Stigma. It’s stupid, really, how a simple word like stigma can affect your relationships so much. The stigma on depression was the elephant in the room with my family and friends. I remember when I was deeply struggling with my depression, how continuing to fight everyday to live took every ounce of my being. Yet, to others, I was perceived as “lazy,” “just being a teenager,” “dramatic,” “attention seeking” -- as if I didn’t have enough difficulties to deal with already.
Mental illness can be a hard thing for people to understand. You can’t see it or feel it. So how do you know it’s really there?
I eventually had to make the decision that this was absolutely real to me. I had to forget about everyone else’s opinions of me during this time. If going to a counselor and a psychiatrist was what I needed, then I went. If taking a break from school (twice) to focus on my mental health was what I needed to survive, then I did it.
Some of my friends didn’t understand my illness, and therefore made assumptions about why my behavior changed. It did hurt at the time, but I knew I was doing what was right for me and my mental health. Years later, a lot of my friends, unfortunately, can relate to what depression feels like. It all comes back around. They didn’t judge me because they were bad people. They did it because they didn’t understand.
This was the same with some of my family. Mental illness wasn’t something that was ever openly talked about in my family before I was diagnosed. Afterward, some people in my family felt uncomfortable talking about depression and mental illness at first. To them, my depression was the elephant in the room.
When I realized they were uncomfortable because they weren’t used to people talking about their mental health so openly, I tried to talk about it more. I decided to be the first in my family to be vulnerable about how I was feeling. I found that if I wanted to change the stigma that those around me held on mental illness, then I needed to talk about it as if the stigma didn’t exist. So, I talked about my depression just like I would talk about a physical illness I had.
When my family asked how I was doing, I answered them truthfully. After a while, something amazing happened. I could see how they became more and more comfortable with my conversations around mental illness. I even had some people in my family start to open up about their mental health struggles. I had one family member say to me, “I think I was depressed when I was younger but didn’t know it because it wasn’t talked about.”
To be able to open people’s eyes and educate them on the severity and commonness of mental illness is an empowering thing. I started to realize I’m going through this to be the voice of those who aren’t ready to speak up yet. I’ll show people it’s actually a sign of strength to talk about mental health, not a sign of weakness. Don’t be ashamed of your elephant in the room.
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