The Importance of Speaking Up About Mental Illness

Mental illness: It’s something that is often kept quiet. While it was normal for generations past to consider all types of illness a secret, the stigma attached to physical health conditions has largely passed and people freely discuss their physical health histories with their extended family members and doctors. When it comes to mental illness, however, many people are still living in the secretive past. Just as it’s important to talk about physical health issues, it’s also vital that mental health issues lose their cloak of shame and become part of conversations between family members, friends, and society in general.

Rates of Mental Illness Are Rising

One reason why it’s important to talk about mental illness and mental health conditions is that the number of mental health diagnoses has risen substantially.

Nearly 20 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with some type of mental health condition each year.

Part of the reason for the increase in diagnosis is that more people are becoming familiar with the symptoms of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other mental illnesses. Since they are able to recognize the symptoms of mental illness, they are more likely to seek treatment when the symptoms arise.

With an increase in the rates of mental health conditions, it’s important to talk and raise awareness about these issues. Most people who attempt or die from suicide have been suffering from a mental health condition, such as depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or schizophrenia. If a friend or a relative is showing signs of a mental illness, speaking up could get them into treatment and ultimately save their life.

Speaking Up Shows Others They Are Not Alone

Having a mental health condition can be terrifying and lonely. People who are suffering from the symptoms of various mental illnesses often feel that they are the only ones they know who has the condition. They might not know that their symptoms can be treated and they might lose hope of ever again feeling “normal.” Even if they are receiving treatment, they might feel guilty and ashamed.

By speaking up, you can show these individuals that they are not alone. If just one person talks about their experience with mental illness, others are sure to join in. Soon, you could be in the midst of a wider conversation about how to detect mental illness, how to deal with it, and how to seek treatment. Over time, this can reduce the shame and secrecy surrounding these health conditions.

Speaking Up Can Reduce the Stigma Surrounding Mental Health Conditions

Many people treat mental health concerns differently from the way they’d treat physical health conditions. If your friend was dealing with frequent headaches or a broken leg, they’d go to the doctor to get treatment. Similarly, you would likely not have any shame talking about your sprained wrist, and you would probably confide in close friends that you have a condition like diabetes or cancer. This is not necessarily the case when it comes to conditions such as anxiety, depression, or OCD.

It’s important to speak up for those, including yourself, who are dealing with these issues. There is no reason why mental health conditions should not be treated like physical health conditions. You don’t need to proclaim your diagnosis to the world, but a comment to a close friend about going to see your counselor should not, in an ideal world, be a shame-inducing experience.

Be careful not to contribute to the stigma that those with mental health concerns often deal with. For example, never imply that someone’s depression is their fault or that if they just took some vitamins and got more sleep, they could stop taking their anti-anxiety medications. If you wouldn’t say something similar to a person with heart disease, bronchitis, or a broken bone, don’t say it to someone with mental illness.

Celebrities Who Have Spoken About Mental Illness

Because this is such a vital issue, many celebrities have spoken up about their own struggles with mental illness.

  • Gina Rodriguez, the star of Jane the Virgin, talked about her anxiety on Instagram.
  • Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, has recently spoken out about his feelings of loss and his mental health struggles following the death of his mother, Princess Diana, 20 years ago.
  • Chrissy Teigen revealed her personal struggles with postpartum depression and anxiety to Glamour readers.
  • Ricki Lake has also opened up about her ex-husband’s battle with bipolar disorder, which ultimately was responsible for his suicide.

Real-World Ways You Can Speak Up

Even if you do not have the fame or clout of the celebrities who are talking about mental illness, don’t think that you can’t make a difference. There are some ways you can impact others by taking a stand against the stigma of mental health conditions. Here are some of them:

  • Talk to your children. If you have kids or teens, it’s important to talk to them about mental illness in a matter-of-fact way, just as you’d talk to them about the common cold, a stomach virus, or how to handle a cut or scrape. Kids should know that they can talk to you about their feelings and that if they begin to show signs of depression, anxiety, or any other mental health concerns, you will take them for treatment.
  • Participate in a walk or other fundraiser to raise not only funds but also awareness of mental health conditions. When you ask people to sponsor you, tell them a bit about the mental illnesses you’re hoping to raise awareness about.
  • Know the symptoms of common mental health conditions such as depression or substance addiction, and talk frankly to a friend who is exhibiting them. Understand that they might get angry or feel hurt, but ultimately, you will be helping them to recognize that they need help.
  • Support legislation that helps people get the mental health care they need. Advocate for early screening and intervention for children who exhibit symptoms of mental illness, and stand up for services for veterans who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health conditions.

Speaking out about mental health issues can positively impact you, your family, your friends, and the community that you live in. Do your part in reducing the stigma attached to mental illness by speaking up and advocating for those who need help.