“ We talk about mental-health in a reactive way, after a Kate Spade or an Anthony Bourdain commits suicide. Part of me wonders, if we were to normalize talking about mental health, how many people could we keep from that kind of suffering?” (This sentence appeared at the end of an article that I read recently.)
Most people just do not want to talk about mental-health illness. The topic of mental-health illness is not found on any list of acceptable subjects for polite conversation. If the topic creeps in during an evening gathering, the tone of the conversation changes. People get quiet. A hush comes over the room. Eye contact ceases. People begin to look down into their laps or off to the side. They squirm in their seats, and sit counting the minutes until the conversation can be changed.
Just the other evening I was with a group of wonderful, bright, witty women, all of whom happen to have partaken in therapy at one time or another. They are no strangers to the concept of seeking help, and of knowing the benefits of that help. However, only one of these women knew that I had actually suffered from depression and anxiety. We were all laughing, drinking, eating, and sharing personal stories. After awhile, each person had made an off-handed reference to their experience with therapy, leading me to feel safe enough that I could share my story with these wonderful, bright, witty women. At a moment in the conversation that seemed apt for an appropriate segue, I shared that I write a blog about mental health, and in particluar about the stigma that is so unfortunately attached to it. I was immediately aware of the change in the mood around me. Everyone got quiet. No one knew what to say. Wonderful, bright, witty, women, all of whom had some experience with a mental health issue, and perhaps even the medications that often accompany a mental health problem, were embarassed by my acknowledging my own battle with mental illness. To this moment, I do not remember how the conversation moved forward. I became self-concious, and I know I stopped talking. The evening continued on, but this incident will certainly make me think carefully before sharing that information again.
If this can happen to me, someone who writes a blog about mental health, someone who can speak about it a bit more freely than many others, how can we expect the average joe to find this topic comfortable? If the people who understand it are uncomfortable, then how can we expect those who have no idea about mental health illness begin to gain a level of comfort in a conversation dealing with this topic?
The solution to getting rid of the stigma that accompanies mental illness needs to start with us – the people who have a mental illness. We need to be the ones to speak up and out about our own experiences. Let people know that we are normal, wonderful, bright, witty, people with a health issue.