I suffer from depression. From time to time my mood drops and I find it almost impossible to motivate myself to do anything. These spells can last anything from a few hours to several months.
I’ve taken medication for it in the past. It doesn’t cure it, it just alters my brain chemistry to even out the peaks and troughs in my emotional state.
You see, a mental illness like depression is rather like a physical illness such as arthritis. Medication can alleviate symptoms, and it can flare up or go into remission for a while. Things you do and your environment can affect it.
But there’s one important difference between a physical illness and a mental one: too many people see mental illness as something unwholesome, a taint on the person affected. This stigma causes prejudice and abuse.
It’s used as an excuse for firing people from their jobs, for isolating them socially. All these things inflict further harm.
Then there’s the ableist responses, common to any invisible disability (yes, a mental illness is a disability: it affects your ability to function in a variety of different ways). I’ve been told to “get over it”, to “make an effort”, to be thankful “there’s nothing really wrong wth me”.
In a way there is nothing “wrong” with me. There’s nothing shameful in suffering from a mental illness: it’s not a judgement on my character. I just have depression. My mind is not completely healthy.
It’s long past time that mental illness was seen in the same terms as physical illness: as something requiring support, not judgement.
So instead of avoiding someone who is mentally ill, instead of fearing, abusing and harming them, be a friend to them. Support them and help them with some of the day-to-day things that they’re not able to cope with. Let them know they’re not on their own.
Mental illness can be isolating. It’s hard to ask for help, to approach people, and when we do the last thing we need is to be ignored or turned away. So don’t. Be there. Be a friend. Support those with mental illness.