Being diagnosed with a mental illness can be a scary and confusing time in someone’s life. I know that’s how I felt when I was diagnosed. When I was younger, I always knew that something was “off.” It was a deep-down feeling that was always there, and my eventual diagnoses just confirmed what I already feared to be true. At that point in my life, I was fearful to be considered mentally ill mainly because of the stigma that surrounds mental health in our society. I was apprehensive when it came to speaking out about my mental health in public, but I knew that I had to be my own advocate.
I also felt like I had no choice but to share my story because I knew it could help someone else, which is mainly why I am writing this essay. A few years ago, I never would have been able to write and publish this for anyone to read, but I am a different person today and I am proud of myself. I am no longer fearful of mental illness and what that means for me, and I am completely at ease with who I am. I refuse to allow my mental illness to dictate what I'm capable of. Since mental illness has had such a profound impact on my life, I made the decision to dedicate my life to helping others cope with mental health issues, and I couldn't be happier about that.
In no way, shape or form am I trying to speak for anyone else with mental illness because mental illness does not affect everyone the same way. Everyone's experience is different. Personally, when I first started going to therapy many years ago, I would shut down and be unwilling to talk, which kind of beats the purpose of therapy. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe that I should have been at therapy because that wasn’t the case at all. I knew I needed help; I just didn’t want to let my guard down and talk about what I was experiencing, which is the case for many people. It’s one thing to know how you feel and to consider all that you’ve been through, but it’s another to let someone else know and let them inside your head.
I don’t think many people realize how daunting therapy can be and how much effort is necessary in order to recover. Because of the dedication and hard work it takes, we need to remind those who are going through counseling that they are extremely strong and that we're proud of them for putting in the work to recover. Therapy was not always successful for me, but it was the beginning of my long journey to acceptance and management. Mental illness cannot be cured, but it can be managed, and I have learned some great coping mechanisms and skills to utilize when I'm having a particularly rough day. I have to admit, I felt better when I was able to accept myself and be content with that. I had to continuously remind myself that I am not my mental illness and I never will be defined by my mental health struggles. Unfortunately, I feel that too much emphasis is placed upon diagnoses and not enough emphasis is placed upon the recovery process and the enduring work it takes to live with a mental illness every day.
We have come so far when it comes to mental health, but we still have so much work to do. We have come a long way from many years ago, when it was widely believed that being mentally ill was a sign of demonic possession, but we still stigmatize individuals who are suffering, which only further prevents people from seeking treatment. When we’re not stigmatizing people, we’re silent. Of course it's hard for those looking from the outside in to completely understand, but instead of refusing to talk about mental illness as if it is a taboo subject, we need to open up the conversation and educate others about the effects that mental illness can have on people.
We need to take fear out of the equation because it truly has no place being there. While mental illness can definitely produce some undesirable symptoms, mentally ill people are more likely to experience violence at the hands of others rather than being the perpetrator of violence. Someone who has a mental disorder is not inherently dangerous. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services:
“Most people with mental illness are not violent and only 3-5 percent of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population.”
It’s important to recognize that mental health is not something we should be quiet about, but something that we should prioritize when it comes to national issues.
Lead Image Credit: Pixabay
Editor's note: if you or someone you know is experiencing disturbances or changes in mental health, please visit MentalHealth.gov to learn about symptoms and treatment options.