You may be a mother with a successful career, a healthy marriage and hordes of quality friendships.
Perhaps you’re a recent college graduate who’s been offered his dream job.
You could be a husband who just lost his job and you’re trying to figure out how to tell your new bride.
Or you’re a single parent who is overwhelmed with your children … with your singleness … with your life.
But you all have one thing in common…. with actress Taraji P. Henson … with Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps … with Gospel singer Tasha Cobbs … and with comedian Wayne Brady.
You are in the same company as singer/actress Lady Gaga, rapper Kanye West, author J.K. Rowling, actor Chris Evans, football player Brandon Marshall, and numerous others.
You are one of the many faces of mental health struggles.
And you are not alone.
A couple of years ago, I thought I was alone as I wallowed in depression. Initially I thought it was just sadness and grief over a traumatic miscarriage. Then I thought I was overwhelmed with the loss, and life in general – being a wife, mom, daughter, sister; homeschooling, writing, working, and, well, just being. I then rationalized that fatigue was the culprit. That’s why I didn’t have the energy to get out of bed, was rapidly losing interest in everyday life, and had no desire to leave the house. Finally, I was willing to face the truth. I was depressed. Clinically depressed. Not wanting to be here anymore depressed.
As a person with an outgoing personality, I didn’t know what that meant or what it looked like. What I did know is that I was embarrassed that I wasn’t in better control of my emotions, ashamed of the stigma of being a “depressed” person, and defensive about needing any sort of help. However, confronting those feelings and my pain was a valuable first step toward healing. Now I want others to know that you don’t have to fight that battle by yourself.
People are now starting to talk more about what it feels like to struggle with mental health issues. It’s hard to describe what a void, and darkness feels like. If you’ve never experienced it, you don’t understand the torture of seeing people around you vibrant, smiling, full of life, and even if you appear the same way, knowing that you’re bleeding inside and would do almost anything not to be here.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness notes that 43.8 million adults in the United States – approximately 1 in 5 – suffers from mental illness in a given year. On the outside, it doesn’t always look like the stigmatized, stereotypical picture many of us have come to expect of a person curled in ball, crying, unable to get out of bed or function. Granted, to the person living through it, depression or anxiety can feel that way. But it can also look like a brilliant Academy-award winning performance, or an Olympic-worthy feat, or even just the dazzling smile of a person who appears to have it all together. It can be someone who appears fully functional to the world, yet is bleeding, completely ravaged on the inside. There isn’t one definitive way to tell if someone is struggling mentally.
May is Mental Health Month. The purpose of the designation is to raise awareness. What does it mean to live with a mental illness? What are the signs that you may be suffering? How can you cope and get help? And what is the best way to relate to someone who is hurting from depression or anxiety?
First of all, love them where they are. Don’t judge what they’re going through, or how they’re processing it. Loving them can mean simply listening. It can mean relieving them of some of their stress and burdens. It can also mean helping them to find a therapist or doctor to get them on the path to healing. Also, don’t try to “make it all better.” You can’t. Your friend doesn’t need your solutions. Your brother isn’t asking you to analyze his childhood trauma. Your husband has not asked you to fix his insecurities. What they do seek is love, grace and guidance to help them navigate their journey from pain to whole health.
Enough with the stigma. Enough with the hiding. Enough with the whispers and pretending it’s not real.
Mental illness is real. It’s hard. It hurts.
But there’s help. You can cope. You can move forward.
Reduce the stigma. Release the power of hope.
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