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  • Writer's pictureAva Marie LaMonica

To the People Who Say They Understand Mental Illness

How accepting what we do not understand is the key to mental health awareness.

Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

One of the great things about modern times is that society has finally become more engaged on the topic of mental health. Although the stigma still very well exists, people, for the most part, have no problem admitting "I have anxiety", "I have depression", etc.

These statements are usually validated by sympathy (if the person does not have the disorder, but sympathizes with your struggle) or empathy (if the person has the disorder, or maybe a similar disorder, and empathizes with your struggle).

As far as we come from the 1960s Nurse Ratched era, where the mentally ill were one of the most targeted and looked down upon individuals, the 21st century is far from rainbows and butterflies (as much as the "This too shall pass" quotes on Instagram make it seem otherwise).

I am very open about my almost lifelong struggle with OCD, social anxiety, and depression and have met many people throughout my life who also struggle with various forms of mental illness. The unfortunate thing I often find is that people are quick to show sympathy or empathy towards those with mental illness, but fail to follow through on their so-called "awareness".

Why? That's a simple answer.

People are happy to accept the parts of another's mental illness that do not personally affect them. The parts that are hidden and fairly easy to deal with. When the bad and the ugly parts of mental illness manifest themselves, you'd be surprised how quickly these "sympathetic" and "empathetic" individuals turn their back.

A person will admit they have social anxiety, but when they keep to themselves or fail to acknowledge everyone in the room, they're "weird" or "stuck-up".

A person will admit they have OCD, but when they ruminate and obsess over seemingly minuscule things they're "uptight" or "irrational".

A person will say they struggle with ADHD, but when they have trouble making plans or zone out during a conversation, they're "rude" or "ditzy".

A person will admit they struggle with Bipolar Disorder, but when they have difficulty managing their highs and lows, they're "crazy" or "psycho".

A person will say they struggle with depression, but when they've isolated themselves or haven't worked up the motivation to find a job, they're "lazy" or "a bum".

I have witnessed these judgments my entire life, whether it be about myself or someone else. People are stuck in their own conventional ideas of what mental illness should look like (perhaps comparing it to their own struggles) and cast judgmental adjectives onto anyone who falls outside of these conventions.

No, I am not saying that having a mental illness means that it is excusable to not work on certain traits that can be personally challenging for others to deal with. I personally believe that therapy is extremely beneficial for anyone who struggles with mental health in order to better learn or manage how their disorder may negatively impact others.

We're all guilty of misjudging those off of something they cannot help due to their mental illness. Some, much more than others. Over the years, I've learned to become very cognizant of this, because I know the feeling all too well of being judged or misunderstood for something that's not intentional.

Now, I strive my hardest to catch myself before casting these judgments and make it an effort to stop and recognize that I will not ever understand what it's like to be inside this person's head or walk a day in their shoes, therefore, I have no right to place judgment.

To live in a society that genuinely radiates mental health awareness, we must be open-minded and accept what we do not understand.


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