The more I learn about depression, the more I come to terms with the fact that there will always be more to learn. In fact, it’s likely that there’s so much more I don’t know about my own depression than what I’ve learned over the past decade. I write that to say when we talk about mental health, knowledge certainly is power. But sometimes, it can also be something that leads to shame and stigma. Even though depression is complicated to understand and difficult to unpack, there is no shame in experiencing it. But reducing the stigma around mental health is so much more than saying that – it’s also encouraging difficult conversations that unfortunately, most people don’t want, or don’t know how, to have.
When I first started experiencing depression, I had no idea how to get help. I didn’t know who I should talk to and even if I had, I wouldn’t have known what to say. There were so many questions I had, but I couldn’t give any answers. And that embarrassment stopped me from getting help for months.
I’m hoping to do more research on the topic, but it’s always fascinated me about society’s collective focus on one all-purpose question: Why? It encompasses almost all curiosities from everyday problems to life’s biggest questions, but the goal is always to find a reason, to get to the root of the issue – even if we can’t do anything about it.
When I was 19, I didn’t tell anyone about what I was experiencing for a long time because in my head, I didn’t have a good enough reason to tell anyone. What would I even say? I’d tell myself as I lie catatonic on my bed for yet another day, unwilling or unable to get together with my friends, afraid to talk to my family. I knew I would tell them that I was sad, that I didn’t think I should exist, and when they asked why I thought these things, I would have to say, “I don’t know.”
And it was true. I didn’t know then and I don’t know now. But what I do know is that I could have gotten help a lot sooner if I wasn’t so preoccupied with the reason behind it. Knowing why helps in a lot of cases, but sometimes people just need help.
I’d love if we as a culture learned how to talk about mental health in a way that emphasizes person-first language and being able to recognize symptoms of difference mental illnesses, but this goal is so much simpler than that. We need to take the phrase It’s okay not to be okay and take it to heart. That doesn’t just apply to those of us with diagnosed conditions – it’s all of us.
What we need now is to tell people that if you aren’t feeling okay, if you’re not feeling like yourself, it’s okay to tell someone that. You don’t need to know exactly what or why you’re experiencing what you are, because saying it is enough. And it doesn’t matter who you are – mental illness doesn’t discriminate. Any time is a good time to talk about mental health, and the more we say it, the less of a secret it is.