Clinical Depression. Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Borderline Personality Disorder. So many words, and yet none of them can actually describe what I’ve been living with these past few years.
Today is Let’s Talk day in Canada. The annual campaign is a national conversation to help reduce the stigma and promote awareness and understanding of mental illness.
Today my voice has a bit more power. Today I want to share that I recently spent 3 weeks in the Psychiatry unit of my local hospital. There is so much stigma attached to Psych wards (thanks Hollywood…) that I’ve been nervous about sharing my experience. Turns out it was the best thing I could have done for myself. I needed more help than I, or anyone else near me, could offer. It was a safe place, and I was surrounded by people offering care and compassion about my illness. Now I’m home and struggling with next steps. I have a lot of therapeutic work to do, both on my own and with therapists. This isn’t going to just go away.
We all know people who have a diagnosis of mental illness. There are also people around us who have mental illness and are afraid to talk about it. I have a friend who is diagnosed Bipolar. You wouldn’t know. My sister has lived with Generalized Anxiety Disorder nearly her whole life. She has to hide it in order to succeed in her career. Many women experience Post Partum Depression. They’re expected to be joyful at having gone through an incredible trauma to their body.
Of those of us who know someone with a mental illness, many of us are unsure how to help. From my experience, the best you can do for them is to offer care and compassion. Extend your hands when they seem to withdraw. Create a real face-to-face connection and ask how you can help. Don’t let them hide. Don’t let them stay in the shadows. Don’t let them feel unseen, unheard, or unimportant. Stand with them, and give them a hand to hold onto while they take their next steps forward.