Around the fall of 2011 I decided I didn't want to keep my mental illness a secret anymore. I wanted to be open, I wanted the people in my life to know, and I was tired of living in the darkness. But I was afraid. I worried what others would think about me. I was still living in my own self-stigma. I lived on the fence for a couple of years and had opened up to people in my life, yet in many ways I was still keeping my mental illness hiding in the corner where I felt it belonged.
It's not in the corner anymore. I'm completely out in the open now about the fact that I live with depression and anxiety. It culminated two weeks ago when I spoke candidly in church about my experiences and the need to break the stigma. I know my talking and posting about it makes some people uncomfortable, but I really just don't care anymore. Not having to keep my two lives separate any longer has been a blessing for me, and I feel more than ever that I can be who I really am. And for a while that was enough. It's already not anymore.
I have a new feeling emerging as I go through this process. Anger. I'm angry about the stigma, about how we don't talk about mental illness, and how this leads to a world where shame and secrecy still surround issues of mental illness and suicide. A world where every year a million people worldwide take their own lives instead of seeking and receiving treatment, in large part because of this stigma. We should all be outraged! And yet we're not. Mental illness is treatable after all, and treatment saves lives. It's not enough anymore to just be comfortable in my own skin, I need to keep pushing to bring mental illness fully into the light and break the stigma.
I think about the fact that in the U.S., where I live, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged 15-24. I also think about the effect not talking about mental illness and suicide as a society has on our suicide rate, especially for our young people. By not talking about it we are giving our youth the message that it is a shameful thing not to be spoken of. I know there are other factors, but no wonder so many don't choose to seek treatment. No wonder so many choose to take their own lives. This is an illness, like cancer, that does not discriminate. It could happen to any of us. And for those of us who are parents, it could happen to our kids. We need to let them know that if they do begin to have symptoms that it is okay to talk about it and seek help.
Not too long ago I was approached by a youth who was struggling with depression. She knew she was depressed and wanted me to tell her how she can get help. What a wonderful thing that this youth would take the risk to talk to me and take steps to get help. However, their parents have pushed the issue aside when she has tried to bring it up. They have also made comments like, "nobody in this family is depressed" since she has been struggling. That's shame, that's stigma! And sadly, it intensifies this person's feeling that there is something wrong with them. It's an awful message to give a youth, and it's not true. What is this person supposed to do now? They are dependent upon their parents to get help. How can they get help if their parents won't even acknowledge a problem exists? This is why we have to speak up. This is why I will continue to push awareness of mental illness. This is why I will not stop talking about it! I implore you to do the same. There are many lives at stake, and we can no longer stay silent.