Last week I was having a conversation with someone and they suggested I "pop a xanax and chill". I forced some laughter and went on with our conversation. But I can't get that sentence out of my head.
Mental illness is not a joke. It's not something to be glib about, to make fun of, to gloss over. Chances are, someone you know is suffering from a mental illness. Depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety are all real and very serious issues. And it's not just 'that crazy lady down the street'. It's your friend who's a new mama, it's the bagger at your favorite grocery, it's your boss, your teacher. It's me.
The reason that suggestion of simply popping a pill to ease my stress irked me so much is because for the past few weeks I have been going through an internal struggle with myself. Asking myself if I should be taking medication for my anxiety. If I wanted to. If It would help. Because for a while now I've been actively seeking help with my own mental illness. My own anxiety and depression. I've been seeing a therapist, meditating, trying to cut back on caffeine (the hardest of the 3!), and journaling. And when the question was posed by my therapist if I had considered taking medication I stopped in my tracks.
There is a stigma around mental illness in this country. We think that if we ignore it the problem will go away. We think that only people considering harming themselves or others or those completely split from reality require mental intervention. We think that it could never happen to us. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 Adult Americans experience a mental illness and 60% of those people didn't receive or seek treatment in the past year. Instead, we swept it under the rug and white-knucked our way through life. I know, I've been in that 60% for the past 3 years.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and I think it's time to actually be aware of those around us struggling with their mental health and kick the ugly stigma around it.
1. Find someone to talk to.
If you're one of the 43.8 Million adults experiencing mental illness it's time to take a step to get help. It's not a bad thing. You're not weak. In fact, you're incredibly strong and brave for admitting it's time for a professional to step in. There are a lot of services out there to help offset costs (and even some free ones!). Check with your employer, your insurance company and see what you can do. There's also free counseling through military services if you're a veteran, dependent or active duty.
2. Be aware.
Resist the urge to make comments that may be discouraging to those suffering. You never know who is working through some mental illness in silence and it behooves you to be careful of how you use your words.
3. Speak up.
There's nothing wrong with having a mental illness. It's an illness, a disease, a disorder. It's not like a cold that will just go away. It takes work and time and energy to get through it. Or to just get used to living with it. Coping with it. But sweeping it under the rug won't do anything to make it normal. So talk about it. Don't air your dirty laundry all over the place. But when the moment presents itself and you have the option to speak up or stay silent, I hope you choose to use your voice.