Did you know that one in five Americans will experience a mental health condition in a given year? That is approximately 46.6 million people in the USA alone. That is a HUGE number!
In the media, Mental Illness is quite often blamed for poor and violent behavior, as if it’s this blanket excuse that explains away the travesty of the crime committed. All it does is shift the blame from a single person (“how could they do this?”) to a conceptual cause (“mental illness means they’re unstable, they can’t control it!”). This shift is brutal for people with mental illness. We are already struggling with this illness, coping with its affects, and trying to do our best to remain productive members of society… and society (the media), is telling us that we are unstable and prone to violence and, therefore, outcasts.
For many people, the impact of their illness and the negative and stigmatizing messaging that society constantly sends means that they will suffer silently and alone. They will hide their suffering, dismiss it themselves, in order to maintain the illusion of being healthy and productive members of society. The expected status quo that we’ve placed as “normal” and “acceptable.”
There is a one in five chance that someone in your friend group, your team, and your family is a silent sufferer. I urge you to not let them suffer alone.
Embracing the Uncomfortable
Until we can normalize and de-stigmatize mental illness, it’s going to be uncomfortable to talk about. The nature of mental illness is so vast and so broad that it’s difficult to create a single narrative that fits the whole. It’s complex and confusing. It should sound somewhat familiar: so are chronic physical illnesses. People who suffer from invisible physical illnesses run into this same issue: they don’t fit the mold.
Let’s Change the Mold
The mold we’ve “created” as the acceptable norm is clearly inaccurate. It excludes people with invisible illnesses: both physical and mental. We are lonely suffers that are constantly misunderstood and trying to make sense of where we fit in a world that excludes us by default.
The First Step
We can start making strides to normalize invisible illnesses and mental illness. We need to talk openly about our struggles, what they mean, and how they affect our lives on a daily basis. We need to have more and accurate information available.
There are already many people and organizations that are working hard to de-stigmatize both mental and physical illnesses. I’ve listed a few projects and explanations for invisible illnesses, mental illnesses, and organizations that are trying to raise awareness. Check them out!
The month of May is Mental Health Awareness month. In conjunction with the team over at Still I Run: Runners for Mental Health Awareness and their 2020 Run Streaking for Mental Health event, I will be running at least one mile every day in May. In order to keep accountable, I will be taking at least one photo of my run (selfie, something on my route, or a map of my run) and posting it to social with the shared hashtag #SIRunStreak.
If you want to help defeat the stigma, challenge yourself in May to do at least one thing that normalizes mental illnesses.
- You can join me on my run streak and “run” with us this May. “Run” because you can also walk it… or skip, jump, lunge, or dance your way through a mile. You don’t have to run, you just have to move! Sign up is available until May 1 at 11:59 PM ET.
- You can make a donation to Still I Run, Project Semicolon, National Alliance on Mental Illness, or another Mental Health organization.
- You can share your story. If you’re a silent sufferer, please know that you are not alone. We are ready to listen to your story when you’re ready to share it.
- You can reach out to someone you know struggles with mental illness and tell them that you are there for them. Research their illness and take the strides to understand it, and them, a bit better.
Whatever you decide to do: thank you!