This blog is part of our series "Let's Talk About It." The ideas and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of Mississippi College; however, as a Christian university we believe in respectful dialogue and thoughtful engagement with issues that concern our modern society.
I want to talk about mental illness because I don't think that it's talked about enough. I've struggled with depression for almost half of my life, and I've been affected by mental illness in more ways than I'll recall here. Mental illness is real, it's hurts, and it's something that a lot of us don't know enough about. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), over 43 million adult Americans struggle with mental illness and over 60% of them don't receive the treatment that is needed. This is a problem and like most problems, I believe that the solution begins with a conversation. Whether you've been directly affected by mental illness or not, I believe that we all need to be informed. So, here we are. Let's talk, friends.
Mental illness can mean a lot of different things. NAMI's website defines mental illness as "a condition that affects a person's thinking, feeling or mood." This is a broad definition, but the concept of mental illness is bigger than just one illness.
The illnesses listed on NAMI's website include, but are not limited to: autism, ADHD, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, depression, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and more. In connection with the mental illnesses themselves, there are a number of related behaviors that include self-harm, addiction, sleep disorders, and suicidal thoughts.
Though all of these conditions are qualified as mental illnesses, they're all different. But, they all have one thing in common: you can't see them. Yes, you can watch someone as they struggle with OCD or they have an anxiety attack. You can see the light leave the eyes of your friend struggling with depression, and you can notice the behaviors that often come with these illnesses. But, unlike the flu or the common cold, overcoming a mental illness requires more than a z-pack or some day-quill.
When someone has a mental illness, it often requires a form of therapy, sometimes medication, and always a lot of perseverance, just to be able to lead a functional life. Some conditions go away, others don't. No matter what, though, they all require a fight.
Our culture has done this weird (and disrespectful) thing where they've diluted the reality of mental illness. Depression is romanticized, anxiety disorders are overlooked, eating disorders are normal, and suicide is joked about. People say they have OCD when they like their room to be really clean; they say they're depressed when their day didn't go well; they say they have anxiety when they're a little worried. (Small note: there is a large difference between everyday anxiety and an anxiety disorder.) They way we often talk about mental illness proves that we don't know the reality of what we're talking about.
There are stereotypes that go along with most mental illnesses, but the people living with these disorders are so much more than that. I can't say all that I want to say in this blog, but I'm hoping that you've learned something. I hope you'll do your part to learn more, to try to understand, and to be empathetic to those that live with different mental illnesses.
If you struggle, or think you may struggle with a mental illness, please seek help. If you or a friend struggle with any kind of mental illness, you are so much more than the stereotypes that come surround your condition. I battled depression and anxiety for six years before I found myself in a therapist's office (not by choice), and it has made all the difference. MC has free counseling services, and there is no shame in asking for help. There is no shame in admitting that you're not okay. (Click here to learn more.)
To learn more about mental illness, click here to visit NAMI's website.
We are all broken, but some of us are broken in a way that can't be seen.
Depressive, fighter, & friend