Today is Bell's "Let's Talk" day, where people are supposed to talk about mental illness and remove stigma and promote Bell Mobility and how great is that?
Of course, all that really happens today is that my twitter feed gets filled with people saying things like, "It's okay to talk about mental illness", "Let's remove stigma around mental illness", and "If you need help, I am here for you."
What the heck does that even mean?
I'm not going to get too critical of these symbolic awareness days because while none of them necessarily "change" anything, they are helpful to some people. From Pink Shirt Day to this, spending a day publicly declaring support and allyship is not a bad thing.
However, as someone who "suffers from mental illness" (I guess? I mean, I'm on antidepressants and have struggled with depression my whole life, but I don't know if I would say I "suffer" or even that I identify with the "mental illness" tag, but then maybe that's part of the problem), I'll tell you that seeing people talk on Twitter about how accepting they are of mental illness did not make me feel better about bringing up my depression.
What DID make me feel okay about dealing with my depression openly?
Having people who a) know and love me, b) who are honest about their own emotional lives, and c) who don't freak out when words like "depression" come up.
a) Sure, I'm a writer-type who is weirdly honest with strangers on the internet, but ultimately the thing that makes it feel "okay" is to have people know me for who I actually am and still care about me.
b) If you want to live in a world where people can be honest about what they're going through, be honest about what you're going through. I don't know if it's because most of my friends are either artists, spiritual types, or both, but I am blessed with a community who is into self-reflection and shares very honestly about where they're at in life. Openness breeds openness.
c) Freaking out looks like you needing to get to the bottom of my depression, solve it, see me cry, be convinced it's 'really that bad', be only able to talk about this from now on, pretend it doesn't exist, or being afraid to touch the topic because now you think I'm a delicate snowflake that will poof into tears. Not freaking out looks like talking to me like a normal person, about this and other things.
This is how you remove stigma.
If you ask me, the first and most important thing everyone should be doing to remove the stigma of mental illness is to start being more honest about our own lives. Nobody is going to feel comfortable sharing their dark underbelly if you are pretending yours is not only scrubbed clean but made out of some super dirt-repelling magical skin of purity.
Foster a community that is honest about life by being open about your own. It will only be okay for people to discuss their depression, schizophrenia, or everyday struggles (problems don't need to be diagnosable to be valid) if they see it happening around them.
Pick the people you know, love, and trust, and share where you're at, what help you need, how you're dealing (or not). It doesn't matter if your problems are huge or small, you'll all benefit from friendship that is closer and more intentional, as well as the knowledge that the people who love you actually love YOU, not just your happy, fun persona.
The more you practice open and honest conversations, the more comfortable you'll all be and the less likely the "freaking out" will be. Don't stress about "getting it right" if your friend starts talking about their mental illness. Listen. Ask questions if you don't understand. Remember that they are still the same person.
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