I don’t know if it is because I’m older now, or because I’ve involved myself more in the conversation surrounding mental health, or because I have shared my own struggle with mental health, or because society has actually made progress, but from where I sit right now, I really do think that these past few years have seen huge steps towards the de-stigmatization of mental illness.
And yet, still nearly half of those struggling with mental illness do not seek help.
So we are still doing something wrong.
And if I’m being honest, we are doing more than a couple things wrong. But for now, let’s just talk about one thing: we are placing mental illnesses in systems of hierarchy.
I think that a lot of us hold ideas in our heads on what mental illness looks like. We think we know what someone struggling looks like. We think we would be able to easily identify them.
And if you’re the one struggling, it can be hard to come forward and ask for help or support if you fear not being believed because you don’t fit perfectly into the image of what popular media tells us that mental illness looks like.
Additionally, it can be easy to convince yourself, if you are struggling, that you are “fine”, and to convince yourself that you aren’t “sick enough” to get help. We seem constantly able to find someone “sicker than us” and so we tell ourselves that we’re just having a rough day. I know it happens. Hell, I did it. Told myself I wasn’t struggling, that I didn’t have a problem. I was always able to find someone who appeared worse than I felt. “They need help” I told myself, “I can wait.
Admitting to yourself that you’re struggling with your mental health can be hard – especially when you feel as though there’s a standard to meet – some bottom to hit before you can truly say you’re hurting.
Let me tell you – you do not have to “appear sick” to be stuck in an illness that feels suffocating. You do not have to be hospitalized or institutionalized to be worthy of treatment. There is no checklist. There are no criteria. Mental illness comes in all shapes and sizes. There is no such thing as “sick enough”.
In this same realm, we seem to have this insane notion that some mental illnesses are more “socially acceptable” or “cooler” than others.
Awhile back I attended a stand-up comedy show at my college and one of the acts discussed her eating disorder. Just to preface – I think that there is tremendous strength to be able to openly talk about an eating disorder. However, there is a fine line to walk – a line between comedy or relating your experience to the audience and presenting a triggering or insensitive set. Unfortunately, I personally felt that this person’s performance fell into the latter category. She discussed her struggle with and recovery from bulimia and in doing said, roughly paraphrased, “nobody likes bulimics because they are just indecisive anorexics”. She went on to call anorexia the “cool eating disorder”.
To say the very least: these ideas are highly insensitive, triggering, and problematic.
There is no “cooler” eating disorder. There is no “cooler” mental illness. Period. And the idea that one struggle is “cooler” than another is what is wrong with the mental health conversation. Perpetuating the idea that some disorders, struggles, and illnesses are “cooler” than others, silences those who struggle from those deemed “un-cool”. We communicate to those who struggle from so called “un-cool” illnesses that they aren’t “sick enough” or aren’t suffering from the “right” disorder. We are shutting out a large portion of people who need and deserve to be a part of the conversation and who need to reach out for help.
We can’t continue like this. We just can’t.
We are making so much progress towards the de-stigmatization of mental illness. But until we make everyone struggling with mental health feel supported and welcomed into the conversation, we won’t have fully succeeded.