Courage and Mental Health

By: Andrea Atherton

“I actually have it myself” said Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas at the BACCHUS area 6 conference in March. She was discussing her brother who had been diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. Her announcement was so subtle, I’m sure some of the audience missed it. I am ashamed to admit that my first thought after she made that announcement was “oh man, how can she just say that to a room full of people – a room full of strangers?” My second thought, however, was “why not?” Why should someone not have the courage to stand in front of a room full of strangers and say “you know what? I have a mental health issue, I am struggling, and it’s ok.”

I, too, am struggling. I have mentioned it to some of the people in my life. Sometimes they believe me, sometimes they don’t. I guess in my little town, suffering from PTSD is just something you don’t admit to, or maybe something you just hear about in movies. My question is why are mental health issues kept quiet? I would think that most people I meet have someone in their family who is affected by a mental health issue.

Mental health victims are often treated as though they somehow brought their problems on themselves. A psychology professor of mine once said that “If everyone who is taking anti-depressants were able to glow, we wouldn’t need lights.” I wonder what would happen if everyone who knew someone who was suffering from a mental illness were to glow? When we think about mental illness, we often have a certain disorder in mind such as schizophrenia or depression. While according to the CDC one in ten adults are on antidepressants, depression is not the only widespread mental health issue. Simply look around. One in ten people is on some sort of antidepressant – that number is not even counting those who suffer from substance abuse, eating disorders, or a traumatic childhood experience. If so very many people in the world are suffering, if this is such a human issue, why are we all being so quiet?

People who are suffering are the victims – not the perpetrators. In order to remove the stigma surrounding these issues, we need understanding. Not just understanding that sufferers are victims, but understanding that mental health is part of the human condition, and that this can happen to anyone. We need to take people seriously when they talk about mental health problems. We need to take action and give them resources. And sometimes, maybe we just need to have the courage to say “I actually have it myself.”

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