Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A few (more) thoughts on Mental Health

Hey Friends-

I know that in the wake of Robin Williams' death, everyone has something to say about depression, suicide and mental health in general. But these are such incredibly important topics, and very close to my heart.  I think everyone who is able to add a voice to the conversation should do so.

I am thankful that I do not know what it feels like to be truly depressed, or to consider taking my own life. But I do know what it's like to feel like you don't have control over your own thoughts and feelings. I've struggled with anxiety for many years. It's not debilitating, but it certainly impedes my enjoyment of life at times. I've seen others struggle with much worse issues than myself, and I have known people who have committed suicide. I can't imagine the depth and duration of the depression that Mr Williams must have felt to make that choice, at that stage of life, having accomplished so much and having touched so many people.

A lot of the conversation I've seen on social media has been urging those who are struggling with mental health issues to reach out and talk to someone. And I absolutely agree that talking about how you're feeling is an important step in managing mental health issues. I know that opening up and discovering that I am not alone in dealing with anxiety has been a great relief to me. I think many people would benefit just from knowing whatever issue they are experiencing is shared with others, that they aren't a freak and that they aren't alone.

It's also really important to encourage people to speak up about the issues that they are deaing with because we need to make everyone aware that mental health issues affect huge numbers of people. We need to talk about these things so that the stigma of mental health issues is erased.

But I also think that it's not just as simple as that. I don't think that Robin Williams just needed to talk to someone. It's not as easy as a good conversation and a hug to put an end these deep rooted issues. Reaching out is an important step in dealing with mental health, but there's a lot more to it. I've talked openly about anxiety, and that has helped. But it doesn't cure me. My anxiety always comes back. I bet a lot of people experience that, especially someone whose depression is so great that it leads to thoughts of suicide. Those thoughts and feelings keep coming back.

 I can't claim to know why Robin Williams or anyone else would come to the devastating decision that death is their best option. Depression and mental illness are things that people cope with  for long periods of time, sometimes their entire lives. Of course, we should encourage them to reach out. But to imply that all they need to do is talk to someone and they'll be ok kind of trivializes their struggle. Depression is real, and it's scary and it runs deep in the psyches of those who it affects. I think that all of us need to go further than just telling people they should talk to someone. We all have a responsibility to look deeper at these issues.We need to really recognize how consuming and isolating a mental illness can be.We need to stop looking at depression as an individual's inability to stabilize their emotions, and start questioning why so many are affected by mental health issues.  We need to question where it comes from and ask what we could do to make things better and brighter.

I tend to think that a lot of our collective depression and anxiety comes from our crazy, stressed out, thousand jolts per minute society, where our self worth is based on how many likes our last photo got on Instagram, and in which everything, including our health and education, is a commodity. I don't care if that sounds like some hippie bullshit. Pour me a bowl of granola, I'm standing by this theory.  Constantly measuring yourself against other people, drowning in debt just to feel like you're keeping up, and generally feeling like nothing is ever enough can't be good for anybody. No fucking way.

The Dalai Lama, whose words I have found helpful in times of need.

 Obviously that's just one suggestion as to why people experience depression. But the pressure to always have and achieve and to be more, and the constant comparison to others could help explain why someone who had everything could feel that it still wasn't enough.

Whatever the cause, clinical depression and other mental health issues are not the result of someone having a crummy day and needing a pep talk. Depression doesn't just lay on the surface of a person's mind like a thin veil waiting to be pulled away, revealing the true happiness underneath. It goes much deeper than that, and affects every aspect of a person's life. It is something that is incredibly hard to overcome. For some it becomes impossible.

I'm not sure what the call to action is here. But I do know that action is necessary, and the responsibility to act can't be placed solely on the shoulders of the people who already bear the heaviest load. Maybe we need more funding, more access to programs for those suffering with mental health issues. Maybe instead of waiting for someone who is suicidal to make the decision to talk to someone or ask for help, the rest of us need to work harder at getting messages of hope and support to them.

Today I am making a donation to the Canadian Mental Health Association. I am not sharing this with you to make myself seem like a great person. Making a donation is literally the least I can do. I just want to express how personally important mental health issues are to me.  I hope that I can find ways to do more to help others overcome their issues, and to eradicate the stigma associated with mental health issues.

If you want to learn more please visit:The Canadian Mental Health Association Website

Thank you for reading.

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