Wellness Wednesday: What People With Mental Health Diagnoses Wish You Knew

July 6, 2016

Breaking the fourth wall again and speaking directly to you, the reader, I would like to take a moment to talk about some of the misconceptions that happen to those of us with mental health diagnoses every single day. One in five people in this world have a mental health diagnosis. I am one of the one in five, and I’m hoping we can talk.

You see, every time I turn on the news or open social media, I still see the stigma surrounding mental health. I see billboards using a play on words, toying with the term “mental illness” associated with gun control in the United States. Upon further review, the play is meant to say that guns are easily accessed, but the carelessness of pairing it with mental illness sets efforts to alleviate stigma back further and further. The painful truth around sweeping mental illness in with evil, corrupt behavior is that it melts and mingles in the average mind. Will you recall the exact argument when it comes time to discuss gun issues or will the image suddenly pop into your head that mental illness and rampant violence are inextricably intertwined? The sad truth about this conversation is that due to lack of care, concern, and aid, most mental health conditions will decay to the point where those diagnosed are much more a danger to themselves than anyone else around them. If left untreated, we can die from these disorders. It happens every day. Guns are usually nowhere nearby.

It’s with this in mind that I thought we’d talk about some of the things those of us with mental health diagnoses wish you knew about your perception of our conditions, that hopefully through understanding we can continue to break through the fear, the jokes at our expense, the refusal to see us as what we are: human beings living with a medical diagnosis.

We wish you knew that we can’t just “snap out of it.” Telling someone dealing with a mental health diagnosis that they just need to take a walk, shake it off, get some air, blow it off, or any other type of dismissive activity is counterproductive. There are some days our brain chemistry allows us to live calm, productive lives. When a problem arises, it can quite literally wreck our worlds if we don’t handle it. Sometimes, that looks like we’re just sitting on the couch, crying, or we can’t quite remember what we did five days ago. It is impossible to shake off brain chemistry. I’m sure there are many of us who look at people who have other, more visible diseases where people flock to the side of the afflicted, utterly devoted to their recovery, and think, “I wish that were me.” Our pain is real, and just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t agonizing enough to cause extreme distress.

We wish you knew that evil and mental illness are mutually exclusive. So is sexual preference and gender expression. Stop lumping everything you don’t understand under mental health issues. Sometimes, evil things happen in our world. Sometimes, people live lives that you don’t comprehend or that don’t fall in line with your beliefs. None of that has to do with mental health. Sometimes, evil people and individuals who express themselves in a manner that defies your understanding do have mental health issues. Their issues are separate and apart from their diagnosis. Not every gunman is “crazy.” Not every self-expression is “sick.” Please look at each situation for what it is and stop shoving mental illness in as the cause every single time. Not only is it irresponsible, it’s lazy.

We wish you knew what our conditions feel like so you would understand the pain and suffering that can occur. While none of us wish you pain, I’d say a good many of us wish you knew what it was like to walk in our shoes for a day or so. We wish you knew the disorienting terror of a panic attack. We wish you could understand the wreckage mania can cause. We hope you never find out how terrifying a bout with Alzheimer’s can be…or how disconcerting dissociative identity disorder can be…. or the physical agony caused by depression… or the madness and agony of the disease of addiction. Be thankful you may never find out.

We wish you knew how brave we are. Living a life where your brain can turn on you at any given moment takes bravery beyond measure. Getting out of bed every day and facing the world with a mental health condition takes incredible fortitude. It takes restraint not to correct you every time you throw stigma against us out into the world. It takes patience to continually explain to the world that a medical diagnosis is not a character flaw. It takes guts to get up every morning and do the things you know you must to stay healthy, and it takes even greater strength to grapple with a relapse. You have no idea how brave we are to come out in the world and operate among you, knowing you don’t understand and would quite readily dispose of or dismiss us. It hurts, and yet we soldier on.

Finally, we wish you knew that we will not stop. We will not be silent. We will not rest until one day this stigma is gone, that education and continual exposure removes the fear and pain from our diagnoses. It happened with polio. It happened with cancer. It can happen for us. We believe it will. One in five means that we’re all around you. We’re not going anywhere. We will continue to work until that day. We will work hard.

We just wanted to say that. We also wanted to say that we hope you’ll join our cause, to link hands with us and help us spread the resources and education needed to alleviate stigma and to provide care for those who still suffer. For as hard as we are willing to work, we could really use you. We wish you knew that, too.