my art. I’ve gained so much out of this friendship, and I hope she has too, that it’s really helped me.

Staying silent about something only seems to make the “problem” worse and isolates you from the rest of the world. Seriously, check out Brené Brown’s book. You’ll learn a lot. I never thought anyone experienced the extreme ups and downs I experience, or that there are other people who self-harm for release. I’ve come to know a lot of people who do a lot of things I do. I can’t tell you the relief I felt when a friend of mine spoke about a topic that once took me years to come to terms with and even longer to speak about.

Society has come great at keeping us silent until recently. Mental health was just never spoken of decades before. Now, it’s slowly (too slowly) becoming a tad bit less stigmatized. Well, at least they don’t just toss us into a mental hospital and padded rooms at the first sign of something being off. We have a lot of work to do. I find that in my social group people become more open about their issues. They take medication for it, they have problems now and then with anxiety and/or depression, and they manage it. Granted, everyone has their own perspective on it. However, there are whispers and conversations that begin.

As a country, it never seems to matter until one beloved celebrity or public figure dies from suicide or speaks out about suffering from a mental health issue. Media pounces on the topic and everyone becomes an “informed” speaker on the issue until a few months passes. I used to feel something like relieved when I heard an actress/actor/public figure speak about having depression or anxiety. I applauded them for speaking out, and I still do. However, what really makes me upset is when the topic seems to just fade away after a while. Great, you’ve spoken up. There’s conversations started. So, now what are we gonna do about it? The answer seems to have been nothing. We’re not gonna do a darn thing, and that’s not a viable solution.

I posted something like this in one of my last blogs and someone made a comment that it’s the poorer people that really suffer from the stigma against mental health. The richer group of people, even the middle class, can get the help they need and the medication they need. They’re more likely to be supported. They can afford the counseling trips and those who can afford it can afford days of just relaxing around the house when they need it. However, the poorer people are the ones who struggle to afford counseling. If I wasn’t going to therapy where I currently am, I would be paying a copay of $35 each time I visited an in-network therapist. I’m lucky enough I work for a company who provides their employees with free health insurance. Had I not been getting that, I would not be able to seek help. Those who are even poorer than me, those who are the lowest of the lower class are the ones who really suffer. They can’t afford treatments, therapy, medication. They can barely afford to eat. They’re distrusted and discriminated against if they have mental health issues. People assume they’re bad people when they’re just in bad situations they can’t get themselves out of.

It truly irritates me that mental health hasn’t become more of a topic than it is now. Granted, it’s hard to open up about a lot of things in the current political climate, but I’ll save that rant for another day and another post.

Breaking the silence begins at a personal level. Awareness begins at a personal level. Saving it for the next person to do doesn’t change anything. If we all waited for the next person to speak up, then things would never be taken care of. Through my personal experiences, I learned how much I could gain and how much I could offer to the world. Right now, it’s just by sharing my experiences with friends and peers while using my blog to reach larger audiences. I only recently learned how relieving it is to stop being silent and to speak up. Do yourself one favor…open up the topic with someone you trust and start a conversation. It may not go anywhere, but it lets yourself and that person know no one is alone in this fight.

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