Yesterday was World Mental Health Awareness Day and I did not write yesterday. To be honest I slept most of the day. I just felt exhausted. Today I want to talk a little bout mental health awareness.
I remember one day I wanted to talk to Zuka about his medications and I asked if he had me on speaker phone, because he normally did, even in front of his friends. He told me not to worry, his friends knew he was on medication and was dealing with depression/bipolar disorder. I was really proud of him that he could open up to people and that he didn't have shame around his struggles. I wish I had been that courageous at his age.
I started dealing with depression in my youth, I'm not sure I can pinpoint exactly when I became depressed. I dealt with eating disorders, sometimes overeating and other times bulimia and not eating at all for long periods of time. I dealt with some issues around self harm. I always wanted to hide how I was feeling. When I finally admitted to having thoughts of suicide, I did start seeing a counselor and I'm not sure I was even fully honest with her. I was very ashamed, I was afraid of being labeled "mentally ill" or "crazy"
I remember at one point an adult I was sort of close to rubbed my "mental illness" in my face and told me everyone knew I had "problems." It made me want to hide my depression further. I felt like it was something that needed to be hidden from the world. Though I got "class clown" in high school and was also voted "most bubbly" I was hurting so badly inside.
Here's the thing, People with mental illness aren't scary. The media LOVES to blame crime (especially from certain populations) on mental illness. Every mental illness seems to be combined together in one big scary ball that makes people afraid, and those suffering ashamed. Studies have shown that only 7.5 percent of crimes were directly linked to mental illness symptoms: of that 7.5 percent, 3 percent to symptoms of depression; 4 percent to symptoms of schizophrenia; and 10 percent to symptoms of bipolar disorder. Given that 1 out of every 5 Americans suffer from some type of mental illness, those statistics are very low.
Shame keeps people sick. When people are ashamed, they are much less likely to seek help, and therefore much more likely to stay depressed, more likely to commit suicide.
There is no shame in having a mental illness. As I mentioned above, 1 out of every 5 Americans have some sort of mental illness. For many people mental illness is caused by a chemical imbalance in their brain. For some it's caused by trauma, being abused, or witnesses a traumatic event. Some mental illness is due to stress and anxiety. Whatever the reason, there is no shame. People generally are not shamed of having other natural imbalances in their bodies that they need to take medication for, so an imbalance in the chemicals in the brain should be no different.
Days like "Mental Health Awareness Day" are very important because they help to break down the stigma around mental illness. You often cannot tell what a person is struggling with by looking at them. Zuka could be the funniest, happiest person to be around and unless you were close to him, you may have had no idea that he struggled with bipolar disorder. Be kind, everyone is dealing with their own struggles and fighting battles you may know nothing about.
If you are struggling please know that there is help out there! You Matter! You are not a burden! There is no shame! It's Okay not to be Okay!!!!
You're never alone. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) if you are struggling emotionally or thinking about suicide
As usual if you have any questions, submissions or topics you would like me to discuss please email me at Zukaslegacy@gmail.com