Today is Bell's Let's Talk Day, which is aimed at getting rid of the stigma about mental health issues.
So let's talk. Or at least type. In Girl, Interrupted, Susannah Kaysen describes mental illness as "you or me, exaggerated" and I think this is one of the biggest challenges to empathizing with people who are suffering from mental illness or disorders.
It's difficult to explain how devastating depression when the words used to describe it: sad, lack of energy, hopelessness, are all feelings that everyone has. Everyone feels down sometimes, but not everyone gets hit by depression. So, if someone says "I'm feeling sad and not going to work", that's hard for people to grasp because they go to work when they feel sad.
Ditto for autism. I've had people tell me they understand what I'm going through because their kids are shy or picky eaters. I've had my kids accused of being brats and monsters. I've lost count of the "bad parent" glares I get on a daily basis. The thing is, my kids don't do anything radically different and there isn't an obvious visual clue to their disabilities. They are just like other kids, except that their brains work on a different level and their reactions are not always predictable based on the expectations of neurotypical people.
Maybe we need new words to explain the effect of mental disorders. Maybe we can educate people so that they understand there's a spectrum of experience beyond their personal feelings and moods. Maybe then, we can be more understanding and start making sure that everyone has the support and help they need.
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