A couple of weeks ago a woman I have not spoken to in thirty years contacted me to ask for my advice regarding her college-age son. She was having some serious worries about his depression and general mental health. I was more than willing and happy to offer any advice I could, but it made me wonder; why wasn’t she asking a medical professional or a close friend? Why was she reaching out to someone she knew thirty-years ago?
The answer to this question can also answer why I didn’t divulge what was happening to my son in his teenage years. I kept it secret and hidden from the general public. Why? Fear, shame, and embarrassment, all words surrounding stigma. Looking back now, I wonder why I was so afraid. Since I have “come out” about my son’s mental illness everyone I know has been supportive and encouraging, but such is not the case for many. I remain in the lucky few. It wasn’t easy for me to discuss my son’s illness. There were many awkward conversations, but the more I talked about mental health, the more comfortable I became and the more people I found who understood, empathized or were going through a similar situation. And these individuals wanted to talk about it openly and honestly. They wanted information, guidance, or just someone to listen.
Parents, caretakers, siblings, and friends want to discuss the mental illness in their lives. They want to know that others are going through similar difficulties; they want to know that they are not alone. If those who are directly living through the mental illness of a loved one would be willing to talk about it, then maybe those who are physically experiencing it would be inspired to seek the help they need. If we take away the shame that goes with discussing mental illness and understand that it is an illness like any other, we open a door to real progress and improvement for mental health care.
If you say, “Why do I care, this doesn’t affect me,” you are wrong. Someone you know is living with a mental health issue and they are afraid to tell you. 1 in 5 children and 1 in 4 adults in the United States experiences mental illness in a given year. All around you, everywhere you go someone is dealing with mental illness. Do not look the other way. Now is the time of challenge and controversy to stand up and speak out. Only when we speak openly and honestly about mental illness will those in need receive the hope, help, and medical care they deserve.
Florida native Theresa Larsen graduated from Florida State University with a degree in elementary education and a minor in psychology. She taught school in England, Wales, and the United States for over twelve years. Her writing credits include a Welsh children's book with English translation, an educational article published in the Cardiff Advisory Service for Education, and her memoir, Cutting the Soul: A journey into the mental illness of a teenager through the eyes of his mother. Theresa has a daughter and a son and resides in Jacksonville, Florida with her husband and German shepherd. Learn more about her at http://www.theresalarsen.com/.
Thank you Theresa Larsen for sharing your insight. One in Five Minds appreciates our guest bloggers and recognizes the opinions and content shared here are exclusively theirs.