i was having coffee with a friend the other day, ok, we were actually sipping on some fruit tea, but it was at a coffee shop. we were catching up, talking about the upcoming release of my first book Silence & Noise. since the book deals with lily’s battle with mental illness we focused our conversation, for a time, on that. i shared with her my concerns that the topic of mental illness is so overlooked, especially in regard to today’s youth. and to me that is frightening because as i mentioned in my last post, teenage problems turn into adult problems. so we just end up with a bunch of people battling something they don’t really understand in a world that turns a blind eye to the topic in general.
i realized during this conversation with my friend just how fearful people can be of the topic. she shared with me her hesitation to use the label, “mental illness.” this friend told me someone close to her used that label in reference to themselves and how that bothered her. when she heard it her mind was taken to another place, she was uncomfortable hearing it and especially hearing it in relation to someone she cared about. somehow “mental illness” has become a dirty word. something that makes people feel weird or awkward. somehow it’s easier to label someone depressed, or emotional, or kinda crazy, than to say they suffer from mental illness. an illness of the mind. i wonder if it conjures up images of doctors performing lobotomies. whatever it is, there is something about it that makes us uneasy.
my mind always reels back to thoughts of other illnesses, diseases. things that are often more obvious and apparent. things we have just learned to accept as battles people might face. i think about cancer. i think about telling someone that a friend has cancer and the automatic response of sympathy, or anger at the disease, or concern for the individual. we don’t think, “oh, yikes, i’ll keep my distance.” then i think about telling someone that one of my friends is battling with mental illness, that she suffers from schizophrenia. and how those reactions might change.
our minds are these sacred places and the idea of something not being right in our minds, or in someone else’s mind is frightening. because if you can’t trust your own mind, then where does that leave you. but why is it that we automatically assume the worst. that initially we are hesitant about someone with a mental illness, like they have some disease we might catch if we get too close. mental illness and all the other labels that go along with it have become these dirty words. the stigma attached to them runs so deep. we look back on lives of notable figures who were rumored to have some form of mental illness and we idolize their creations. not really thinking much beyond that. we see the loss of a teenager, or adult, who has taken their life and we mourn, we think, “why didn’t they just tell someone something was wrong” not realizing that the stigma, the stares, the whispers, all of those things become roadblocks and barriers on the journey. but it is important to remember we are all responsible for ourselves and we can’t point fingers and say, “i never told anyone about my battles, i was waiting for them to ask me.” we can’t assume anyone will know what someone is suffering from if we don’t speak up. yet at the same time the environment surrounding the topic of mental illness may not present itself as the safest place. which just makes everything complicated.
i wish people wouldn’t laugh uncomfortably, or fidget when i bring up the topic of mental illness. but i hope that the story of lily can help break down some of those walls. i hope it can start conversations. i hope it can impact those who battle with mental illness as well as those who do not. i hope we can realize it is an important topic for all of us, no matter which side of it we are standing on.