Recently, Kristen Bell very candidly discussed how her notable “bubbly” personality doesn’t change the fact that she deals with anxiety and depression. This is a common affliction which places her in the company of millions of other American adults. What’s not common is that she’s choosing to be open about it.
The stigma of mental health disorders is something that sufferers have fought to eradicate, but unfortunately, it still exists. It permeates a person’s tone of voice when they say things like “you have nothing to feel sad about, just cheer up” or “you sound crazy.” When someone like Kristen Bell who has a platform shares her story, it jumpstarts the conversation, much like HelloGiggles own Sammy Nickalls, who chose last year to help battle the stigma by initiating an important community of discussion with the hashtag #TalkingAboutIt. The hashtag continues to pop up on Twitter thanks to Sammy, as people use it to talk about mental health and connect with each other.
All of this contributes to why I feel it is so important to remember to check in on your friends and family. By her own admission, Kristen Bell says that her cheery exterior can hide a great deal of emotional distress. Combined with the fact that many people go undiagnosed or are unwilling to discuss their mental health, it’s essential that we know there are not necessarily going to be clear-cut warning signs when someone we know is not doing okay. That’s why we need to listen to people and to pay attention. There will be instances when the people closest to us will need help or want it but are afraid or unsure how to ask for it. To that end, I think it can be incredibly helpful to let people know that we are there for them. Even if they don’t want to talk at that moment, they might just need to know that someone cares.
I used to think that checking up on someone made me seem overbearing, or like someone’s worried mom. Having grown up with a mom who was constantly worried about everything and always causing me to roll my eyes at her overprotective nature, I balked at coming across that way to my peers. Then, I dealt with my own depression and anxiety in my mid-twenties. Even though I sought therapy, I hesitated for a long time to confide in anyone close to me, or give any kind of window into the fact that nothing was as “fine” as my facade indicated. I feared judgment, or worse, dismissal in the form of comments like,”Oh, just get over it.” If just one person had noticed that I wasn’t quite feeling like myself, I know I would have felt far less alone.
Recently, I checked up on someone because my gut was nagging at me that something was off about his behavior. But it wasn’t overt. It was initially a very subtle change, but my suspicions turned out to be correct. He was not okay. And I would have always regretted not reaching out just for the sake of not appearing like some paranoid overthinker leaping to dramatic conclusions.
The biggest positive from the situation was that it led to some honest communication between me and him, as well as our mutual friends, about how sometimes we really have such a hard time saying that we’re not okay simply because we feel like we should be or the fear that others will think that we’re down and out over nonexistent problems. But the problem with anxiety and depression is that it doesn’t necessarily have to stem from some unspeakable tragedy. It can! It can totally be spurred on by a death of someone close to us or other traumatic experience. But it can also sometimes reach up with its ugly cruel grasp on the most sunshiney of days, without warning, without reprieve, without any sign of when it plans to dissipate. Just a cold dark envelopment that shouts we’re not good enough, we never will be, no one loves us, things would be better if we weren’t around. And there are times, on those days that you might need to hear someone say that you matter. Because you can’t muster the ability to tell yourself.
You do. You matter. We all do.
So tell people. Even for no reason other than it makes you feel good to tell your friends you love them. Call them. Send a text. Shoot an email. Snapchat, if that’s your thing. Let them know you’re thinking about them. Just in case they’re caught in a moment where they feel like no one is. It could make all the difference.