What I am about to express here has taken up a big chunk of my heart for about two years. When I started my first year of university, I was looking forward to making new friends, going to bed whenever I felt like it, and blossoming into the sophisticated member of society I was destined to be. Instead, there were days I skipped class and any form of socialization in favour of ruminating over every possible thought I had to the point of vomiting. I was sad, anxious, and the fact that what I was feeling was literally debilitating left no doubt in my mind that I was sick. Now, the reaction that one normally expects when they are sick—care, compassion, and concern—is not what I received. I instead felt looked down upon, misunderstood, and in some cases outright ignored. My depression and anxiety did not manifest themselves in physical ways, which meant my torment was primarily mental. What I was experiencing was stigma.
Mental illness, just like any other illness, is a diagnosable condition that requires treatment and medical care. And, just like any other illness, the person dealing with it often has no control over its symptoms. However, the pain that mental illness causes is not tangible or easy to see, and therefore people often do not know how to react, and become frightened. This then creates the label of “you are your illness” which quickly translates into lay man’s terms of “crazy” and “psycho.” Obviously, this causes the mentally ill person to feel isolated and unloved, and can unfortunately even lead to suicide.
What is to be done about this? Well, the most important thing to realize when someone close to you is suffering from a mental illness is that they have not suddenly transformed into someone or something else. If a person has a broken leg or the flu, they don’t suddenly become “the cripple” or “the bacteria infested hotbed” do they? No. They are sick; it is really just as simple as that. If someone in my school community had recognized me as Amelia instead of just “depression,” my recovery probably would have been a bit less painful. That being said though, I don’t mean that you are supposed to “fix” your loved one. This may sound cliché but “I love you, you’re going to get through this” says much more than any pep talk or amateur diagnosis. All that really matters is you being there, and recognizing that this person’s dreams, passions, and memories are still there; they just need to find their way back to them.
I guess the point that I am really trying to drive home with this is to remember. Remember that we as human beings are multi-faceted, and not one of us is defined by one thing. Remember that your best friend who has just been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder is still the person you talked for two hours on the phone with after your first kiss in middle school. Your neighbour who has been hospitalized for schizophrenia still paid you to pull weeds out of their front garden when you were eleven. Your first grade teacher who is having a nervous breakdown still gave you half an hour longer for snack time in the afternoon.
Remember, and love.