Mental Health: The Elephant in the Room

I’d like to first begin this post by saying I’m guilty of several of the things I’ve chosen to discuss today. For quite some time, mental illness has been addressed as something that’s incomparable to physical illness. This seems absurd to me, especially after understanding the fact that mental illnesses are brain diseases.

For those in the back, mental illness such as depression, bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder are brain diseases. For further reading on that matter, check out this article by psychiatrist and psychiatric educator Steven Reidbord, M.D.

This is a fact of which I would have to hope most people are unaware. For generations, people, myself included, have trivialized the use of words like depressed, crazy, OCD, suicidal, bipolar, stress, etc. without taking into account how insulting that must be for people who are clinically diagnosed with a mental illness. Honestly, I didn’t even start to realize how insensitive comments like this could be until I experienced both sides of the spectrum.

I don’t want to sound hypocritical, but to put it bluntly, I sort of am. But I will plainly say, clinical conditions physical or mental make pretty terrible metaphors and I intend to refrain from using such metaphors in the future.

Calling someone crazy for acting in a way that does not align with your interests, for example, or calling someone OCD for merely being overly meticulous in the way they present themselves both have the potential to be highly insulting. I would agree with this HuffPost article in saying there are misconceptions as to the true meaning of phase such as these. But rather than re-list them here, I would advise briefly skimming through what Deputy Healthy Living Editor for HuffPost Lindsey Holmes has to say.

Personally, I think I take mental health seriously enough to notice a problem with myself or someone else and will do something about it. However in light of recent knowledge, I feel as though I’d fallen into the social stigma of thinking phrases like “I’m gonna kill myself” or “I’m OCD” in a cavalier manner were acceptable.

In the spirit of transparency, I have frequented phrases like these. But after progressively developing depression and suicidal feelings, I started to steer clear of such speech. The first time I noticed this was one day I was telling a friend that was seriously considering suicide and then the very next day jokingly saying that I was going to kill myself. Whoa, pump the breaks, right? How was that person supposed to take me seriously? I was being 100 percent serious, in fact, and I’m honestly certain they were aware of my seriousness, but juxtaposing these statements completely disrupts my credibility to anyone else outside of the conversation.

I, like most people with mental health problems, am wary of sharing the intimate details of my issues. And I believe the reason it isn’t something normally talked about is specifically because it is not taken seriously. Therefore, when we tear down of our defenses and unravel the story of what’s really going on, it’s not necessarily a cry for help but it very well could be. So when it’s not taken seriously, it can often make things worse. That, I can vouch for.

I think our generation in general just doesn’t care about much, and I won’t make any claim to separate myself from this mindset. In fact, I’ve said the phrase “there’s not much I care about” on more than once occasion (but in a quick moment of attempted redemption, I am making strides to change this about myself). Unfortunately, we’ve only ended up perpetuating this mentality.

I really intended for this post to be a sort of sobering and liberating expression of how this issue has affected me, but I guess at this point it’s turning into a call to action, which I’m admittedly lacking the education to properly accomplish.

I’ll leave you with this: there’s a difference between taking everything seriously and living a carefree life, but tailoring one’s attitude for each interaction can really go a long way.

Again, I would like to recommend you read either of the articles linked here to better understand how to treat mental health issues. The symptoms are often quite subtle but can be debilitating.

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