Lets talk about Mental Illness

 I think mental illness can sometimes be hard to understand if you have never really experienced it or never known someone who has experienced it. I guess it's not like mental illness is a taboo subject anymore because it is commonly portrayed and spoken about in the media. Yet, it's like there is this certain image or stigma attached to the way mental health conditions are often represented.

I mean, you see these celebrity gossip magazines that will post candid photos of an actress who gets caught outside her front yard grabbing the mail and they will claim she must be severely depressed just because she's wearing track pants and no make-up. Then there is those movies where someone gets broken up with and all the scenes feature them lying in a dirty bedroom full of unwashed dishes and clothes. Sometimes, interestingly enough, mental illness also gets romanticised. For example, those novels in which the main protagonist falls in love with the beautiful but 'troubled' girl and the whole book is centred around on how he has to 'fix' her. Even the word 'self-care' has this cute connotation to it. Like, when people think 'self-care' they usually tend to think of activities like having a bath or making a cup of tea or giving themselves a face mask. I mean, people rarely hear 'self-care' and think about how often self-care is cleaning your bedroom or doing your laundry or washing your hair after a week.

It is not to say that all of these cases are not representative of mental illness, it's more so I feel there is a certain stigma associated with mental illness. That is people with mental health conditions are unable to function or that it mental illness is always obvious. Yet the reality is, you might actually know someone with mental illness and have no idea because they seem so 'happy' or 'normal' or they just seem to function so well. I knew this guy in high school. He was the class clown – always laughing and always making everyone else laugh as well. He seemed like the happiest person I knew. I found out several years later that he had actually been battling severe depression during that time and humour had just been his coping mechanism.

It was a shock because it shows that even people who seem so happy and so together, can still be battling their own demons behind closed doors. It really made me think about the people around me and made me wonder what people are dealing with. It made me think about myself as well. The amount of times I was dealing with something tough and yet when I caught up with friends or family I would act totally fine and cover up how I was actually feeling. And that's the thing about mental illness – just because people seem 'ok' doesn't always mean that they aren't dealing with stuff behind closed doors.

Mental illness isn't always noticeable or openly talked about. That is why I think it's important to be kind to the people around you and check in regularly to see how people are going whether it is your family member, friend, work colleague, or even neighbour. Be aware of any recent changes. Sometimes it can be subtle hints like noticing that your friend has recently been more withdrawn or skipping out on activities they would have typically enjoyed. Perhaps, it might be that your partner has stopped sleeping at night or perhaps is oversleeping during the day. Maybe your family member seems more teary or irritable lately and you are unsure as to why. This doesn't necessarily mean that something may be wrong but it can be good to check in and see how they have been feeling lately.

Remember, just as it can be helpful to check in on others, it is important to treat yourself with this same kind of kindness and awareness. For instance, I know when I might not be feeling too well when I find myself oversleeping during the day or I don't have any motivation to do tasks like clean my house or wash the dishes. Once I notice this trend, I make sure to go back to basics – getting my sleep, exercise, and dietary habits back in check. Most importantly, however, I make sure to reach out to someone to chat about how I am feeling. If you would like someone to talk to about how you are feeling please give LETSS a call at 1800 013 755 or start a web chat via www.letss.org.au.

(Image from Unsplash by Vonecia Carswell)

So your friend says they’re not okay…now what?

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