For the first time, in an immeasurably long time, I experienced stigma towards mental illness from someone my age (early 20s). It’s taken me a solid day to digest, after the meltdown that is practically symptomatic of my depression right now. It felt like a slap, a cold hard smack back to reality. I think it’s too easy to assume that all the stigma and discrimination towards mental illness comes from older generations – “They just weren’t educated on it, they have no bloody idea,” and similar catchphrases. But it’s anyone, any age. If you haven’t been educated, you don’t know.
I’m not here to name and shame, and the person this concerns won’t see this, but I still can’t help feeling disappointed. Disappointed in someone who is meant to be from this ‘generation’ of education and social justice (not quite the warriors though) and all the stuff that gets lumped into the ‘millennial’ tagline. Yet, there they were in a rage telling me that my depression is just begging for attention, creating drama to get attention and not something they have space for in their lives. It scares me because I can move past it eventually, they’re one friend to me. But what if a loved one has a mental illness? Will you say those things to them? Will you hurt them more than me because they’re closer to you?
I understand my depression is overwhelming and can make others feel helpless and exasperated. I do. That’s why I always talk about it and offer people ways out, I tell everyone not to offer support if you can’t handle it. Only offer what you can. It’s draining. It’s overwhelming. It’s repetitive. And maybe that’s why I haven’t dealt with something like this in so long. I haven’t had someone come shouting at me when I’m not even sure what I’m supposed to have done wrong. I haven’t had someone push me to breaking point without even stopping to think of the stigma they’re perpetuating. But if you can’t handle it, if you’re struggling, you have to communicate – calmly and clearly.
I work every day to overlook stigma and discrimination and all that crap. This is part of me and it’s not fake or remotely fun for me. It’s not something I choose. But it’s not something for me to be ashamed of. Being open and honest is how I cope, because it’s too easy to isolate and retreat. It exhausts me to ask people for help, but the hard choice is the right one there. And maybe that makes it seem trivial, because it’s not something I hide away like a dark secret. But does that mean I should be hiding it?
So please, educate yourself. Take five minutes to read the information pages of any number of mental illness alliances and charities. Make a choice not to be part of a stigma. It’s okay not to understand. It’s okay to have questions. But it’s not okay to punish someone else for you not understanding. You have to communicate, just as much as someone struggling does too.
And quite frankly, just don’t perpetuate bullshit.