If there’s one thing I learned after a celebrity takes his or her own life, it’s going to social media and seeing that no one understands mental illness.
I’ve been a lifelong sufferer of depression, and not even I myself completely understand what’s going on inside. Most of us assume it’s more of a choice instead of a disease, but it’s difficult to explain how even our choices under depression feel hopeless and powerless, like walking through a fog that has drained the colors out of everything. There’s no particular reason it happens. Mental illness doesn’t primarily come from external causes, but we blame ourselves, and so does most of our world.
My guess is that depression and anxiety and other such illnesses are not sexy enough. Cancer portrayed by Hollywood has the inverse effect of making you skinny and attractive, and movie-autism gives you special math skills like Rain Man or perfect innocence like Forrest Gump. It’s not fun watching a grown man just weep for two hours.
There will be no movie for my uncle, who has schizophrenia and paranoid delusions, and will often randomly get on his bike to ride from Florida to Ohio, with beans in his ears to block out the “demonic voices.” It’s not tailor-made for a fundraiser.
That’s not to take away from any of these illnesses: but it points to our obsession with polishing our pain into a marketable story.
An illness like depression often leads to the inevitable symptom of death by suicide, and because of this, many will mock and sneer. “They chose to do it, it was selfish.” But unless you’ve actually been at the verge of this inescapable inner prison, then it will naturally seem over-dramatic and hysterical. No one understands unless it’s them, at the absolute edge of their darkness feeling like there are zero options left.
I understand this urge to criticize the mentally ill. It’s not visible; it’s not physically tangible. We inherently grade people based on their accomplishments, but even more, the “beauty” of their brokenness. It’s an ugly thing. We accept some diseases and not others. We celebrate victory over cancer and Ebola and from organ transplants, but not depression, even though they all potentially lead to terminal conditions.
We only take mental illness seriously when it leads to death — but even then, we find such diseases beneath our charity, because we perceive it to be within the victim’s control.
Continue reading “A Letter to Social Media and Google Search Experts: You Don’t Understand Mental Illness (and I Wish You’d Try)”