Hear the Silent Cries of Mental Illness
Photo by Markus Voetter
As National Minority Mental Health Month draws to a close, I encourage everyone to reach out to the people in their lives. Have an honest conversation about depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, and other mental health issues that profoundly impact our communities. Don’t limit the discussion to those who exhibit signs of depression or anxiety. The person struggling the most might be the last person you would ever expect.
Mental illness can be a terrible burden, but it shouldn’t be a shameful one. In a society where it is okay to discuss everything from our favorite sexual positions to our bouts of constipation, why is it still taboo to talk about mental health? Individuals who have cancer, diabetes, or high blood pressure are not more valuable; they’re not more worthy of our support, or compassion, or time than those who have mental illnesses.
The National Institute of Mental Health estimated that 17.3 million adults in the United States experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2017. Some 15 million adults suffered from social anxiety that same year. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), there are over 300 known mental illnesses.
Do you suffer from depression or anxiety? Perhaps, the pandemic and civil unrest have caused you to feel these emotions for the first time. Whatever the situation you find yourself in, I want you to know that you’re not alone. Of course, I know it’s easier for me to say “you’re not alone” than it might be for you to accept. Depression and anxiety can make consolation attempts feel like they’re filtered through an F5 tornado—the words are lost in the blackness.
The ongoing stigma that mental illness is a sign of weakness or poor character is the antithesis of reality. As someone who has watched people very dear to me struggle through each day with depression or anxiety, I know that it isn’t weakness they display, but unmeasurable courage. They fight a brutal invisible war within themselves to push back the hordes of negative thoughts and secret feelings that try to convince them that it would be easier to drown in eternal stillness than inhale one more breath. Even at their most broken, a person with depression or anxiety may stir from their beds, make it into their places of employment, care for their families, and take enormous steps to ask for help. They are heroes.
Have you ever wondered what to say to a person suffering from depression or anxiety? Have you ever worried you’ll say the wrong things? If so, you’re not alone either. Here is a helpful list to get you started. QUESTION TO ASK SOMEONE SUFFERING FROM DEPRESSION OR ANXIETY: (Remember that the goal in asking these questions is to listen with an open mind and heart. The worst thing we can do is hear the answers with the intent of “fixing the issues.”) 1. Can you explain to me how you’re feeling today? 2. What activities do you find enjoyable right now? 3. What activities are too hard to do? 4. Do you enjoy spending time with others? 5. What is your energy level like each day? 6. Are you sleeping more or less than you used to? 7. Have you eaten today? 8. Are you able to concentrate on things right now? 9. Do you think about death or suicide? 10. What can I do to be helpful to you today? The answers you hear might surprise you. They might even be painful to face. If the person you’re talking to admits that they have suicidal thoughts, the best thing you can do is express empathy and help them to contact a medical professional. Please see the links below for valuable resources. https://voiceandvisioninc.org/blog/entry/minority-mental-health-awareness-month/ https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/find-help/index.shtml If you’re experiencing symptoms of sadness, loneliness, anxiety, or emptiness, please reach out to someone in your life or use the number below to have a confidential conversation with someone who understands what you’re going through. You’re not failing by asking for help. You’re not worthless because you’re hurting. You’re not invisible just because every minute of the day is like swimming through shards of glass. You matter to the world, and you matter to me. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255); En Español 1-888-628-9454 The Lifeline is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Lifeline connects callers to the nearest crisis center in the Lifeline national network. These centers provide crisis counseling and mental health referrals. People who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have hearing loss can contact the Lifeline via TTY at 1-800-799-4889.