Picture this- It’s a Tuesday morning and the sun is shining. You have had your cup of coffee and are on your way to work. Suddenly, you have to pull the car over because you are having a diabetic emergency. You were born with this condition and have learned to manage your entire life. Your insulin is low, and you do not have your medication or any food. What started as a beautiful day is now a medical crisis. You call 911, get to the emergency room, and are treated for your diabetes. Hopefully you go to your doctor’s office, where you get checked regularly and let them know about the emergency. You continue to manage your diabetes; while hard, you continue, because your life depends on it.
Now let’s change the story around. It is still a beautiful Tuesday morning. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping. You have had your morning coffee and head off to work. Except this time, you experience what you believe to be a heart attack- you are hyperventilating, sweating, your mind is racing and you feel like your body is shutting down. You call 911. At the Emergency Room, you are told that your EKG came back normal. The doctor gets some more information and then clarifies that what you experienced is called a panic attack, and not a heart attack. Shame immediately sets in. They probably prescribe you a sedative and send you on your way. You think to yourself how did this ever happen to ME? You go home, shut your door, and tell no one of the experience.
What is the difference between those two scenarios? One is a physical illness and one is a mental health illness. Why do having a mental health diagnosis and managing your mental health feel so shameful? For some people, a mental health diagnosis makes them feel weak and like a failure. Those with mental illnesses often have a concerns of judgment and discrimination, which causes many to keep their struggles to themselves. Having a mental health diagnosis does not have to be like this, and should not be like this.
According to NAMI, National Alliance on Mental Health, 20% of youth in America have a mental health condition, and 18.5% of adults in America also have a mental health diagnosis. That is a good chunk of the United States. That is a lot of shame. We make assumptions about people. Assumptions that they are well rounded successful individuals who have never struggled with the thought of suicide. We assume that no one else has struggles with emotions, thoughts or behaviors. We assume this, because we do not talk about it. Yet, if we talk about it, then it leaves the potential for being vulnerable.
We allow people to treat us the way we are treated. We allow people to judge us for having depression, anxiety, bipolar, because we also judge ourselves. We are unconsciously choosing to be a devalued and discriminated against. It is scary to put ourselves out there, and hope that we will be accepted. It is called being vulnerable, and being vulnerable is uncomfortable, scary, and threatening.
I am not asking you to go out and tell everyone about your struggles with depression, or that you almost died from withholding food. I am asking you to not label these experiences as good, bad, ugly, or shameful. A person with diabetes is not defined by their diabetes, just like a person with bipolar should not be defined by their bipolar diagnosis. There is so much more to that person that what they have been diagnosed. There is so much more to you or your family member. You are a mother, a music teacher, a mechanic, a brother, an avid swimmer, or even -believe it or not- a therapist.
I am asking you to break the silence. Have the courage to speak up to someone you trust, and get help. Find the strength within yourself to talk about mental health openly. Find the compassion in your heart to ask someone if they need help. Find the patience within you to listen to the stories of those hurting around you. Find the hope that not everyone will judge you. And above all else, don’t choose shame!
Every person is touched in some way by mental health. May is Mental Health Awareness Month. We hope that we have inspired you to be proud of who you are, and not be afraid to reach out for help. You do not have to be alone, Davidson Family Therapy is here to help in any way we can.