The month of May was National Mental Health Awareness Month. Hopefully you took some time to educate yourself about mental illness, or had some conversations to reduce the stigma around it.
It’s good to remember, though, that the need for awareness doesn’t just end when May does. Let’s keep the conversation going!
A whopping one in four people worldwide suffer from some type of mental illness or illnesses ranging from mild to severe cases. Unfortunately, this accounts for approximately 450 million people across the globe, though a great majority of those suffering are suffering in silence.
If you’ve never had a mental illness, chances are you find it difficult to sympathize with those who do. For that reason, here are some of the things those suffering with mental illness want you to understand.
There Are Different Types, Subcategories, Intensities and Variations of Mental Disorders
Possibly one of the main things people don’t understand is that mental disorders come in so many different forms. For instance, one suffering from severe depression may act completely different from someone suffering with a very mild form, or they may not show any differences at all.
Milder forms of mental disorders are still in fact mental disorders; they just aren’t as intense.
Many people who come out to their parents or other adults about their mental disorder are given a response along the lines of, “You don’t have depression! You don’t show any signs of suicidal thoughts or behavior.” But in reality, every sufferer is different and will display different signs, if any.
Even if two people have the same mental condition at the same intensity, they may exhibit different symptoms. Take Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) as an example. Some OCD patients are obsessed with cleanliness and getting rid of germs whereas others are quite the opposite and will hoard personal items in fear they will need the them in the future.
This demonstrates that mental conditions can vary drastically.
Just Because I Act ‘Normal’ Doesn’t Mean I Don’t Have a Mental Disorder
This point ties in with the last one. As mentioned, mental illnesses can vary from one person to another quite significantly. Some sufferers may act completely normal, but what exactly is “normal”?
Most people don’t even recognize another person’s disorder unless their behavior is very abrupt and out-of-control, ignoring all other milder signs. What is being misunderstood here is the fact that mental disorders are called so for a reason: they occur mentally. Most people with mental illnesses do act as though they’re perfectly fine, especially in public, but it doesn’t mean the disorder isn’t there.
The fact that sufferers often act “normal” is scary considering you may never know what a person is feeling on the inside or the mental battles they are undergoing on a daily basis.
Mental disorders don’t always manifest physically; sometimes it’s silent for the individual.
It’s Not All in My Head; It’s Something I Truly Can’t Control
You can’t tell someone that what they’re thinking or feeling isn’t a mental disorder or what they’re dealing with isn’t real. Nobody wants to be called a liar for something they can’t control. Even if it’s something you can’t see or experience for yourself, the sufferer of the disorder is often the only one who knows and can understand what’s going on.
Even if you don’t fully “believe” someone is suffering with a mental condition, it’s always best to listen, be there for the person and provide help if necessary. It’s never okay to tell someone their thoughts are imaginary or that they are faking having a mental disorder.
I’m Not Acting This Way for Attention, and This Is Not a Phase
Young people are often told they’re using a mental disorder as an excuse for attention or to fit in with the crowd, especially when they’re very open about their condition. Some even believe people’s disorders are phases, as if they’re going to disappear into thin air one day.
People often don’t trust a young person’s admission to experiencing symptoms of a mental illness. This is unfortunate as it results in people being overlooked or even ridiculed when they do in fact have a mental condition that requires the proper help and attention.
In fact, many mental conditions often begin or are triggered by hormonal imbalances or other changes during puberty and do not disappear even into late adulthood. Some mental conditions are triggered by other environmental factors such as traumatic events, recollection of past memories, or other conditions.
It’s clear these are not phases. Instead, they are something that need to be treated by professionals and through the support of others.
Mental Disorders Are Serious and Shouldn’t Be Ignored or Taken Lightheartedly
You may have been told that people with mental illnesses and/or with suicidal thoughts don’t tell people what they think or feel, but this is far from the truth. While many do keep it a secret, often sufferers throw hints or even bluntly tell someone about their disorder or their suicidal tendencies. Whether you believe this is “fake” or not, it’s never something you should overlook, completely ignore, or even joke about.
Whether a person is silent about their disorder and displays “no signs or symptoms” or is very open about their condition, both require attention.
It’s also unfortunate when people use mental disorders as adjectives, in cases such as “You’re so OCD” or “I’m feeling so bipolar today.” While many of us do use these terms as offhand ways to describe how we are feeling, in truth this works to desensitize us to very real conditions that cause people to feel ways that are drastically different from what we do when we “feel OCD.”
People who suffer with mental illnesses go through so much more than just their disorder. Their mental illness is often overlooked or disregarded simply because their suffering is internal and doesn’t manifest physically. If you or somebody you know is dealing with or possibly dealing with a mental condition, it’s always a good idea to seek the proper professional help as soon as possible.