Today is Bell Let's Talk Day, a day for both talking about mental health and advertising a giant corporation!
Corporate social awareness days like Bell Let's Talk always bring me mixed feelings. On one hand, people talking about mental health is really valuable. If someone is inspired on this day to share their experience with depression, anxiety or some other issue, and that makes someone else feel less alone, then wonderful! Plus, it raises money to support community-driven mental health projects.
On the other hand, however, most of what I see on these awareness-raising days are people sending well-meaning tweets, saying things like, "There shouldn't be any stigma around mental illness," or, "Let's talk more about this issue."
That's it; that's the full extent.
It's well-meaning, but completely ineffective at actually removing stigma or making a person living with a mental health issue feel more comfortable bringing it up.
As someone who has suffered from severe self-hatred, who has confronted her own stigma taking antidepressants and who lives with the ongoing effects of depression in her life, here are things that actually help me feel like I can talk about my experiences.
Be open with your own struggles
If you truly think the world would be a better place if people were more open about their inner struggles, then it's best to start with yourself. What are your insecurities? Fears? Hopes? Beliefs about yourself? You don't have to share them all on social media, but you can start opening up to the people you care about in person and make an effort to curate a slightly-less-perfect online presence.
A deluge of concern that can't go anywhere just feels uncomfortable.
If someone is open with me about their own struggles, regardless of the extent, I feel more able to be open with them about mine. Vulnerability is hard and scary, and it feels a lot safer if someone has already bared some part of their own soft underbelly.
Don't make it a huge thing
When I share with someone that depression is a part of my life, one typical reaction is that they become hyper-focused on the depression and pile on the compassion and concern. This generally makes me feel like I'm on the operating table and someone is shining a spotlight on my disease, pointing at it and sympathizing about it, without being able to take it out or do anything to solve the problem.
Kindness and sympathy are nice, but a deluge of concern that can't go anywhere just feels uncomfortable. I wouldn't spend 15 minutes telling you how brave you are for going out for dinner when you have diabetes, after all.
Feel free to ask questions
If you don't understand something about depression or want to hear more about my experience, then I am pretty happy to chat. Questions about what it's like, what helps me feel better, how I realized that I was depressed or other such things are totally welcome.
Watch your language
I know there's a lot of rules governing our language right now, and it can be easy to lose track. Plus, everyone has their own triggers. For example, I don't like the term mental illness, as it sounds like a medical way of saying "sick in the head." I don't think I'm sick.
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However, there are some pretty standard go-to things to avoid, such as casually throwing around the terms "crazy" and "schizo," or complaining about living with your depressed brother and asking, "Why can't he just get over it?" This kind of language has a serious edge of judgement to it, and tends to make me feel like I should keep my depression hidden away.
These are the things that make me feel most comfortable discussing my own experience with depression. Of course, everyone is different and someone in your life might prefer you respond differently. If you're unsure, a little kindness goes a long way, and you can always ask.
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