By Intisar Seraaj
This year, from October 4 until October 10 is Mental Illness Awareness Week. The theme for 2020 is “What People with Mental Illness Want You to Know.” First, let’s start with the basics.
One in five American adults has a mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Mental illness can range from mild, moderate to severe. “One in 25 experience a mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder serious enough to interfere with major life activities or resulting in functional impairment, such as major depression, debilitating anxiety, schizophrenia.”
During the pandemic, we’ve seen a rise in mental health crises around the globe. According to a JAMA Network study, the number of adults in America experiencing depression has tripled since the coronavirus outbreak. “The pandemic is considered a traumatic event that can cause physical, emotional, spiritual, or psychological harm.”
If people didn’t already have a mental illness diagnosis, the pandemic has forced us to confront our mental health and critically think about how we’re taking care of ourselves. Transitioning from remote work and school, seeing or experiencing all the death due to COVID-19, figuring out what to do for childcare, and/or being isolated are some main stressors for people during the pandemic. We’ve had to check-in with ourselves and others more intentionally and find ways to cope like exercising more regularly, eating healthier, and consistently getting sunlight.
But sometimes those healthcare routines don’t quite do the trick for our mental health. Some of us have had to seek professional health with therapists or take prescribed medication. That’s OK. According to NIMH, “only half of people with mental illnesses receive treatment.” The pandemic has given us an opportunity to increase our understanding of mental illness, to focus on our mental healthcare, and to destigmatize discussing mental health. If we weren’t affected by mental illness before, whether personally or through dealing with a loved one’s mental health, many of us are dealing with it now.
One of our Seraaj Family Homes, Inc. employees, who’d like to remain anonymous, has clinical depression and gave us more poignant insight into mental illness. In alignment with this week’s mental illness awareness theme, they said the following points are some things people with mental illness would like everyone to know.
Tips on Mental Illness for Everyone
People don’t have to disclose their mental health status to you. But if they do, ask each person what they’re dealing with and how you can show up for them because every mental illness if different.
- It’s OK to openly talk about mental illness. This is how we destigmatize it. But authoritatively speaking on mental illness, when you’re not an expert, isn’t a good look. So, be mindful of what you say.
- Advising people with mental illness to not take medication, making them feel bad for needing meds, or trying to convince them that they don’t need it isn’t OK. Medication can be helpful and is necessary for many individuals dealing with mental illness.
- Having a mental illness isn’t a religious matter; People with mental illnesses don’t necessarily have weaker faith. Religious people can also suffer from mental illness.
- People need therapy for all types of reasons and there’s nothing wrong with that. Whether you have a mental illness or not, needing therapy is a normal and helpful mental health tool for everyone.
- Some mental illnesses aren’t just seasonal or onset by specific triggers. Sometimes it’s a day-to-day struggle.
- Check-in with yourself. If you have a loved one with a mental illness, it can be exhausting for you too. Just be honest with that person when you need to step away. But also reassure your loved one that their mental illness won’t push you away.
Tips on Mental Illness for People With Mental Illness
- It’s OK to talk about your mental illness, even if others are wary about being open about your diagnosis.
- You don’t have to disclose your status to anyone. You can’t share everything with everybody.
- It’s OK to switch therapists. Sometimes you can outgrow a therapist, or they don’t meet your needs. “No one size fits all.”
The best way to destigmatize something is by increasing your knowledge. Even if people have a mental illness, it doesn’t mean they know everything there is to know about all other mental illnesses. Usually, the best insight comes from people with experience. So, talking directly to people with a mental illness is the best way to start. People with mental illnesses can also benefit from exchanging experiences with other people with different or the same mental illnesses. No one’s story is the same as another person’s, and we all have room to expand our capacity for information, care, and compassion.