This week (Oct. 5-11) is Mental Illness Awareness Week, a week dedicated to raising awareness and educating people about mental illness.
There is so much more awareness about mental illness now than when I was younger. I remember being told as a child that certain people were in the hospital because they “had a nervous breakdown.” And it was usually said in a whisper.
I had no real idea of what a nervous breakdown was. But it sounded bad, like a loss of control, like something to pity. It definitely sounded like something that should be kept a secret.
In reality, it was a secret kept by people who thought having a mental illness was something to be ashamed of.
When I was first diagnosed with OCD and depression in my mid-20s, I was ashamed. I thought if others found out, they would think I was deficient, weak. So I told only a very few close friends and family. Even with them, I brushed it off as just a little problem that I was taking care of with medicine.
The secretive way I handled my mental illness kept me from getting the full help that I needed.
For example, I didn’t want to get into a lot of therapy, including cognitive behavior therapy, because I’d have to ask off from work. How could I ask off for a doctor’s appointment if I didn’t look physically ill? I wouldn’t lie about it, but I couldn’t be honest either.
Several concerns kept me from getting the treatment that I needed when I was younger, but my fear of being stigmatized was part of it.
Nowadays, people talk about mental illnesses much more openly. Advocacy and education are still necessary—there are a lot of misconceptions out there, a lot of blaming—but the atmosphere for discussion has improved.
With discussion, stigma can lessen. We can ask each other questions and listen to each other’s stories. We can learn that we’re not the only one feeling certain feelings and thinking certain thoughts.
We can learn that we’re not alone.
Being aware is a big deal for me. So I’m happy to lend my voice to awareness of mental illness this week and beyond.
For more information about mental illness, check out the website of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Oct. 9 is also National Depression Screening Day. If you even think you’re depressed, please get screened and get help. And pass the word to your friends.
Let’s all be aware.