Mental health is a serious health concern that is incredibly stigmatized and misunderstood. Did you know that in 2011 1 in 5 American adults experienced a mental health issue, 1 in 10 young people experienced a period of major depression, and 1 in 20 Americans lived with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression. Isn't it shocking to see these numbers?
Not to mention these are only the REPORTED cases. What about those people that are scared to share their struggles with mental illness? Those that fear the stigmatization that comes with a diagnosis? Even bloggers, who share their lives on the internet, often avoid discussing their mental health struggles on the internet for fear of judgment, criticism, and so on.
THAT'S WHERE SPEAK UP FOR SILENCE COMES IN.
But before we (Cassie from Sage and Christine from The So-Called Homemaker) introduce what Speak Up for Silence is all about, we want to take some time to share some of our wisdom with you all.
First, we have to understand what mental illness is. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), "a mental illness is a condition that impacts a person's thinking, feeling or mood and may affect his or her ability to relate to others and function on a daily basis."
Cassie: An Empirical Perspective
Aren't the statistics above shocking? You might not have realized that this many people in the U.S. alone experience mental health problems. You might also have some additional misconceptions- most of us do. Below are some common myths about mental health.
MYTH 1: Mental health problems are caused by the person suffering from them.
Just like you would never blame someone for their cancer diagnosis, you shouldn't blame someone for their mental health problems or diagnosis. Blaming someone for their diagnosis and holding them accountable for their own thoughts, feelings, moods, and behaviors are very different.
MYTH 2: Seeking psychotherapy means you have "serious" problems.
Deciding to work with a therapist is healthy, normal, positive, and proactive. It takes a strong person to seek help when they are struggling. In fact, people without mental health problems often seek support for help in coping with stressful times, learning new skills, and even understanding themselves better. I have also heard people say that therapists "tell you what to do." However, I think it would be more accurate to say therapists empower you to help yourself .
MYTH 3: "Mental illness" is a term reserved for those with serious illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
I don't think I realized how common this misconception was until recently. The term "mental illness" refers to a range of mental health conditions. Any disorder that impacts your mood, thinking, and behavior would be included under this term. Therefore, something that is seemingly less severe such as low grade depression or anxiety might not warrant a diagnosis but it is still considered a mental illness/mental health problem.
MYTH 4: Personality weaknesses or character flaws cause mental health problems. People with mental health problems can snap out of it if they would only try hard enough.
Actually, mental health problems are more related to biological factors, life experiences, and family history of mental health problems. We are products of our biology and our environment- two things that can be almost entirely out of our control. To blame someone for factors they cannot control is not helpful.
MYTH 5: People with mental health problems are violent and unpredictable.
It would be flawed to assume people with mental health problems are any more violent than the general population. Most individuals with mental health problems are not violent and only 3-5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. Actually, people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime when compared to the general population. MentalHealth.gov says: "You probably know someone with a mental health problem and don't even realize it, because many people with mental health problems are highly active and productive members of our communities."
Christine: A Personal Perspective
Anxiety. Even the word is stressful. People hear that you have anxiety issues and they automatically think they have to treat you with kids' gloves. They think you can't handle anything, that you're weak, that you're lesser.
It's not just anxiety either. Think of the words depression, OCD, mental illness. You're picturing a nut in a therapist's office, aren't you?
But these disorders, this mental illness, it is not something that affects only a small part of humankind. Since admitting to my own anxiety, I've discovered that there are many more people in my circles alone that suffer from these kinds of issues. Why was I so afraid to share my story? It's because of the misconceptions.
It's because people might look at me differently. They might treat me differently. And isn't there something inherently wrong with the fact that my anxiety causes my anxiety?
Mental illness affects so many people. It's not something that we can see the scars from, typically. Most times people with mental illness are the people we consider the most "normal" in our lives, the people who have their shit together and whom we look up to. But we don't realize what they are going through until they open up to us.
THAT'S WHAT THIS PROGRAM IS ABOUT.
We want Speak Up for Silence to be a place where people can open up about their own mental illness or the experiences they've had with other people's mental illness.
We want you to share your stories, even anonymously, and start the discussion. These topics should not be hidden in the dark any more. We should be talking about them so that these misconceptions and judgements can be ended - finally - and we can stop feeling like outcasts for being "different".
Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing these stories every Thursday. We encourage you to read them and start a discussion in your own life. If you want to join in on the discussion on social media, we strongly encourage you to do so. Share whatever is on your heart. #speakupforsilence
Please note: within these posts, some writers may feel compelled to share advice for what has helped them. This advice, unless explicitly stated, is not from a medical professional and should not be considered medical advice. If you are struggling with mental illness and need help, you can call the National Alliance on Mental Health hotline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264).