16 things to understand about people who cope with mental illness

A new report from the  looked at over 100,000 students from 140 colleges to better understand the state of mental health on campuses today. Their findings suggest a myriad of reasons students seek counseling, from anxiety to depression. Their research also indicates that having the resources to address these often privately-held issues is crucial to treatment. With that in mind, one of our contributors bravely shares her own story and the struggles that so many who suffer in silence must endure. 

A year and a half ago, I was diagnosed with not one form of mental illness, but two.

“You have severe anxiety disorder and mild Obsessive Compulsive Disorder,” was the statement that would define how I was to live the rest of my life.

The above statement gave me the strength to learn more about not only my own mental illness, but about all forms of mental illness. I became immersed in this world because I wanted to cope, not suffer. I wanted to obtain the knowledge that I would need to live my life. And to help others.

Throughout this journey, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned that I am not alone. But, I’ve also learned that there is a lack of education and conversation surrounding the topic of mental illness.

I am very open about the fact that I have OCD and anxiety. After all, it’s a key part of who I am, just like my brown hair and hazel eyes. It’s a part of me, a part that I love because it makes me who I am, which is why I have never felt ashamed to share this aspect of my life with the world.

When I do share that I am coping with a mental illness, people rarely want to pursue the conversation further (unless they, too, are coping with such an illness). My admission is often met with a quick “sorry,” an awkward silence, and an effort to change the subject.

Understandably, people do not feel comfortable when it comes to the topic of mental illness. For a long, long time, mental illness has been a taboo topic and, for the most part, it still is. It is not an easy discussion to have. In addition, many are not given the resources that they need to learn more about mental illness and, consequently, they do not have the tools to approach further discussion.

I want this to change. I want people to feel comfortable asking questions and spurning discussions. Learning more about mental illness has changed my life: it has given me a greater sense of empathy, an eagerness to learn from and connect with others, and it has taught me the importance of finding light in the darkness. It has given me a different, more inclusive lens on life.

Most importantly, I’ve learned more about what it means to live life with a mental illness. Here is what I would like everyone else to know about the people who are coping with a mental illness:

  1. We are all human beings. A mental illness diagnosis does not change that.
  1. With that being said, we are human beings that have a unique way of thinking. We see the world differently because our brains have a special way of processing anything and everything.
  1. Coping with a mental illness is not the same as coping with a physical illness. You can’t just take some medicine and instantly feel better. It runs deeper than that. It takes time to learn to live with a mental illness.
  1. Speaking of medication, there is nothing wrong with having to take medication for a mental disorder. You wouldn’t think that a diabetic taking insulin medication is unusual. It’s the same exact thing.
  1. You can talk to us about our illness. Ask questions. Be curious. Show that you acknowledge that part of who we are. Many of us actually love spreading awareness and bringing light to the issues that affect our daily lives.
  1. Then again, don’t expect everyone to feel compelled and comfortable enough to share their story. In other words, don’t feel that you are owed an explanation (about something that can’t always be explained).
  1. Even though you can never truly understand how we’ve struggled, you can show empathy. You can show that you care. It makes all the difference.
  1. Not all of us are suicidal, but some of us are. This is not a symptom that every mentally ill person experiences, but that doesn’t mean that you should stop spreading awareness. Always spread awareness and let others know that they have resources and that they’re not alone.
  1. Anything can act as a trigger for a particularly bad bout of mental suffering. For instance, a few weeks ago, I had a panic attack because I had to remove a piece of furniture from my room. Even I was surprised. You just never know.
  1. We all cope differently. Some say nothing. Some (like myself) say everything. Some write it all down. Some work it out at the gym. Some cope in ways that cannot be put into words.
  1. Mental illness is not synonymous with the person that it has attached itself to. I may have OCD and anxiety, but I am also smart, goofy, sometimes sad, sometimes happy, and many other qualities. I am not one-dimensional. Nor is anyone else.
  1. Being mentally ill is not equivalent to being crazy, a freak, psychotic, or anything of the like.
  1. Coping with a mental illness is not grounds for being treated differently or as inferior. It’s grounds for being treated with acceptance, equality, and openness (just like you should be treating every single human being that you come across).
  1. There is no such thing as “acting mentally ill.” When I first opened up about my diagnosis on a grander scale, I was met with this response: “You don’t act like you have OCD.” There is no protocol for mental illness, no instructions. It all comes out differently, but a lot of it is internal.
  1. Not everyone experiences the same exact symptoms. Everything that I’ve said above is from my personal experience. What is true, pure, and honest for me may not be the same for a person who is also suffering from the same disorders. It may be the same for someone who is suffering from a completely different disorder. There are no universal symptoms.
  1. All in all, mental illness is like a snowflake. Each person experiences mental illness differently, in their own special, unique, and entirely human manner.

 To learn more about mental illness and treatment, visit NAMI.org

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