The last few days have got me thinking, like seriously thinking, not so much about mental illness; but about people with mental illness. It makes me glad that mental illness is getting more and more attention these days, I think that's a fantastic thing, but I think it's a relatively small part of the battle we're facing. I can tell you, even the thought coming into my brain was awkward and made me a bit uncomfortable. Reflecting back on that awkward, uncomfortable feeling right now, makes me feel ashamed. Before I get a whole lot further, in no way in this blog post am I saying we shouldn't continue to fight the battle to educate more people about severity and prevalence of mental illness, but I have a few thoughts on this.
Mental Health issues have a history of being stigmatized in this country, only until very recently has it been ok to struggle with life. In some circles, while I have no proof, I'd imagine some of this very same stigma still exists. The issue that came to mind for me was the fact that, while we are battling these diseases, sometimes the people get lost in the fray. It's good to understand depression and schizophrenia, but as with most things, these things manifest themselves differently in different people. While it may seem obvious to some people that certain characteristics of a person may reflect depression or some other ailment, the truth is that even people that don't show the "telltale" signs they still may be afflicted.
You see I was always viewed as being "a little off", "weird" or "crazy" and certainly my behavior in certain situations would lend validity to that assertion by our modern definition. But what if there was something more going on, what if this "craziness" was to fulfill a desire to be accepted because acceptance wasn't readily available at home? What if violence and a myriad abusive behaviors were part of this person's life? Stay with me, what if those unwise risks were really a cry for help. This is all hypothetical for some people, unfortunately I'm not one of those people. As a society, we've gotten very good at plastering a smile across our faces and telling everyone that "everything is great!" while inside we are being torn apart.
It's not selfish to want to be accepted, liked and valued; it's a natural feeling and not feeling this way has a tendency to wreak havoc in person's mind. I was fortunate to have people in my life that were willing to be true friends to me, in all reality, it probably saved my life. We're only as good as we treat people, and while most people don't go out of their way to be nasty to people who are ill; indifference can be interpreted that way. I really just want to encourage you to be open to the possibility that the people you come across might have some very real pain in their background and consider how a short conversation or a kind word can make a huge difference in someone's life. I'm not saying, we should play psychologist or pry into their lives, but if we consider what people may have gone through or may be going through and treat them with kindness, we have the potential of making a positive impact in their life.
I don't write this to tell people to stop caring about the medical and physiological side of this very complex topic, please please please continue doing that. My hope is that you can start to see these interpersonal situations as an opportunity to make someone feel really special just for being who they are, it doesn't take as much as you might think. Life is hard, being human is hard and every single person is living with the pain of something they've done or something that's been done to them. Let's help each other do this thing called life. My prayer is that you (collective you, myself included) will start to challenge your assumptions and preconceptions about people and to take the courageous step to reach out to someone. I share this from personal experience, you never know, that conversation and expression of kindness might be exactly what that person needs at that moment.