I recently posted on Facebook a story about Ryan Reynolds and his very open discussion about his battle with anxiety. I thought it was brave and forthcoming, not to mention helpful to the millions of Americans (and countless others around the world) who suffer from some sort of mental illness. When someone famous or possessing celebrity can speak openly about it, we get to a point where we stop labelling mind issues as “illnesses,” and we can begin to drop the stigmas attached to it. That would be a good thing.
As of this writing, it is estimated that 16.1 million Americans suffer from anxiety disorder. Another 10.3 million will have a major depressive episode this year alone. Half of those people will experience both. That’s a pretty staggering statistic, even more so when you consider that many people don’t know they have it, or don’t report it for fear of being stigmatized.
I know this, because I live with bi-polar depression every day. And let’s just say I am also aware of how that can stigmatize you.
I’m one of the lucky ones, because I was able to talk to my doctors, have it diagnosed, and get treated for it. Although I am very much into holistic wellness rather than pharmaceuticals, that was a tough decision – made easier because of the reality of the alternatives. I didn’t just turn bipolar overnight, I was born with it, but the choices I made later in life exacerbated the condition. In many cases it also affected the choices I made. I hated my job, isolated myself from my relationships, and really couldn’t find joy. Fact is I had been misdiagnosed – and mistreated – for years without even knowing it. When I finally got my diagnosis in May 2016, it was almost like a great weight was lifted off my shoulders.
People don’t choose to have mental illnesses. They are born with it. But the choice we make in living with it, in addition to the choices we make in living with others who deal with it, speak volumes. We label, we assume, and we ascribe motivations to people’s actions we can’t possibly understand in the first place, and that unfortunately makes people less willing to get the help they need. When someone gets cancer, we are sympathetic. We aren’t so kind when someone is labeled as having a mental illness.
My message here is like Ryan Reynolds’. I am not the celebrity he is, but I am like most of the rest of the world. If I can have the courage to speak out, you might try having the courage to skip the labels and help someone out. Millions of Americans, and countless millions of the world society suffer from some sort of mental illness, and it has nothing to do with money, power, race, or social status. My upcoming book, Brink: Confessions of a Depressed Exec will explore some of those realities, and help us all to be a little more compassionate while recognizing, it could happen to you too.