A few weeks ago I had the honor of representing Bring Change 2 Mind on the popular live-streaming news network, HuffPost Live. The topic of the segment was Stigma and Mental Illness. As one of three guests speaking on this important subject, I was able to give a first-person account of living with Major Depression and Anxiety within the context of the different levels of support and compassion one receives when combating a mental versus physical illness.
Stemming from an article written by one of the other guests, Larry Lake, titled “No One Brings Dinner When Your Daughter Is An Addict” the 20-minute conversation gave viewers an inside peek into the reality of just how painful it can be for families who receive overwhelming community support when one member has a disease such as cancer, yet little to no support when another member has addiction and/or mental illness.
One of the benefits of having a live-streaming talk show is that viewers get to post remarks on the site in real-time. It didn’t surprise me that a large percentage of the comments were from people who were the victims of stigma and discrimination due to their own mental illnesses. As someone who is comfortable sharing my own hurdles in dealing with stigma, I spoke of the time I had shoulder surgery a few years ago. Unable to do things for myself by not being able to use my left arm, I received both the emotional and physical support necessary to help me get through the bodily pain and have whatever I needed taken care of by family, friends – even strangers.
On the flip side, when I took a six-week leave of absence from my job to deal with my debilitating depression, the help, encouragement and support I desperately needed was scarce. At first I was angry and felt that no one cared about my well-being, but over time I realized that most people just don’t have a clue that fighting depression, or any mental illness, can be just as physically and emotionally incapacitating as recovering from major surgery – if not more so. Because an illness of the brain doesn’t require arm-slings, crutches, neck braces, wheelchairs or bandages in order to heal, millions of sufferers and their families wind up alone in their time of need.
What I took away from the HuffPost Live experience was very clear. What needs to happen in order to continue to reduce and one day eliminate the stigma of mental illness is to keep the conversation going. The more we share our experiences, the less taboo the topic becomes. It’s really up to us to change misconceptions. If we feel shame about our illness, how can we expect others not to?
Ever since I began taking the steps towards being open, honest and now confident about revealing my depression and anxiety to others, the fear of being shunned or rejected has slowly dissipated. I feel less depressed and anxious just knowing that my written and spoken words have had a profoundly positive impact on other people who’ve suffered in silence most of their lives.
Respectful discussions and conversations, just like the one I had during the HuffPost Live piece, will educate the public and make a real difference in how mental illness is both perceived and understood in the community.
The tremendous online response to Mr. Lake’s story is a true testament of the palpable desire and need for people with mental illness and their families to bond, connect and unite with others who “get it” and have been there themselves. It’s crucial now to keep the momentum going, to talk about mental illness without humiliation, and most importantly to let others know that they are not alone.