Depression is not one-size-fits-all. However, if you had asked me a year ago to describe someone suffering from depression, I would have given you a generic and straight-up basic answer. My response would have gone something like this: An individual who is depressed is sad and doesn't enjoy pleasures that were once joyful. I'll be honest, my answer is not incorrect, but I can't seem to shake the hint of judgment in my tone birthed from ignorance towards depression that I had at the time. I would even go as far as to say that I had an unconscious bias towards the illness and mental health issues in general; little did I know, depression, like people, comes in all shapes and sizes.
Surviving Mental Health Stigma
Searching for or asking about mental health coping strategies brings up fairly regular suggestions, which include things like meditation, journaling, exercise, and self-care. But, what’s to be done when the chosen strategies to cope with mental health struggles no longer work? It might be easy to fall into self-stigmatizing thoughts of how you must be really “messed up” or beyond help, but here’s why you should reconsider that line of thinking.
Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka, Ben Simmons--at first glance, these three individuals do not seem to have a lot in common; but upon closer examination, there is more similarity here than meets the eye. Within months of each other, Biles, Osaka, and Simmons all spoke publicly--some more frequently than others--about their mental health struggles. While Biles and Osaka received some criticism, the general sentiment was acceptance and support; for Simmons, however, the same can not be said. So why did the public mock him and rally behind her? Why was he a laughing stock and she a hero? Unfortunately, the answer to this question may run as deep as the all-too-familiar and stigma-fueled cliché: real men don't cry.
Every time I hear of gun violence in the news, I wonder how soon after the conversations about mental health, and mental illness, in particular, will follow. It’s usually not too long. With the recent stories of gun violence in the news, it’s been no different. People were quick to blame mental health issues for the actions taken by these individuals.
A couple of weeks ago, I volunteered to distribute sanitary products and a hot meal to the unhoused community of Washington D.C. through the impactful and committed organization, The Distant Relatives Project. The experience produced a mix of emotions. I felt heartbroken to see so many individuals in need; the worst of it was learning that a large number of unhoused individuals who struggle with mental health issues do not have access to professional help. It is a crisis.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that I’m someone who can become overwhelmed fairly easily. Sometimes, I think it developed in my adulthood, but maybe it’s just something I never noticed or had the words to identify as a child. Whatever the case, being overwhelmed negatively impacts my mental health, and I want to talk about it to address the stigma around it.
Until a year ago, I did not equate May with Mental Health Awareness Month (MHAM). Flowers, sunshine, summer break, and my birthday most definitely, but not mental health. My battle with depression completely opened my eyes to mental illness and mental health as a whole, and I can confidently say that one month, even one year, dedicated to the topic does not do it justice. But to be fair, it is a hopeful and actionable start.
Allow me to join the chorus and say it’s Mental Health Awareness Month. Each year, the mental health community comes together during May to amplify the discussions around mental health to reduce the stigma of mental illness and show people they’re not alone in their struggles.
I am grateful for the podcasts that help me maintain mental wellness, but first, this background story: In April of last year, while the world was just beginning to open back up, I was experiencing the bleak fallout from a traumatic breakup. Much like when I was at my lowest low, battling depression later that summer, I was constantly searching for ways to forget. One of my favorite ways to accomplish this was going for long, and I mean long, walks. I would put on my shoes, walk down my apartment stairs and just walk. Sometimes three miles, sometimes five, and nine or 10 on the bad days.
It’s one of the original facets of mental health stigma: the belief that negative thoughts are a choice. I’d wager nearly everyone has had someone tell them that at one point or another. Mental health stigma can manifest in many complex ways, but that idea is rather straightforward and simple. Despite that, it’s a truly grating form of mental health stigma and one I encountered again last week.