May is Mental Illness Awareness Month, dedicated to breaking the stigma of mental health issues like depression, anxiety, bipolar, obsessive compulsive disorder, and more.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, tens of millions of Americans suffer from some form of mental illness.
Despite how common mental illness is, many people still don't feel comfortable talking about their condition and try to hide it.
In order to help break the stigma and get the conversation going, A Plus reached out to a number of people from all walks of life to share their experience with mental illness. Though their diagnoses may be different, there were very common themes across the board.
These are the 6 things you need to know about living with mental illness:
1. Mental illness affects people differently, so ask how they feel instead of assuming that you know.
"A lot of people automatically think you're suicidal [because of depression] or that you just sit around and cry and take pity on yourself. With me, yeah those thoughts and things have happened, but it's not a constant, daily thing. Although I know it does affect people differently, that's just how it is for me."
"Well, one of the biggest misconceptions about bipolar, or really any mental disorder, is that we are somehow crazy people with no control over our actions. Even when on medication. When in truth, it's honestly very manageable. If you maintain a healthy lifestyle, and regularly take your medication or alternative treatment, your life is pretty darn normal. But oftentimes people assume you have no control, that you are a loose cannon."
"I think when a lot of people hear the term Postpartum depression, although a very rare, morbid, and extreme scenario, they think of a woman who drowns her kids in a bathtub. That's one of the reasons so many women are afraid to speak out about PPD or seek help. There is so much stigma. Nobody should feel ashamed of PPD or postpartum psychosis. There is not a single woman who is immune to either condition. As with any mental illness, they can happen to anyone."
"Most of the time, I'm really okay and live pretty normally. But there are some days when all I want to do is hide and cry because it's all too much. If I just let myself feel as bad as I want to feel, I'm better afterward. But It's so hard to admit when I'm having a bad day and it's just too much."
2. Mental illness could happen to anyone, so there shouldn't be any shame in seeking treatment.
"It's funny, when people take medication for hormonal replacement, our society doesn't blink an eye. Low T? No worries, pop a pill! But when it's neurotransmitters that are low or out of balance, everybody thinks you're crazy."
"I have realized that there is a cultural element to PPD as well. In America we like to say the phrase, 'It takes a village to raise a child.' In a lot of other countries, they actually live this concept. We are a very individualistic culture. When it comes to self-expression and personal fulfillment that is a beautiful thing. When it comes to raising a family, it isn't. Often times we leave a woman a week or two after giving birth completely alone. She's horrendously sleep deprived, she's hormonal, she's still physically recovering from birth, and now she's completely isolated. Not only that but she's pushed to feel elated every single moment because babies are gifts and if she's not jumping with joy she must be selfish, right? It sounds cliché but often times it truly is a recipe for disaster."
"My antipsychotics are no different than someone's insulin or chemotherapy. I need this medicine to live. I finally don't want to harm myself anymore and nobody is ever going to make me feel bad about that because a pill helps me get there."
3. Being around people can be incredibly difficult.
"On the anxiety part for me when I am out in public I feel like I am constantly being judged. From what I am wearing to hygiene, body type all of that so it's like a state of always worrying. Sometimes you get to a point where the anxiety is so bad that you need to get away from the situation you're in and go be by yourself for a few moments and a lot of people don't get or understand that and it's difficult to explain that sometimes."
"I was bullied for years growing up and know what cruel things people will say to someone's face. All these years later, I have a hard time meeting new people because I'm afraid they won't like me and will say something awful about how I look or about my personality."
"I put on a good face and go to parties, but I come home and cry thinking about the awkward things I said or do."
"Finding a hairdresser who doesn't enjoy talking while she's working has been amazing. I used to go at least six months without getting my hair cut because I dreaded having to talk to someone."
4. Mental illness can make everyday tasks much harder than they should be.
"I have ADHD and Anxiety... I wish people knew that I'm not lazy! When I can't get the energy to get ready for work, because I've already went through everything that could go wrong that day, I've practically exhausted myself before the day has even started."
"I had a really difficult time adjusting to motherhood. I would see other mothers take their babies with them all by themselves on errands or wherever they had to go and feel so inferior. I was so scared to take my baby anywhere. What if we got into a car accident? I wouldn't be able to live with the guilt."
"I hate being late but my OCD rituals take so much time. I feel so much better once it's done."
5. Nobody wants to have a mental illness, which can create a lot of self-loathing.
"I always feel tired, low energy. I hardly ever feel genuinely happy."
"I exhaust myself."
"I can look at my life and know that I don't really have anything to be sad about, but that's all I ever am. I know that some people have it so much worse than I do, and that just makes me feel guilty about being depressed."
"I have Bipolar and sometimes I lash out at people who are closest to me. I know my condition doesn't make it right to treat people like that but I don't even know what I'm doing until it's too late. By then, I'm too embarrassed to apologize because I don't think they will understand."
"I know I can't be the only one who feels like this, but I think they're better at dealing with life than I am. I just never feel good enough."
"I almost left my boyfriend after he told me he was the only man who would ever love me, because that's an abusive thing to say. I stayed because he's probably right and I'm terrified of being alone."
6. Mental illness is difficult for loved ones, too.
"My husband suffers from depression, anxiety, and full blown panic attacks not to mention a host of physical ailments. When something is 'off' - a med change, poor sleep, more stress, it can be disastrous. But the worst part is not being able to honestly talk to friends and family about these times because they don't understand. They respond with "are you sure he's safe to be around?" or "you could do better". It's so isolating and I feel like I can't call anyone for help. I shouldn't have to explain that mental illness is not the same as abuse (physical or mental) and that a really bad day is just that—a day. We carry on and keep going instead of getting stuck in the crap."
"As a child, [my father-in-law] was sexually molested by his stepfather for 3 years, every day, as soon as his mother went to work. His shrink believes that is the cause of the depression. There are countless examples of his inability to function in society. He had a warped sense of the world: the economy is in the toilet, everyone will lose their house and jobs, World War 3 is around the corner, Muslims are the root of all evil, women are all devious gold diggers and liars, etc. He never used to be like this. He was the most generous, kind intelligent person I knew, but as he gets old he keeps getting worse. I leave work or leave home in the middle of the night to rush him to the hospital because of an anxiety attack where he can't breathe. His son is done with all of this. [My wife] has her own stresses from work, so I step up to look after him. I am the only one he will talk to."
"It's hard when she won't tell me what's wrong because she thinks I won't understand. How can I understand when she won't tell me?
The silver lining is that it doesn't have to be this way.
In order to truly help those with mental illnesses, we need to remove the stigma of seeking treatment.
If you or someone you love is suffering, share your story with your friends and family. Speak up. The more visible the issue becomes, the easier it will be for those who need help to get it.