Mental illness should be taken as seriously as physical illnesses

Our society does not treat those of us that deal with mental health problems with the empathy and care that it deserves. We make countless “harmless” jokes and poke fun at people that suffer day in and day out in ways that we will never experience.

You like your desk pristine with no pen out of place, you’re so OCD. You change your mind often? Man, you’re so BIPOLAR! That cake that you just HAVE to get every time you go to that bakery? You can’t help it, you’re just so ADDICTED to it.

You would not dream of making light of someone that suffers with Crohn’s Disease or Multiple Sclerosis or Fibromyalgia. Physical ailments garner (deservedly so) empathetic responses and understanding from others that they interact with. Neurotypical people tend to underestimate or misrepresent the severity of how mental health disorders impact the lives of its victims.

Many mental health issues often show absolutely no physical symptoms to bystanders. A lot of the time there is no tell, no dead giveaways and frequently the person suffering has had to deal with it so long that they have become experts at not letting others know what’s going on with them. Some of them hide it in embarrassment, some of them hide it because they’re afraid of how people will react to to the news. Worst of all, most hide it because they fear that their illnesses won’t be taken seriously.

They are tired of hearing things like, “If you eat healthier foods you’ll…” and, “Just relax! There’s no reason to be anxious!!” Bosses, coworkers, classmates, friends and family may be well-meaning when giving this advice, but 99 percent of the time, we’ve heard it. We’ve tried it. It’s really not that simple.

Don’t attempt to downplay the severity of our mental illnesses and don’t offer us quick fix ideas to get us out of our funk. The most helpful thing that you can do as someone who cares about a person with mental illness is to be there and support us. Give us space if we need it, hold us close if we ask you to. Do not make us feel more crazy than we already feel. We know our thoughts might not be logical at the moment, don’t tell us to just think logically about it. If we could, we would.

Unwavering support and patience without judgment can go a long way. You may not be able to understand what we are going through and why, but if you show that you’re going anywhere and that you value us even in our worst times, you may put our minds at ease. It could be just the thing that gets us over the hump and ends our mental health episode. Just as much as we want to be there for people that have chronic physical illnesses, we need to also be there for people suffering from mental illness.

If you (or anyone you know) are going through a very rough time and you think that you (or they) might be suicidal or a danger to yourself or others, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. You’re not alone in your struggle and there are people that care about you.

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