I saw a friend post on mental illness and was compelled to speak out on a topic that’s been on my mind. I find it difficult to draw a hard line to say that suicide is a case of mental illness because is it illness that drives them to suicide or the obsession of thoughts that spiral out of control because they have no where else to go with them and no one who would understand to guide them on a different path? When I think of those I’ve lost, it’s easy to see how we can overlook the deep, dark places within someone when those challenged are often very good at hiding their pain–not to mention our societal mindset to ignore or dismiss those suffering.
In our society, people encouraged to talk about their pain typically when normal situations occur like the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, something like that. Counseling and therapy have a stigma that perhaps something is wrong with you. Saying you have a mental illness definitely sounds like something is wrong with you. No one wants something to be wrong with them. Further, if it’s a pain we consider normal, then it’s acceptable to be sad and depressed, but don’t be sad or depressed for too long because then it becomes uncomfortable for others. It’s like we have rules for how to embrace and accept someone’s emotional vulnerabilities, pain, or challenges. It’s no wonder people feel lost or avoid getting help.
Our society thinks we need to be happy 100% of the time. Just look at our social media. If I post about a hard day, I don’t share that I’ve been crying for most of the day, feeling beyond low and wanting to hole away from the world. Who wants to read that? And, when I post about hard times, inevitably the first thing I hear is “Everything will be ok,” “You are strong,” “It will pass,” “Sorry you are going through this, “First world problems.” While all of these things are true, in the moment of despair, those remarks aren’t helpful. They don’t really see the person for what they are going through. And, in all fairness, the person suffering isn’t about to spill the beans because they don’t want to make it seem like something is wrong with them or appear weak. Sometimes those struggling have been the strongest people I’ve known.
Because of stereotypes and societal pressures, we are turned off from wanting to expose our dark spaces and find it uncomfortable to sit in that space with others. Instead, we attempt to push those people away from their pain in a way that dismisses it so they can “get over it” sooner. Or, we simply ignore those that are dark or sad or struggling. In fact, we are often reinforced through social media and media in general, to look for bright and shiny people and to surround ourselves with light so we can be brighter, too.
“…get rid of anything today that does not spark joy…”
Is it any wonder that we turn a blind eye to those in need? Perhaps we are afraid their darkness will infect us?
I lost someone recently and the loss has stuck with me. It’s not that there was anything I or anyone else could have done; but I remember the times I wanted to reach out, the times I was curious how he was doing, and the times I hoped he was ok (because of his profession) and through all of those times I never reached out. I also remember the times when we had connected and how dismissive I was of his vulnerability.
I think about the times over the years when I’ve been vulnerable and hurt and alone and struggling and there was no one there to help me. I know it’s been a long and arduous road to get to where I am today and I am thankful for those that appeared in my life and made a difference, but I’ve hardened myself to others pain because I’ve had to deal with my own, alone. It shouldn’t have to be that way and I’m glad I’m still here to reflect on that past and to acknowledge how far I’ve come. Maybe I can turn this insight into a deeper appreciation for everyone’s individual struggle. Maybe I can work on being a better listener, and a better empathizer.
Let’s acknowledge our society has a problem and a stigma towards mental illness and vow to make a change by talking about it. Break down the stigma by changing our perceptions, and standing up or be a friend for a friend in need. Create some compassion for those in need and we’ll create some compassion for ourselves in return.
Here are a few questions to think about that could shift the way we interact with each other and those suffering from mental illness:
- Am I listening to this person beyond social media posts?
- Am I connecting with this person beyond their words?
- Do I have the skill to hear pain and am I willing to step into the darkness in an attempt to empathize and potentially guide them out without the fear of falling in myself?