Why mental illness should never be the elephant in the room

Last week took a lot out of me mentally and physically as the news of two very public suicides broke and stirred up the pain and tragedy I, like so many people, have felt from losing a loved one to suicide. Mental illness is a painful reminder of the fragile world we live in and a battle so many of us struggle to comprehend or fight. While it shouldn't take two public suicides in one week to make mental illness a CONVERSATION at the table, let's be honest, it's 2018 and it NEEDS TO BE ONE.

Speaking of pulling up my chair to the mental health table, let me give you a little background on why I'm passionate about making mental illness part of the conversation.

For years, mental illness was something I wanted to avoid talking about. It started when I began experiencing overwhelming waves, sometimes crippling bouts and then days of lingering and debilitating anxiety ever since I was 14-years-old. Addressing my anxiety and how it affected my self-doubt, self-image and self-love over the years always felt daunting, scary and exhausting. Talking about my anxiety was worse - it always felt awkward, controversial and petty (which then resulted in tremendous guilt). While I had amazing family and friends to confide in about my anxiety, I limited what I shared with them. It felt like a waste of time or a burden for others to take on my anxiety and that didn't seem fair. What's really not fair is feeling this way. It wasn't until this last year when I started to make an effort to prioritize my mental health through self-care, exercise, developing a new communication style (still working on this) and seeking out a therapist (again, it's a process).

Similar to cancer, mental illness does not just resolve itself and go away. It lingers, it festers, it grows and it spreads if left unnoticed or uncared for. Sadly, there tends to be a denial when it comes to mental illness as a result of it being such a stigma in our culture. There's denial of us observing our own mental state and observing the mental state of others. It feels easy to turn a blind eye. If someone falls down on the sidewalk in front of you, you're going to jump at the chance to help that person back up; but if someone walks past you on the sidewalk you don't think twice about if this person needed help. It's because mental illness is stored away and hidden from the world, sometimes the illness is even hidden from the person battling it. 

Mental illness is composed of so many complex layers. Trying to determine what boxes you or a loved one might check under mental illness is complicated, saddening and frustrating. And while it's up to us as a society to make mental health part of the conversation and you as a human to share words of affirmation, a smile, or express concern when you feel like someone is hurting on the inside or outside, it's important to recognize there's not a one-fix-all for mental illness but rather, a greater support system that is needed by those that are struggling on any point of the mental health spectrum.

I've decided to share 5 ways that YOU can be part of mental health awareness for yourself and others! Showing your support around the topic of mental health is a way we can make mental illness a little less daunting to address and talk about. It's a way we can eliminate the elephant in the room and make it part of the every day conversation. There are so many ways you can support those struggling with mental illness on both a large and small scale! A little help goes a long way.

1. Read up on mental illness (the first step to understanding mental illness is educating yourself on what it is)

2. Download the Headspace app (gets you in a better mental state to cope with feelings or problem-solve)

3. Purchase an ANXIETY or DEPRESSION necklace from ban.do (100% of the net proceeds of this necklace will go to bring change to mind, a non-profit organization that is dedicated to ending the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness.)

4. Volunteer with Red Cross' Disaster Mental Health program (Did you know that over 90% of Red Cross Disaster Relief workers are volunteers?)

5. Volunteer at a Suicide Crisis Center (if you have a full-time job they have weekend and nightly availability, too!)

Other things you can do to help spread the word/share your support:

1. Start a mental health podcast (help spread the word is the best way to get more people aware of the effects mental illness can have and the importance of mental health as a whole!)

2. Start a fundraiser (Go Fund Me and other volunteer sites are a great way to raise money for a cause you care about!)

3. Join a community support group (Research local community support groups. It's a great way to connect with others who may be experiencing mental illness or are trying to learn more about the subject).

4. Start a dialogue. Start an open and respectful dialogue with someone battling mental illness that is willing to talk about it. Work together to determine what that individual needs for love and support and what the recommended action would be from someone like you to help and show your support. 

If you need support or someone to talk to - please don't hesitate to shoot me an email (westcoastaesthetic@gmail.com). I'm here for you, all ears, ready to listen. Let's make mental health part of the conversation, together! :-)