Invisible illnesses are are not always obvious to onlookers. Chronic pain, sleep disorders, heart conditions and digestive disorders are all examples of invisible illnesses. But did you know, that mental illness also falls into this category?
When you think of someone battling depression or anxiety, what do you think of? Do you think of someone who can't get out of bed in the morning, or someone who can't hold down a job? Do you think of someone who struggles with relationships?
The media paints a pretty clear picture on what mental illness should look like. Apparently people with depression, anxiety, bipolar, or any other mental illness need to look and behave a certain way to be taken seriously.
Not long ago, I started taking antidepressants again. I had been on antidepressants since I was 15 years old, and went off of them about a year and a half ago to see how I could function on a day to day basis without the stabilizing effects of my medication. Long story short, it didn't end up entirely well, and I found out that my body just needs a little bit of extra help to stabilize my neurotransmitters.
With all of this going on, I've faced a lot of stigma and judgement from my peers, and even from complete strangers. I get people telling me things like:
"Courtney, you have so much going on in your life that is amazing! Be happy!"
"Smile Courtney! Your life is great!"
This bothers me. It actually irks me. Since when do positive life events automatically mean positive thoughts? Just because I have a stable job, supportive friends and family, and relatively stable health does not mean that I have all of my mental faculties in order. It does not mean that my hormones and neurotransmitters work they way they are supposed to. It does not mean that I am happy all of the time.
About a month ago I was at the pharmacy filling my prescription. The pharmacist got the medication together, told me about all the side effects, how to take it... all the pretty standard stuff. When she handed me the prescription she said:
"Now dear, we're just treating a tad bit of anxiety right? You're not depressed"
I was furious. I'm not depressed?! Seriously? How do you get to make that judgement from talking to me for maybe five minutes? Is it because I don't look depressed? Is it because I'm well dressed and seemingly put together? How could she make that judgement? I looked at her right in the eye and said:
"Um no. I actually have depression. This medication is to treat my depression."
See, the point I'm trying to make is that mental illness can be just as invisible as chronic pain. People can suffer silently from these mental illnesses that are actually extremely debilitating. You can't see depression. You can't see anxiety, or bipolar, or OCD. Sure, some of the behaviours that accompany these conditions are a dead giveaway, but by just looking at someone, you would never know.
So the next time you talk to someone who tells you they suffer from mental illness, take a step back and remember that people from all walks of life deal with this kind of stuff. All we're asking, is for a little bit of understanding. Mental illness already has such a stigma attached to it, that some people feel afraid to come forward because they feel like they don't fit the diagnosis. This. Is. Dangerous. Each and every person deserves fair and equal treatment, so whether or not they look the part, please start taking mental illness seriously. People won't come forward if they don't feel supported, and untreated mental illness can have catastrophic effects...