Why People Rarely Talk About Mental Health
Mental health is something that everyone has, yet that people rarely talk about. At the beginning of my journey with mental health (around four years ago!), mental health and mental illnesses were not topics of conversation at all in my different spheres of life. Truly the only thing I ever heard about in regard to mental health were the random Zoloft commercials that came on my TV. Because of my lack of knowledge about mental health in general, when I was diagnosed with depression, I had no clue what that even meant or how it would impact the coming years of my life. I thought that by having a mental illness, I was somehow “messed up, broken, weak” and I think I am not the only one who has felt that way. Although four years ago there was a severe lack of dialogue regarding mental health (at least in my life), I would say that the presence of mental health conversations has increased significantly.
When I was diagnosed with depression, I had a lot of negative ideas about mental illness that now applied to me. I think I had these negative ideas about mental illness due to the lack of conversation about them. When something is not talked about normally, stigma can get attached to that thing. Thankfully, I was surrounded by family that encouraged and supported me at that time and still do today. Although I had family support, I didn’t always have the best support from people my age. It was hard to explain to my friends what I was feeling and why I had been acting the way I had when I didn’t fully understand it myself. Mental illness impacts relationships in general simply due to its nature, but that does not mean it has to have a negative impact. Although I have had some negative experiences in friendships due to my mental health, I have also had many more positive experiences.
In college, I decided to take ownership of my mental health and to really dive into mental health awareness. Not only did I see a lack of conversation regarding mental health with others, I also realized that I wasn’t really talking much about it either. Let me preface this by saying that just because you have mental health issues does not mean that you have to share your story with everyone you run into or to anyone at all, that is your personal story that you have the right to share or not. But for me, I felt the urge to share my story, even just with new friends that I had met in college. I felt that I had a fresh start to not let my mental illness define me, but to integrate it normally into my conversations and my life as just one part of me.
I have learned by opening up about my struggles, victories, and everyday life with mental illness, I have been able to make so many connections with people around me and sometimes even over social media. I quickly learned that I was not alone and that many people around me also struggle with different mental illnesses. I now feel that I have a strong base of people in my life that I can turn to when I have a rough day, or a great day, or just feel a little funky.
I have also seen mental health awareness become much larger in the social media world in the last four years. There are many accounts now on social media that focus on mental health awareness, personal stories, encouragement, etc. Following these accounts brings something special to my personal feed because it continues to remind me that I am not alone. There are also initiates like Mental Health Awareness Month (May!) and more that seek to reduce the stigma of mental illness and bring mental health into everyday conversations.
Overall, I think that although mental health for me was not a topic of conversation or knowledge four years ago, I now have a basis of knowledge and support from those around me. I think that taking ownership of your mental health and realizing that it doesn’t define you is the first step to reducing the greater stigma of mental health and mental illness.
About the Author: Riley Gekiere
While here in Vienna, you can find Riley at some of her favorite coffee shops or cafes reading a book or hanging out with friends. Being in Vienna for only 8 weeks has taught her a lot about adjustment and the physical, mental and emotional toll that can take. The lessons that she learns and the ways she grows here in Vienna are something that she will be able to apply back in the United States (her home!) while she finishes her degree in Social Work. Riley uses her past experiences with mental and emotional health to relate, encourage and grow with other people.