For the past three days I have been bested by a wicked stomach virus. My head has been pounding, I've been sweating like an Olympian, and I've excreted more fluids from my body than I knew I produced. While it's slightly improper to reveal such intimate details of one's illness, ultimately I type without fear of discrimination because I know I'm in good company. Because like it or not, we are human, we have stomachs, and we are prone to ailments.
But what if I told you I've spent the past three days bed-ridden with depression? What if I said my thoughts moved so rapidly in my head that it pounded? That I felt so anxious I vomited? Well that lowers the tone of the conversation, doesn't it?
We compare notes on our physical health. We share tips on eradicating migraines, we recommend doctors and we review hip replacements. Yet we can't bring ourselves to talk openly about depression, anxiety and mental health disorders. The recent passing of Robin Williams draws attention to the stigma around mental health. As words like "selfish" and "weak" buzzed around the Twittersphere I realized that there is still an overwhelming belief that mental health issues are self-inflicted. There's a thought pool that depression is deliberate.
With three clicks on Google I've discovered the cause of my stomach virus, or Gastroenteritis, as its officially known. I more than likely came into contact with an infected person, infected food, or my body failed to heed off a certain bacteria. Fascinating isn't it? Ultimately contracting it was out of my control.
Discovering the cause of mental illness is more complicated. What we do know is that it can be a combination of biological, psychological, environmental and genetic conditions. And like airborne bacteria, avoiding it is outside one's authority.
Stereotypes and extremes also stunt conversation. During a recent mental health campaign I encountered a young woman who spoke of feeling stressed, anxious and erratic. She said "I felt I was on the verge of a breakdown, yet I wasn't shaving my head and smashing windows so I thought I was doing okay." When compared to high-profile media cases, recognizing the day-to-day symptoms of a mental health disorder is challenging.
The conversation needs to open. Globally.
The phrase "we need to talk about mental health" is uttered daily, but I'm very conscious of ensuring that this blog is not another sermon. With a fellow Irish woman, I am working on a global initiative to broaden the discussion on mental health. Together we're inviting you to do three things. Firstly, acknowledge that you have mental health. Secondly, think of a time in your life when your mental health suffered. Thirdly, write a letter to that version of yourself sharing the advice you wished you'd have heard. We're collecting all the letters and collaborating the advice. We're hoping to create a beautiful authentic piece of media that anyone can share and say "I contributed to this, this affects me." Its a way to start talking without the diagnosis, without the labels and without the fear of discrimination.
Most importantly, it's a way to say, like it or not, we are human, we have minds, and we are prone to ailments.
See more at lovefromfutureyou.com.
Have a story about depression that you'd like to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or give us a call at (860) 348-3376, and you can record your story in your own words. Please be sure to include your name and phone number.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.