You’d think that by now people would understand that invisible illnesses are actually invisible, meaning that you can’t see them or tell that a person has one most of the time. It really bothers me when people react negatively when they find out someone has a mental health problem or accuse them of throwing themselves a pity party because at the end of the day, if you’re not a doctor or a therapist you have no way of knowing what is going on in someone’s head. I’ve genuinely heard the following phrases used to try to debunk a person’s claim of suffering from a mental illness, usually against people they don’t even know:
“But he’s such a laugh, how can he possibly be depressed if he’s so much fun”
“I saw her the other day and she was fine, probably just wanted to skive off”
“She has nothing to be depressed about, she’s just attention seeking”
I shouldn’t even have to write this post and yet I feel I’ve got to get this off my chest. When you respond to a person’s appeal for help regarding a mental illness with doubt and negativity you become a part of the problem. People already don’t feel able to come forward and seek help for their problems as it is and when people who claim to be allies in the battle against stigma take the side of the oppressor by default – we have a problem. My own experiences are proof that you can be the life and soul of the party, extremely outgoing and have a great time when you’re with people but as soon as that door closes the mask comes off and you go back to fighting that internal battle again. You can’t always tell what a person is feeling inside by the self that they choose to portray to the world – never underestimate people’s ability to hide and never overestimate your ability to figure people out.
Most of my friends would never guess from being around me that I suffer from depression and some would probably reply with a “but you’re so fun, you’re always so happy and chatty”. That doesn’t make me disingenuous nor does it make my friends oblivious, what it does mean is that things are not black and white where mental illness is concerned and being depressed doesn’t mean being sad all the time. When it comes to people having time off work/school/college for mental illness I’ve frequently heard the “well how is sitting at home going to help, you’re not actually physically ill” response and to that all I have to say is: if you haven’t lived it, you can’t pass judgement.
Sometimes you just need to take some time to feel your emotions without having to bury them away and put your “work mode” mask on because that mask is heavy and takes effort to carry around all day – sometimes that’s just not what you need when you’re feeling truly rotten. As for not being physically ill, that’s a myth. Psychosomatic symptoms are very real and can cause real damage to person’s body, take it from me who managed to give myself severe IBS for life from disrupted eating patterns as a result of putting myself under so much stress and worry. Not to mention the exhaustion that comes with such excessive thinking . Mental health is a vital pillar in the foundations of any healthy human being, when that starts to crumble you can bet your ass the rest will follow suit.
Depression is not something that you can take on and off like a jacket, it’s always there. Next time you decide to bash someone for needing mental health day or for not being able to cope with day to day life when they are in the grasp of such an illness, I hope you realise that hostility will not make a person suddenly snap out of it.
Disclaimer: As always I feel the need to mention that sadness and depression are two very different things. Sadness is a healthy expression of a negative situation while depression is an unhealthy and abnormal inability to process and move on from negative situations and feelings. If you think you might be suffering from depression or any other mental illness please see your doctor and don’t stop until you get the help you deserve.