By: Devin Riggs, Regular Contributor
Last week I came across a PSA video of Kate Middleton discussing the stigma of mental illnesses in support of Place2Be and the UK’s first Children’s Mental Health Week (February 16-22). After years of seeing her picture and reading article after article about her fashion style this is the first time I’ve heard the Duchess of Cambridge’s voice. And she had a lot of important things to say.
“A child's mental health is just as important as their physical health and deserves the same quality of support. No one would feel embarrassed about seeking help for a child if they broke their arm—and we really should be equally ready to support a child coping with emotional difficulties.”
For some reason mental illnesses are marginalized, written off as excuses, or completely ignored. As someone who has battled depression and anxiety throughout my life this is especially poignant.
I hid my depression in high school. I rarely talked about it outside of my poetry journal. I thought my anxiety was just normal daily stress. I was in denial about my illness because I didn’t want to be seen as weak or incapable of controlling my feelings. That was my perception of my own illness—that I just wasn’t strong enough. Any time I brought it up I heard:
“Why are you so upset? You have a good life. You shouldn’t be sad.”
“Oh it’s nothing. You’re exaggerating.”
“Everything is going to be fine. Stop worrying so much.”
“A lot of other people have it so much worse. Be grateful.”
“Just be happy. Laugh it off.”
These statements don’t help. They usually make it worse because they are laced with guilt. I feel guilty for not being grateful. I feel guilty for being sad. I feel guilty for worrying. I feel guilty because I’m trying so hard but I’m unable to live up to these expectations.
The Duchess of Cambridge is right. We have no problem seeking care for physical ailments. Mental illnesses should be no different. We cannot ignore the fact that 20 percent of American children suffer from a mental disorder, whether it’s ADHD, OCD, depression, anxiety, anorexia, or any other illness of the mind. Children should not be led to hide their emotional pain or mental discomfort. It is proven that children who suffer with these disorders are at higher risk for developing mental illnesses later in life.
Until last year I was apprehensive about seeking therapy, always telling myself “it’s all in your head.” And as my therapist pointed out to me a few months ago…it is all in my head. All that empty hope and nervousness. All that pain and helplessness. It’s there. It’s real. Just like any other ailment. And I am taking the steps necessary to get better, to heal. I am doing so much better and I am so so grateful for that.
I wish I had asked for help sooner. I wish I hadn’t let the stigma of mental illnesses keep me from getting the care I needed earlier. I wish I had not forced myself to cope with my disease and let it eat at me for so many years before finally taking control and not settling for just getting by. I wish I had opened up to the people I love much earlier in life. I wish they had felt comfortable enough to open up to me too.
We need to start the conversation. We need to start treating our mental and emotional health as seriously as we treat our physical health. We need to talk to our children or anyone with a mental illness. We need to listen to them and how they’re feeling. Really listen. We need to provide support and understanding instead of writing off these diseases as if they are not real. Just because you can’t see the injury…doesn’t mean it’s not there.
To those of you suffering from a mental illness please know you are not alone. I am here. I see you. I hear you. I know how difficult it is to ask for help. You can do it. Take your time healing. I believe in you. You are going to be okay.
Other helpful resources:
Do you find that when it comes to mental health you are more apprehensive to seek help? What can you do to help care for your mental well being?
Devin has a degree in education with a focus in English. She is working to publish her first collection of poetry while also learning the art of patience. Her passions include Doctor Who, penguins, hats and scarves, potatoes, dancing, photography, and making people happy. She believes in the healing powers of music, spending time in the great outdoors, and a good night sleep.