The statistics are eye-opening. One in three girls and one in six boys will experience some form of severe trauma during their childhood which, in most cases, may be the precursor to the one in three that will be affected by mental illness. There was a time, not too long ago, when not only was it uncommon to know anyone dealing with a mental illness but it certainly would never happen to you, or anyone in your family. Anything mental health related was not only swept under the carpet, but pushed down the stairs and locked in the basement, and the problem with that is, it always seems to sneak back up to the main level. The stigma and bias against those with a mental illness have always been, and despite all the progress we have made in many areas of humanity, becoming less judgmental and more empathetic have never been at the forefront.
I would like to say that I am not a statistic, but I am one of the one in three. I experienced multiple traumas throughout my childhood which opened the doors to a variety of mental illness diagnoses. I was told as a child that my feelings of being down were merely a part of growing up, and that is just the way some children were. The doctors and my parents both attributed it to the abuse I incurred pre-adoption, although at the time the details were somewhat unknown and basically said the past is the past, so leave it there and move on. So I did. I buried my past traumas as deep as possible, continued to downplay the present ones, and despite two suicide attempts, I continued, attempting to fake any sense of normalcy. This pattern continued through my teenage years and was greatly exacerbated by the death of my mom when I was 19, and when I buried her, I also buried the trauma that came with her death. I survived through my twenties and into my thirties before having another suicide attempt and finally being officially diagnosed with depression and anxiety, but as with the rest of my life, I fell into the old habits and survival techniques which had kept me alive thus far.
I managed to keep a roof over my head and although I cycled through quite a few, I always managed to have a job. I was active in soccer and had a social life with a pretty good circle of friends until my late thirties when slowly my depression started to take over. It slowly sucked my energy, my confidence and my social life down the drain. I felt little pleasure in the activities that used to keep me going, and I lost interest in life. Just trying to stay alive became a daily battle. The judgment rolled in and friends started to slowly dissipate as my depression took hold of my life. I finally reached my breaking point about 18 months ago, lost my job and took a trip to the hospital to reach out for some help. I was refused admittance as I was not “enough of a threat” to myself or others, but they did put me in touch with a psychiatrist who then diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder and Dysthymia to add to my depression and anxiety. Although I am not generally into putting labels onto people, in this case I found my diagnosis to be quite a relief. It provided not only an explanation for many of my behaviors but a sense that perhaps I was not alone in my battles.
I thought maybe my diagnosis might be a relief for others as well, those who had to deal with my rapid and intense mood swings but the more I shared the news, the less my phone rang and the texts became fewer and further in between and within six months, I had lost my job, and all but a few friends. My family had already outcast me years ago, labeling me as troubled and once again, I found myself feeling so alone I could not rationalize a reason to go on. I wondered if I had instead been diagnosed with a physical ailment, would I have been judged or would I have had to face the same discrimination and bias. Sadly, the answer is no. Physical illnesses are socially acceptable and often come with a level of empathy, whereas mental illnesses are still treated like they are taboo, and if we just ignore them for long enough, perhaps they will simply go away. Unfortunately, that will never happen, and with the rapidly increasing* numbers of diagnosis, it seems society will have to finally deal with the reality that no one is immune. Just like cancer, mental illnesses have no discrimination or bias on who they affect. There is no culture, no religion, no gender or amount of money and fame that provides protection from mental illness. So think twice before you discriminate or walk away from someone who is affected because chances are it will affect you, a friend or family member and the more open we are to acceptance the less, we will judge.
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