"The opposite of love is indifference"
Of the many, many things I've learned this year, mental health awareness is by far the most important.
Like most people, I was always aware of mental health concerns—I know the basics of Bipolar disorder, I've seen the commercials for depression medication, and read about suicide in books or in the news; however, it's never been a huge concern in my life. The closest I've come to the topic is scrolling through eating disorder recovery accounts on Instagram.
Instagram was my introduction to the terror a brain can unleash on a body. I saw how mental illness can slink in and wreak havoc on a person's health and happiness, tear apart families, destroy a life.
The reason I'm finally talking about it, is because everyone else is finally talking about it. Mental health issues have been highly stigmatized in the past. They were the topics of scary movies and folktales, but otherwise swept under the rug and not acknowledged. Tell me, how does that help? Yeah, it doesn't.
Lately though, I've started to notice a shift in that toxic mindset. People are talking, people are reaching out, raising awareness, telling their own raw stories. At my university there's been multiple efforts to improve mental health. The athletic department launched the campaign #TalkToMe to encourage students to be open about their struggles. They also started a video-challenge to complete a four-person pushup to represent the statistic that one in four people suffer from mental illness. In addition, the Marquette's newspaper, the Wire, is in the midst of a huge project called Break The Silence, including articles, meetings, and speakers to bring awareness and to combat the epidemic of adolescent suicides.
On a level much bigger than the university, mental illness is being openly discussed in TV shows like 13 Reasons Why. Now, whether or not the show does a good job of representing depression and suicide, (many people are firmly in the "NO" camp) maybe any publicity is good publicity? Maybe not, but either way the show has definitely brought some serious issues into the public eye and opened up a conversation—which is what is most needed.
When people feel free to talk about their struggles without judgement, it is empowering. When people feel listened to, when their feelings are validated, they are more likely to seek help. This social shift can save lives. That's how important this is.
A word about mental illness—
Mental illness is NOT a body type. It is not a bad day, or eating your m&m's in order of the rainbow. It's not "oh she's just antisocial" or "he just wants attention." It is an illness just like a sinus infection, just like arthritis, just like cancer; and it deserves to be treated as so.
A chemical imbalance in the brain (the cause of many mental illnesses) cannot be healed by advice alone. No matter how well-meaning the delivery is of your "just look on the bright side" or "just try to eat normally," it's not helpful. Please keep it to yourself.
Mental illness needs to be acknowledged and fought against, and awareness is the first step. I hope this post encourages you to do some research, donate to the cause, volunteer, or just make an effort to be more understanding. I hope we as a society are on the path to ending the stigma that shrouds mental illness, and I hope that we make strides this month to support everyone that it touches.