The title of today’s blog isn’t just alphabet soup. I couldn’t think of a succinct title, so I went with acronyms: Public Service Announcement for Mental Illness Awareness Week and National Depression Screening Day. It would have been better if I had posted this Thursday since there were actually screening centers all over the country, but this is going to have to be a case of better late than never. In lieu of visiting a screening center, there are depression assessments online that I encourage you to take if you suspect you might be experiencing depression. Only a qualified doctor or therapist can diagnose and treat depression, but symptoms include, but are not limited to: change in appetite in either direction, feelings of hopelessness, loss of interest in things that used to bring you pleasure, fatigue, changes in sleeping patterns in either direction, crying a lot, isolating yourself from friends and family, thoughts of hurting yourself or not wanting to live anymore.
BringChange2Mind.org is a not-for-profit organization created by Glenn Close, the Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation (CABF), Fountain House, and Garen and Shari Staglin of IMHRO (International Mental Health Research Organization).
The idea of a national anti-stigma campaign was born of a partnership between Glenn Close and Fountain House, where Glenn volunteered in order to learn about mental illness, which both her sister and nephew suffer from.
This is the first effort of this magnitude in U.S. history. Ron Howard generously donated his time in directing our first PSA that features Glenn Close and her sister, Jessie Close. John Mayer generously donated his song, Say, which serves as an anthem for this movement. The spot was created and produced by New York-based advertising agency, the watsons.
This is a very cool organization, and I hope you’ll check out the website, and watch some of the videos there. Speaking from experience, it’s not easy to put yourself out there and say, “Yes, I have a mental illness,” so I thank everyone who participated in the video project for their willingness to “out” themselves like that. I think the stigma associated with mental illness is one of the biggest hurdles that stop people from seeking treatment for mental illness, so I greatly appreciate efforts to put an end to the stigma.
I’ve been very open about my experience with mental illness – depression, including the suicide attempt that finally brought me into treatment 21 years ago, and the eating disorder I had for 18 years. As I’ve said before, as recently as last week, it makes me kind of squirm with uneasiness to talk about the problems I’ve had. I worry that people will think I’m less credible, less qualified, more fragile. I worry people will think I’m not a good therapist, I have poor judgment, or that I’m somehow weak. I wish I could say that I’m above the stigma, and that it doesn’t affect me. It does, probably more often than I’m even aware. While no one has ever said anything to me directly, I’m confident there are colleagues who think less of me. I’m sure there are people who wouldn’t want me as their therapist because I’ve revealed the fissures in my pyche. I ponder these things often, very often.
However, I have faith that the good I can do by speaking out about my experience outweighs the risks. My goal is to help people. I think that people are more likely to seek help if they know that they can be helped, and I think knowing that someone else is living well and managing depression, or knowing that someone else recovered from an eating disorder can be the push some people need to pursue treatment, stick with treatment, and achieve their own treatment goals. I’m not saying everyone has to advertise or post their mental health histories online, but don’t let stigma keep you from getting the help that’s available. I like to think I represent a good outcome of being humble enough to recognize my problems were more than I could manage alone, and that I needed help. I can also attest to the most tragic of outcomes that come from not seeking help because mental illness is not solved by just pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.
There’s nothing wrong with being mentally ill just like there’s nothing wrong with having asthma, or being allergic to pollen… or having diabetes. It can be treated and managed, so learn about it and get help if you need it. Don’t let shame or pride stand in your way of overcoming problems that can be treated.