"Let's Talk!" - Mental health, the silent epidemic we all need to talk about...
Perfect – free from flaws. Raise your hand high if you’re perfect, if your family is perfect, if your life is perfect…Right, so no hands were raised because we all know that nobody is perfect. Sure, we all present our best selves to the world – we take the happy, perfect family photo (and are thrilled inside when people comment that we are “beautiful”, etc) and we post photos of our wonderful lives.
We’re not being intentionally fake – it would be pretty odd to see a “real” family photo (I’m not talking about the ones where everyone is genuinely laughing or jumping in the air - those are awesome!) but ones where we showed our true, deep emotions of sadness, resentment, anger, fear, anxiety, worry, or stress. We say “Fine” or “Good” when people ask how we are doing. We seem relaxed and okay on the outside even when we are “white knuckling” our way sometimes through life.
So given all this, it’s no wonder people don’t know when it’s safe or who they can trust with their deeper, darker emotions - when they can open up and be honest. And sometimes when you do open up, people treat you differently – gently, in a way that feels like pity.
I remember talking with a woman I’d just met a party. She was fun and funny and I was having a blast talking and laughing with her. As we chatted, our conversation naturally turned to the topic of family. She talked about her son and daughter and her daughter in heaven. It wasn’t awkward or uncomfortable – she spoke lovingly about each of her children. At one point she thanked me for talking to her like she was a regular Mom. She said she hadn’t laughed so freely since her daughter died just a year ago.
See, everyone who knew her treated her differently – not intentionally but out of kindness and maybe partially out of pity. It was the pity part that really bothered her. She understood it but made her feel like screaming “I want to talk about my younger daughter like I do my other children, and don’t want you to look at me that way.” I loved her for being so honest.
Death and grief - not exactly recommended top party topics. Depression and anxiety with the added stigma and shame that go along with them make them pretty much taboo topics. So when we or someone we love is suffering, we talk in whispers and hypotheticals and dance around these subjects. And not just at parties, we do it in real life with real family and friends. As a result, people suffer in silence thinking they are the only ones. They don’t understand why everyone else is breezing through life and conquering the world when they can barely get through the day.
What are our teens and young adults supposed to think when everyone else’s life looks like a wonderful movie and theirs feels like a horror show – even when the face they show the world looks happy and carefree? As parents, we sometimes don’t want to believe that our child is suffering – it’s too much to bear – we don’t want to go there. Plus, we’ve bought into the notion that if our children aren’t perfect or damn close to it, how are they going to get into college, get an amazing job or one day live independently?
What are we doing to ourselves and each other when we stuff things down – if we don’t think about or talk about it, it will go away. Well, guess what, it doesn’t work that way. It will come up – either in healthy ways (identifying what’s going on and asking for help) or unhealthy ways (depression, anxiety, drugs, alcohol, etc).
So what if we made a conscience decision to talk openly about difficult topics? To talk about what we really think and feel? In the right setting of course, not just blurting it out. But in our communities, our schools, our churches, our parenting circles with our friends and family. Imagine the comfort knowing that other people are going through what you and your family are going through….
Lately, I’ve been writing very open and real stories about topics that make people feel vulnerable – including me. As a result, people will reach out online and in person and say “I’m going through that too – I thought I was alone.” I’m pretty certain there are people who think to themselves “You shouldn’t talk about that” but I say they are flat out wrong. We should all be saying “Let’s talk!”
Let’s talk openly and honestly to our kids, our friends, our family, ourselves. There are so many resources available and so many organizations that are desperately trying to get public conversations going – do your part by bringing these resources and groups to your family, your friends, and your community. You never know who you might reach and who you might help. We must speak out and we must start talking.
Talking makes things better not worse and it assures people that it’s okay, you’re not alone. So please, the next time you think, “I can’t talk about that” – do it anyway. Too many of our kids are suffering because they think no one will understand – they are isolated and think they are alone. Depression and anxiety can be debilitating, even fatal – we can’t keep that inside. This silent epidemic is killing people so let’s start talking and keep talking until everyone has been heard and seen and knows they have the love and support they need.
We understand that “nobody’s perfect” but do our kids?