Wednesday, while I was writing about silly things like extended health benefits, Responsible Psychologist Annie should have been drawing your attention to the national mental health day initiated by a Canadian telecommunications company. The goal was to get people talking about their emotional struggles, thereby lessening the stigma of mental illness. Great idea, don’t you think?
That day, the company generously threw in 5 cents for every text, call, and tweet (and a bunch of other stuff that only younger people know how to do). That’s all it took to raise $6.5 million, which will be distributed across the country to a variety of underfunded mental health programs. Unfortunately, since I don’t pay for this company’s service, my many vacuous texts on Wednesday didn’t count toward this total. I hope that highlighting the issue here instead will count for something.
A lot of people shared a lot about themselves on Twitter, Facebook, and other venues over the course of the day. The initiative did indeed get people talking about signifiant mental health challenges, such as anxiety and depression, as well as eating disorders, postpartum depression, relationship challenges, and the aftermath of sexual abuse and physical violence. So many people, even famous people, talked openly and publicly. People feel much too much shame around mental illness. It’s time for that to end.
Why do people struggle to speak openly about their mental health challenges? They often feel like they are the only ones with those feelings because no one talks about them. And often those listening have trouble knowing how to respond; they forget that just being there to listen is often enough. If the person you’re talking to can’t offer the type of support you need, find someone else to listen.
Are you one of those people who doesn’t talk about such things at all? Well, give that up already and start talking. Let me be your role model. I’ve written about my anxiety and, less often, my depression (remember my Sadness doll?). I don’t share everything with you because I don’t think that would be appropriate in this forum, but I’ve shared a lot. Hopefully from my openness you’ve learned that feelings, even bad ones, are normal. (Either that or you’ve determined that I’m a deeply disturbed clinician.) If my disclosures have helped even one person to feel less alone, I’m happy.
I may be a psychologist by training, but, first and foremost, I’m a person with feelings, and those feelings occasionally aren’t happy. I am lucky to have some tools at my disposal to help me through my rough patches, but knowing what to do and doing it are two different things. Sometimes all the tools in my arsenal aren’t enough. I’ve openly shared that I visit a therapist because I want to encourage you to seek help if you’re feeling like you can’t move through your funk on your own. There is no stigma in that. If anyone derides you for needing help (including you, Tom Cruise), give that person my number and I’ll gladly
tell him off educate him.
Wednesday is over, but please don’t stop talking. For all you know, you may inspire someone else to open up. Trust me, it feels great knowing you’ve helped someone share the hard stuff.