“Everyone has something.” That’s what my Abnormal Psychology professor told our class my first year when we were learning about the barriers that prevent people from seeking therapy. “Everyone has something,” she said, insinuating that our issues are only our own if we make them so. “Everyone has something,” she said, reminding us that we are never alone.
Let’s say you wake up one morning and you have a terrible sore throat. You’re achy, you’re congested, and your head hurts. Immediately, you recognize that you’re sick, and maybe you even go to the doctor just to make sure it isn’t something more serious. Either way, you are not going to class; that much is certain. You reach out to your professors and let them know how you’re feeling, and then you reach out to your friends to ask if they can give you the notes from class that day.
Now let’s imagine that for the past two weeks, you’ve felt fatigued no matter how much sleep you get. You don’t want to go out with friends; you can’t find the motivation to do even a simple reading for class, let alone put in the effort to go. Would you recognize that these are all common signs of depression? If you did, would you know where to go to get help?
Often, we tend to focus solely on our physical health while stigmatizing others for battling their inner demons, as if physical health is the only factor in determining our well-being. Did you know that approximately the percentage of people who will get the flu this year is the same as the people currently in treatment for mental health-related issues? This approximation doesn’t even account for the countless others struggling with mental health who do not seek treatment or do not meet the criteria for a diagnosis. Clearly, mental health is not a novel issue.
If you got that text from your friend that they needed the notes for class because they were sick in bed with the flu, would you tell them to “push through it; somebody else has it worse”? So why, when you find yourself overwhelmed, stressed and at the end of your rope, do you tell yourself that you should be able to “muscle through it?”
Forty million. That’s how many adults struggle with anxiety-related disorders in the United States. You are not alone. You are not the first person to have felt what you’re feeling or to have dealt with what you’re going through, and you will not be the last person to grow from similar experiences.
When our mental health is suffering, it may feel like things will never get better because we are looking at the big picture rather than managing the current moment. We are trying to imagine ourselves already fully healed, refreshed and rested before we’ve given ourselves the necessary time, space, support and clarity to begin these processes. It’s like trying to win a marathon before you’ve even put on your running shoes.
When we are struggling with our mental health, it’s like our brain’s immune system is fighting a mental virus. This virus can be a breeding ground for intrusive thoughts, insomnia, insecurity, paranoia, etc. Just like when we have the flu, you need to support your immune system by giving yourself time to rest and fight off this virus before you begin to feel better. Recognize that you might not feel better immediately, and just like when you need to go to a doctor to get an antibiotic, it’s ok if you need to reach out to a mental health professional for help healing. Give yourself the space to breathe, and start small with your recovery. If focusing on the big picture feels daunting, then just focus on getting through the next 10 minutes, and then another 10 minutes, and then, when you feel ready, plan out one activity for yourself for tomorrow. Continue this incremental process, and, before you know it, you’ve made it out of the storm! Just make sure you start with the 10 minutes rather than the tomorrows.
Seasons will change, time marches on, and this too shall pass.
“Everyone has something.” Remember those 40 million adults with anxiety? Of those, only about 36.9% will seek treatment compared to nearly 85% of adults who visited with a doctor or other health care provider for any ailment in 2019.
Mental health visibility and mental health treatment are undoubtedly linked. Many of the stigmas which currently prevent people from seeking treatment are related to our portrayal of mental health in the media. From “Psycho” to “American Horror Story: Asylum,” those struggling with mental illnesses are often portrayed as monsters and murderers, unfit to interact with other members of society. Take the critically acclaimed movie “Split” from 2016. We see Kevin Crumb struggle with dissociative identity disorder (DID), which affects about 1.5% to 2% of people in the United States. In the movie, one of Crumb’s alternate identities is known as “the beast,” a violent murderer and menace to society. Now, imagine you are one of the 2% of people in the United States with DID. How are you supposed to notify your employers or talk to your friends about your condition without fearing that they will think you, too, are a monster? If “Split” is your only basis of knowledge about what DID is, you would probably ostracize a person who told you they have DID. When all the messages from the outside tell you there is something wrong with you, you inevitably begin to believe it.
Imagine now that you are one of the untold thousands of people with undiagnosed DID; certainly, a movie like “Split” will not motivate you to seek treatment, and so you suffer in silence for fear of being stigmatized.
The reality is that DID does not turn people into “the beast,” and our current research shows that people with DID are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. And yet, dissociative disorders are continually portrayed negatively in the media. DID is not the only disorder that is given this bad press either; virtually all mental health disorders are trivialized and stigmatized in modern media.
“Everyone has something,” and our somethings will not be our downfall because we are not alone. Period. This is the message we need to start sharing, and therefore, before we can have mental health awareness, we must have far-reaching mental health education and re-education programs.
Above all else, remember that you are not alone. You do not have to go through the tomorrows alone or even the next 10 minutes alone. You don’t need to have the strength to solve the problem by yourself; you only need the strength to reach out.