It is a travesty that people have attributed some behaviors to simply being “dramatic” “overreactive” “stressed out” “irresponsible” “character flaws” or even seeing the person as a “jerk” in general, when in fact:
The person is suffering from a mental health disorder.
This is not to say that there are no people with these shortcomings that are unhindered by mental illness – but it remains a travesty that those who have mental health disorders are written off as assholes or desperately needy types without hesitation.
People suffering mental health disorders still have the same types of thoughts and feelings that healthy people have. They are simply disordered or in the wrong frequency. Thus, most folks at one point want to throw their hands up in the air and give up on everything. But those with depression want to do so far too often to be considered healthy.
Depression is easy to feel sympathy for, because we all experience those feelings at appropriate times : extreme loss, dissapointment or failure. It’s not as easy for average folks to relate with a bi-polar mood swing that makes the person seem motivated and excited. They don’t see that those are also the days of teeth grinding (that don’t stop during sleep) or the way thoughts batter themselves against the inside of our minds until we can’t remember our day’s goals and priorities. They can’t relate with being terrified to go grocery shopping or try to meet someone in a crowded place. Healthy people don’t know what it’s like and therefore they end up comparing others to their own healthy standards when those who are ill deeply, genuinely want to live up to that; yet they can’t.
Regular folk tend to rely on their thoughts on feelings to be accurate reflections of the world around them, but the mentally ill have no such comfort. Especially since we’ve been told for so long that we’re “just overreacting” or “paranoid” or “exaggerating”. We may be, and we need to talk with healthy people to gauge things like that – we don’t need those people to respond unkindly when we’re trying to determine if our assessment is correct or not. We’re often looking for guidance or insight while others think we’re espousing beliefs and making decisions.
The very worst part is trying to get help. I cannot describe to people how deeply damaging it is to try to ask for help with a mental health disorder. The moment we bring it up we are automatically written off as incoherent and uncooperative when we haven’t even begun. We immediately discredit ourselves and risk being categorized as unstable or unfit to perform responsibilities. We are patronized and condescended to, dismissed outright and sometimes even put down- by health care providers themselves (not to mention professional misconduct on the part of providers that is very real). We have been turned away and hung up on when we don’t have insurance information ready even though the reason for that is that we need help with our mental health disorder so we can figure out how to fill out the paperwork or stop feeling overwhelmed long enough to find it. Being treated as a fascinating specimen can be just as upsetting, or sometimes providers seem to be using our therapy as a way for them to work through their own issues.
Already feeling shame for having to ask for help and risking heaps of social stigma as well, the last thing we need is to be reduced to a nuisance or disruption to others as we try to drag ourselves through this life feeling devastated by most everything that happens. People with mental health disorders are people. We have hopes, dreams, plans, and goals. We wish more than anything that we did not think and feel the ways we do, yet wishing and wanting are not enough. Worse, loved ones can engage in denial and try to convince us that we don’t need help, that we just need to make some sort of personal change that they expect will magically solve a lifetime of dysfunction.
Oddly enough, many mental health disorders such as ADD, anxiety, depression and bi-polar come with increased intelligence. I’ve been told I am too smart to have a mental health disorder, and wouldn’t it be fantastic if that were remotely true (denial rears its ugly head again). Sadly, being smart while having a disorder only serves to punish us. We know exactly what’s wrong with us but can’t do that much about it. If we do succeed at getting help, sometimes it does more harm than good. The only times I’ve ever wanted to kill myself or felt on top of the world was taking medications (as directed) for my mental health disorder. Trying to convince myself to ever seek help again has been the hugest of struggles in the face of those types of previous experiences.
People don’t hate themselves, drain bank accounts in wild sprees, ruin relationships, lose jobs, destroy their own things, refuse to wash themselves until they are infected or kill themselves because they actually want to deep down inside. They are subject to dysfunction that needs compassionate, respectful treatment and support. They need a safe space to exist without obligation or ridicule. They need ackowledgment that they can and should seek treatment and that they can have agency in that treatment as well.
We cannot assume we have correctly assessed someone’s character flaws or shortcomings vs their real, serious problems.
If you wouldn’t leave a friend behind who had a gaping, bleeding wound, then you shouldn’t leave behind a friend who has a gaping mental health problem. It’s up to you to help them as any friend would help another, not just dismiss it all away.