I just learned that May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Last year I decided to open up about my depression and how it has affected my life since I was very young. I have been lucky to receive so much love and support, but when I was going through the worst times I would never have been brave enough to talk about it the way I do now. (Really, I can’t say that I will always be able to in the future, either.) There is so much sadness and pain and loneliness and shame that you are smothered by it. You are trying to act like nothing is wrong because you should be able to just “be happy.” You can sometimes recognize when good things happen to you, but you will feel you don’t deserve them and you will feel guilty that those good things cannot make you feel better. You don’t want anyone to know because they’ll think you crazy or pathetic or incapable and you are afraid of things that happen to people with labels like that. You also feel worthless, like you are a burden to anyone around you, so you try, however you can, to get by without hurting them worse, without making trouble, without saying words you cannot take back.
Using myself as an example, I told my friends and family that if they have known me since the age of 12, they were there for one or more episodes of major depression. Life-threatening. Maybe they knew or suspected, but probably not. I was very good at pretending. So good that it nearly killed me, several times over.
The reason I’m sharing this, and in such dramatic fashion, is to remind all of us that we really don’t know how someone might be feeling. Even (or sometimes especially) those who love you the most might not be able to say, “I’m not okay. I need help.” We can’t change that, although I hope with every atom of my being that any of you would reach out if you needed help. What we can change is the way we talk about mental health, starting by talking about it at all. We can use words like depression and anxiety and therapy and psychiatrist without a tint of judgement or shame. We can remember that words can wound, sometimes worse than bruises you can see. The upside is that being kind and thoughtful to one another can save lives.
You can make a difference without even knowing it, just by being a friend.