10/03/2014 10:53 am ET Updated Dec 03, 2014

What's the Bigger Issue: The Symptom or the Sufferer?

Had an interesting conversation the other day with one of my coffee shop friends. He alluded to having read some of the pieces I've posted here . Which -- let's be honest here, since we're amongst friends -- is still surreal. But he made an interesting observation regarding the public perception of folks with mental health issues.

He grew up in a different era and area than I. When he was growing up if you suffered depression, anxiety, or any other significant mental health or behavioral issues you were automatically a "bad" kid. I guess, to a certain extent, that still held very true when I was a kid. The ones with ADD were in the "special" classes. It didn't matter they were (are) some of the smartest people I've had the privilege of knowing. However, because of any perceived or actual behavioral or mental health issues they were shunted into a special needs classroom. Because they were there they were always treated as less than by their peers and, even occasionally, by their teachers.

These attitudes have improved over the past 10-15 years. But not too much and certainly not enough. We may no longer always send those afflicted with mental health issues to a four-wall asylum, but the societal asylum is worse.

I beg you, when you are confronted with people -- especially kids -- who suffer mental health issues, don't ignore them, don't treat them as less than. I guarantee they feel far more than they ever let on they're feeling. They're feeling far more then they're able to articulate. We shouldn't vilify them for having mental health issues. We should help them understand who they are. We should celebrate them for being who they are. We should help them understand that just because they're not a "perfect little snowflake," that doesn't mean they're not beautiful, special, or capable of taking on the world. If we celebrate their uniqueness instead of shunting them off into the background, instead of making them feel like everything about them is wrong, why can't we -- as society at large -- recognize that all of our lives are better when we have people in our lives who aren't cookie cutter?


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