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Conversations about mental health can go many different ways, and people have all kinds of different attitudes about it. Although a stigma still remains around mental illness, many people have been brave enough to share their stories in an effort to eliminate the hazy outlook on it. Despite how far society has come, there are still some issues that should be brought to our attention when it comes to dealing with depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m a part of this problem. Having been diagnosed with major depression about three years ago, I dare not to mention it in fear for whoever finds out my secret will think less of me. I will say I’ve gotten much better when it comes to this, but this should not be a fear of mine at all. A lot of people, myself included, grew up in a household where mental health wasn't discussed, because it wasn't seen as a family issue... or an issue at all. There's a sense of shame attached to depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or other mental illnesses, and I think one of the reasons is because it's not visible to others or seen as a physical ailment.
When you think about it, what's the difference between someone diagnosed with diabetes or someone diagnosed with depression? Both conditions are health issues, and both may call for medication. The difference is not that one of them is "worse" or one of them is an illness while the other isn't, but when it comes to mental illness, it seems like there is a skeptical view on it that people don't usually have for something like diabetes. Now, I'm only speaking from experience, and I'm curious to know if others feel the same way about this. This mindset only feeds into the stigma and creates larger problems for everyone, especially those struggling with the horrors that a mental illness can bring to a person's life.
Not only do some not even recognize mental illness as a health problem, but some who do may tend to only bring it up when it’s already being talked about. For example, Suicide Prevention Month or Mental Health Awareness Day are special times of the year where we focus on these particular causes, which I think is great! These days can serve as a great outlet to spread awareness, and I am very thankful for that. The downside that I fear is having a set day or month to discuss something that affects so many people may inadvertently create a lack of responsibility when assigning significance to these heavy topics. I'm not saying we should get rid of Mental Health Awareness Day. There is a plethora of benefits to having it, just like October's Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I just think that with both causes, the true effort of making a change and bettering the community can get lost within the commotion and social media activity surrounding during that time frame. Even when it comes to those who are directly involved with mental health programs, there can be a gradual lack of commitment to the cause as time goes by.
During my experience as an undergrad at UC Irvine, I was involved in Active Minds, an non-profit organization striving to end the stigma of mental illness. Having experienced depression, I wanted an outlet to talk about my experiences while also being available to reach out to others who were seeking help. Commonly known for their chapters located on various college campuses, I was thrilled to learn about the Active Minds and immediately wanted to join. A friend of mine was already involved on the board of the club, both at UCI and previously from the community college we transferred from, which pushed me to join the board the following year. I was so excited, but unfortunately things didn't exactly pan out as I had hoped.
I wanted to utilize my voice when it came to making decisions on events and activities, but it wasn't easy. Those who I shared my board position with didn’t seem to have the fire in them that my friend and I had. Despite being a part of the club for 2+ years, they weren't open to new ideas, and there was an apparent lack of follow-through and contribution when it came to trying to end the mental health stigma. It wasn't just differing ideas or butting heads; it was a struggle just to speak my opinion. They didn't seem willing to talk about change or put any real efforts into trying to create something that had a potential to be great, and their lack-luster attitudes did not serve me or my mental health well. I gradually began to pull away and started focusing my time on other responsibilities, but it was upsetting to me, and still is. I was disappointed to see a club that stood for everything I believed in have people at the top of the chain who didn't seem very interested in helping the cause, other than when it helped their own agenda. Maybe I should have been the person to make a change and try to fix it, and I didn't, so it could be on me, but it's an issue that we should think about that we see when it comes to many things around us in society.
If you want to be a part of a revolution, you need to put time into it. You can't just pawn off responsibilities to other people, hoping that something will happen. There are too many people who die by suicide every year—44,965 to be exact—for us to sit around, tip-toeing around the subject waiting for a change (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention). I'm not perfect, but I try my best to start a conversation about mental health and help anyone around me who is struggling, and I hope someone else would do the same. When I was seventeen, I almost ended my life. As hard as it is for me to even think about, it's something I need to recognize, take control of, and do something about. There are far too many people in our world who have and will decide to complete their attempt, and if I have to be uncomfortable from talking about my story but it ends up helping someone, that's all that matters to me. We can't tell each other that we are there to listen but not open our minds to things we may not be familiar with. Communication, when it comes to anything, works both ways. There's no sense of posting on social media trying to raise awareness for a cause when we aren't willing to then take the extra step and listen to one another.
Helping those who are struggling in any capacity we can are the most important things we can do. Every single one of us on this earth has a purpose, even if we don't know exactly what it is yet. We have a reason to be here, and I truly believe that a universal purpose we all have is to be a good friend to everyone around us. We have a responsibility as human beings to care for each other; life doesn't go on forever. I'd be interested to see other opinions people share on this topic and what experiences others have had when it comes to being in the mental health community.