Some people I love keep secrets from me. Despite knowing I care deeply about them, there’s something they don’t want me to know.
Sometimes they hide the reason they did not respond to my calls and texts. Sometimes they hide that they have been in the hospital for days…again. Sometimes they hide that the police took them away in the middle of the night in their nightie, although they had committed no crime.
Celebrities from Lady Gaga and Lena Dunham and Justin Beiber have talked about their anxiety and depression. Bits of raw desperation and loneliness will pop up on social media. Yet millions suffer silently with mental illness.
Depression began to come out of the darkness some 30 years ago. Prozac went from being a new word to an occasional casual reference by a friend about their change in dosage. Soon the suicide prevention movement grew.
I was barely an adult the first time I went to see one of my siblings at the Nebraska Psychiatric Hospital. Over the years I learned the rules. The patient must give permission for you to know whether or not they are hospitalized. Pay attention to the limited hours for visits. Prepare to put your handbag in a locker. Be led through the series of locked doors. Wait.
I would visit countless people over the years in the sparse room with nothing that might be a tool for self-harm. My client who was depressed after years of intimate partner abuse. My court appointed ward with no family able to make the hour drive to see him. My childhood friend under a board of mental health commitment after a fifth failed attempt to end her life. Each allowed me to see them in a moment of utmost vulnerability. Their generosity allowed my ignorance to be lifted.
We’ve come a long way with accepting and understanding ADHD and autism. We joke about being OCD. But what about bipolar disorder or schizophrenia?
There is no more judgment to be had from the diagnosis of PTSD than the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Yet when those I care about feel the need to hide or deny their symptoms, I ask myself: What I am doing to lift any lingering feelings of shame? What am I doing to end the silence and ease the suffering?
I can express my caring before I launch into sharing my most recent vacation photos. I can connect with courage, asking questions if I am concerned. I can let them know I am here for them.
May is Mental Health Awareness month. One in 5 Americans will experience it in a given year. Consider what this means for your family, your friends, your coworkers.
When you love someone who is suffering, your greatest wish is that they get well. Many will. Others will live with it all of their lives.
Compassion is the cure we can always give.
How might mental illness be impacting others in your life?
Are you being silent about your own suffering with mental illness?
Does someone in your life need your compassion today?