I know someone who slipped into a deep depression after going to university. It was so severe that even now, several years on, they still relapse regularly.
People who knew this person would often talk to me as if the depression were as simple as getting over an upset stomach.
“How are they doing? Still not feeling better? It’s been months!”
It was extremely painful to hear these people talk about someone who was struggling like that. What made it worse was that they used me as a middle-man to get their information, and never went and tried to speak to the person directly so as to gain a better insight into what was really going on for them.
I myself have battled with the many misunderstood notions that people have with regards to ‘looking mentally ill’.
“But you seemed fine earlier!”
“But you were smiling and laughing?”
“But you had such a good day!”
“But you’ve got so much to look forward to!”
“You’re too young to feel this way/ You need to think happy thoughts/ You are wasting your youth/ You don’t look depressed/ You don’t seem crazy/ mentally ill/insane” (What does that even look like anyway?!)
etc. etc. infinity.
When you appear to function in society, when you hide your illness, or put on a false mask for the public, then people assume that everything is fine.
They can’t see your heartbeat going a mile a minute, or feel your impending dread of death during a panic attack. They think that if you’re not hyperventilating in a corner then you’re not having a panic attack.
People think if you don’t fit in with their idea of mental illness, then you must be fine.
You’re out with friends and smiling and joking so you must be fine; no one can feel your suicidal ideation, or your pervasive emptiness.
We have become so fearful that we are literally hiding from the stigma surrounding mental health, and hiding from these rigid public ideas of what mental illness is, that people just don’t have a clue what it really is.
This is why it is becoming increasingly important that we learn to be open about mental illness, to not have to hide away in fear of judgement anymore and to educate others in order to build a more compassionate, emotionally healthy world.
People need to learn to understand that just because you appear to be functioning, it does not mean that your mental health conditions have magically disappeared.
When people vocalise that someone doesn’t appear to match their idea of ‘mentally unwell’, then it can also cause huge distress in the person with a mental health condition.
It sparks an internal battle and intrusive inner commentary, that if reinforced enough times by misinformed people, they may come to perceive it as their reality.
Thus, “What if I should be better by now? What if this isn’t normal? What is normal? Why arena I better yet? What’s wrong with me?” ensues.
It becomes increasingly difficult to separate ‘how you should be feeling’, according to other people, and how you actually feel.
You begin to question yourself more and are plagued with self-doubt on top of your existing issues.
Let’s learn to talk about mental health. Let’s start breaking down these harmful ideas and opinions.
If you want to know more, see here for learning about how to practice compassion and understanding to others.