The Importance of Sharing Our Stories of Mental Illness

There are many well-known people who had lived with a mental illness.  John Nash, Nobel Prize recipient for economic sciences, lived for many years with paranoid schizophrenia. Composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and poet Edgar Allan Poe were known to have battled depression. Charles Darwin, known for his contributions to the science of evolution, lived with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). These are just a few of the many, many people throughout history who had lived with depression.

Others have not only dealt with living with a mental illness, but have publicly shared their experiences and struggles. George Stephanopoulos, Chief Anchor and the Chief Political Correspondent for ABC News describes his deep, dark depression in his 2000 autobiography, “All Too Human: A Political Education”. Dick Cavette, a well-known TV personality, described his bouts of depression as “Dismal, worthless, black despair” to a room full of reporters at Johns Hopkins in April of 1992. Olympic gold medalist and model Amanda Beard speaks of her own battles with self-mutilation, bulimia and depression in her 2013 book, “In the Water They Can’t See You Cry: A Memoir”. Buzz Aldrin, the second person to have walked on the moon, suffers from depression and shared openly in an interview with The Telegraph in July of 2009.

Recently, many more celebrities have come out to share their stories of depression and other mental illnesses. Just two weeks ago, British fashion magazine Marie Claire published an article titled, “22 Celebrities Speak Honestly About Their Mental Health Battles”. The article includes many celebrities who are very well known; Lady Gaga, Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, Brad Pitt, and Jim Carrey to name just a few.

Dr. Drew Pinsky, board-certified internist and self-described “addictions-oologist” (and co-host of the nostalgic Loveline radio show–a fond memory of mine), believes that “…when a celebrity goes public with his or her own mental health issue, ‘…it’s an opportunity to learn about it. It’s an opportunity to reduce stigma, reduce fear, reduce shame of an ordinary person—not a celebrity—managing the same problem.'” (E!News)

I believe that it is important for “ordinary” people to share their stories, as well. It may be easy for some people to believe that it is only the celebrities who become mentally ill. While celebrities sharing their struggles with mental illness does a great deal to chip away at the stigma, ordinary people need to see that other ordinary people also have struggles with mental illnesses.  I believe that there are several benefits when people share their stories:

  1. When people share their stories, they help to educate those who have been lucky enough to never have to deal with a mental illness. It helps to give others a better understanding of some of the challenges of living with a mental illness. Until reading about someone’s story, many people may not know, for example, that depression can keep people from getting out of bed for days on end or cause others to lose/gain a massive amount of body weight. Hearing a real story may give a glimmer into the sense of what it feels like to lose all hope, become numb to all feelings, and believe that you have become a burden to others.  When someone like  describes the mania of bipolar disorder as, “Mania is incredible. Yet, it is destructive. Mania is the highest high of your life. Yet, it’s also a cliff, and you just jumped off into the abyss.”, people who have never been through it may just get a sense of what mania feels like. Elissa Farmer believes that some people are under the misconception that mania is fun and exciting, yet she describes it as, “…full blown chaos and catastrophe” in her article “What People Get Wrong About Mania”.
  2. When people share their stories, they support others who may be going through similar struggles. It allows others to see that they are not alone. They are not the only one who is going through the struggles and challenges of a mental illness. Those who are currently struggling can learn about tips and suggestions that helped others get through the difficult times or manage their mental illness. In one of my own posts, titled “9 Tips That Helped Me Manage My Depression”, I share just such suggestions. Lynn Ulrich shares suggestions for those living with Bipolar Disorder in her post titled, “5 Tips That Got My Mental Health Recovery Back on Track After a Crisis”.
  3. Sharing our stories is therapeutic for ourselves. There is a “right” time for everybody to share. The “right” time will look different for many people. People who are living with a mental illness need to decide when the time is right and with whom they want to begin to share. However, I believe the more people one shares with, the more the person with the mental illness will realize that many people have a connection, one way or another, with someone else who has had struggles due to a mental illness. Another thing that happens when we share is that we support others, and supporting others is absolutely therapeutic.
  4. Sharing our stories chips away at the stigma.  By sharing our stories, not only do we educate and support others, but we help to engage more people in the conversations around mental health and therefore help to minimize the stigma. It’s very important for us to do what we can to eliminate the stigma. By eliminating the stigma, people will be able to speak openly about their mental illness and more easily (and more willingly) receive the support they need in order to work towards recovery.

There are more and more websites and blogs on the internet that allow people to share their own stories. Here are a list of just a few:

  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
    • NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. Their website includes a page in which people can share their stories. Click here to read the stories or to share your own.
  • The Mighty
    • Publishes real stories by real people facing real challenges. The Mighty is building a brand and a community around them. Having a disability or disease doesn’t have to be isolating. That’s why The Mighty exists. The Mighty is creating a safe platform for our community to tell their stories, connect with others and raise support for the causes they believe in. We are stronger when we face adversity together, and we know it.
  • Stigma Fighters
    • A mental health non-profit organization dedicated to helping real people living with mental illness. Stigma Fighters has been featured on Good Day New York, Psychology Today, Women’s Health Magazine, and The Washington Post. It is Stigma Fighters’ mission to raise awareness for people who are seemingly “normal” but actually fighting hard to survive. Since its launch in March 2014, hundreds of people have written pieces for the blog.
  • Bring Change 2 Mind (BC2M)
    • In 2010, Glenn Close & Family co-founded Bring Change 2 Mind (BC2M), a nonprofit organization built to start the conversation about mental health, and to raise awareness, understanding, and empathy. BC2M has created a social movement around change by providing people with platforms to share, connect, and learn. To read real stories or to share your own, click here.
  • Stamp Out Stigma
    • Stamp Out Stigma is an initiative spearheaded by the Association for Behavioral Health and Wellness (ABHW) to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness and substance use disorders. This campaign challenges each of us to transform the dialogue on mental health and addiction from a whisper to a conversation. Share your story with Stamp Out Stigma by clicking here.

There are many more websites where people can go in order to read real stories about real people living with mental illness. Remember, sharing our stories help to educate, support, and minimize the stigma!

As with all of my posts, comments are welcomed and encouraged.

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