When I was in high school, the words “mental health” didn’t exist in my vocabulary. Among friends and family, there was no talk of therapy, the openness of struggle, or the vulnerability of brittle emotions. I didn’t even acknowledge the possibility of having anxiety or depression at that point in my life, instead blaming my frantic energy, constant worry, sadness, nightmares, fatigue, and irritability on the last-minute school project, the teenage fights with mom, the busy after-school activities, and the unrequited crush.
In college, when I finally received a diagnosis of major depressive disorder (MDD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), it felt good to have a name for the illnesses that made it increasingly difficult for me to function. But still, silence surrounded mental illness, and I didn’t see anyone publicly or personally acknowledging it. So I decided to.
Through a personal blog I launched in 2015, and constant social media posts that I shared on the days I struggled with what it felt like to live with mental illness, and on my experiences through different treatment avenues, I began to connect with others who were also struggling. I came to a realization that would change the course, purpose, and passion of my life.
Everyone was hurting. No one was talking about it. Why weren’t we talking about it?
I felt something inside me shift. Not only was I now writing for myself, to put my feelings and pain into words, but I was writing for others that couldn’t. I wanted to be a voice for mental health advocacy. If anything would come from my intense daily emotions, it would be my words. If my depression and anxiety were meant for a greater purpose, it was for this. And in a profoundly melancholy way, this purpose gave me a beacon of hope that has lit my path toward recovery ever since.
When I think of how far mental health awareness and education have come since I started speaking on it in 2015, it makes my heart flutter. More recently, I think the COVID-19 pandemic finally shed light on the impact of stressors on mental health in the workplace, at home, and among social circles.
The collective trauma our world experienced allowed for conversations on mental health to become more common, propelling public efforts for awareness and acknowledgment of mental health and mental illness. As each year progresses, I find hope in knowing that the stigma on mental illness is gradually decreasing, allowing people who struggle to finally come out of the shadows, share their stories, and find support.
Ending the stigma of mental illness will not come in 5, 10, or 20 years. I think it will be a lifelong pursuit for many of us, for those of us who can share our stories and reveal the key to evaporating stigma -- believing in and sharing the sentiment that we are not alone. That our shame and pain are worth validating and that we are not less than others because of it.
There is so much that is still misunderstood about mental illness. Depression and anxiety are often tossed around casually, sometimes confusing people on the true depth and persistence of symptoms that can affect someone’s life.
Other illnesses like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are often shrouded in shame because of their intense symptoms and the lack of public education on what they truly entail. Movies and TV, if they even mention mental illness, can harm us by making us believe that people with mental illness are dangerous, lazy, or not worthy of the same love and care as people with other medical diagnoses. In this subtle, insidious way, stigma continues to leak into our world, perpetuating the barriers to care that many people face.
The truth is some form of stigma -- whether personal or public -- will always exist. And yet, every day, I continue to put forth my vulnerability in hope that others do too.
When we share our stories, we build a community of support. We learn that being brave means being vulnerable, even when it’s hard. We invite others to the table and acknowledge that so many people struggle too. We realize that if one person’s pain can end, another’s can too.
And that if hope exists for me, it can for you too.
Connect with other people who are living with depression by joining our Depression Facebook Support Group.
Photo Credit: ZenShui/Alix Minde / PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections via Getty Images
Important: The opinions expressed in WebMD Blogs are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. Blogs are not reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance, objectivity, or any other reason except for compliance with our Terms and Conditions. Some of these opinions may contain information about treatments or uses of drug products that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment.
Do not consider WebMD Blogs as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on WebMD. You should always speak with your doctor before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your care plan or treatment. WebMD understands that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified health care provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.